Monday, May 23, 2011

A Slow Leak from the Good Ship ELCA

When first the vote was taken in August 2009 for the ELCA to change its standards for clergy, in effect, opening the door to same sex marriage and same sex clergy, many voices proclaimed the ELCA would bleed congregations at rapid rate.  So we are coming up on two years and one source has placed the number at 600 congregations who have taken their first or second successful votes to leave.  Probably a lot less that many thought, some hoped, and some feared.  I believe that it is safe to say that the farther we move from CWA of 2009, the slower the rate of loss will be.  Some have been unsuccessful in their votes, some have decided to wait it out, and some have decided as long as its not in their own backyard, they may be able to avoid/ignore it.  Whatever the reason, it is clear that this whole battle was mostly about sex and not so much about other issues (authority of God's Word, for example).  If the ELCA had figured out a way to avoid the same sex approval measure, hardly any of those congregations would have left.  I am sad to say that it seems that many have had the bluff called and they backed down.  A little righteous indignation is a good thing, on the whole, but it seems that it may not be enough to move congregations or clergy from the status quo.  Given this sad reality, it seems that Hanson is a shoe in for Presiding Bishop (unless he chooses not to run) and that whoever eventually succeeds him will share pretty much all the same theological, ecumenical, and moral positions as Hanson has and does. I am sure I am not the only one disappointed by this.


Anonymous said...

Most of the laity in the ELCA have
been duped into believing the 2009
Vote was all about sexual alternative
lifestyles for clergy. So their
congregations remain in the ELCA and
the real issues of antinomianism and
Biblical authority are not discussed
at the parish level. This is true
especially in the Midwest.

The "average" pastor is playing it
safe and does not want to split his
parish over the interpretation of
Scripture. This is sad.
reality in the Midwest

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

The ELCA had 21 years to prepare for the 2009 CWA. So those who objected to the new position on human sexuality where a minority. Many who objected did so because the law of God is written on their hearts but they did not have a hermeneutical foundation upon which to make a stand within their church.

Though there was a significant breaking away at first, in my observation most members of ELCA congregations have found a new comfort zone, and its back to business as usual. I've met more than a few ELCA members who were disturbed by the decision of the 2009 CWA but not enough to do anything about it. Which I guess begs a question; what does someone who has been immersed in liberal theology for 20+ years do when they get more theological liberalism than they have a stomach for? Does that lead to disillusionment, or does it simply take time to adjust to the new normal? Some have broken away to rewind the clock to 1988, which treats the symptoms but not the cause.

I have family in the ELCA, so I don't want to engage in some smug bit of schadenfreude, the farther and farther this body gets from orthodoxy in any form is troubling.

Anonymous said...

In the Washington D.C. area, Virginia
and Maryland, there are many parishes
with the designation RIC. It means
Reconciled in Christ. The RIC label
on a ELCA parish means they accept
gay clergy.

Anonymous said...

good ole missouri triumphalism...

Lee said...

Well, as a current ELCA pastor, I can tell you that the leak is not all that slow. Rather, it is just not taking the form of congregations jumping ship without other ship nearby as an alternative.

Also, I must disagree that antinomianism is the main issue. It may be a symptom of the main issue in the ELCA where many laity and clergy alike are one step away from being Unitarian. But the main issue that is breaking the keel of the ELCA, that is dividing otherwise faithful members of the body of Christ from each other, is our collective inability to confess our sin.

Now, I am not talking specifically about the homosexuality issue one way or the other. I am talking about the ELCA, as a church body, being unwilling or unable to confess that it is a denomination in schism and in more ways than one.

The 2009 Assembly and those leading up to it worked for a solution, "a bound conscience" platform upon which supposedly all people could stand because they knew a fundamental truth: there was and is no consensus in the ELCA, not just regarding homosexuality, but a whole litany of issues. That, by its very definition, is schism.

Instead of confessing this schism, instead of getting on our knees and saying we cannot find another way forward together, instead of being willing to admit that perhaps the only way forward was to go our separate ways and trust in the common future we have together in Christ that in our present sinfulness we cannot reflect as an institution anymore, instead of perhaps accepting that maybe we will not be the "big fish" in the Lutheran pond anymore, we dressed this 2009 non-decision decision as some kind of triumph for congregations to have the freedom to choose according to their local contexts. All they did was shift the debate from the national level back to the congregations. Instead of having the courage to make a decision that might be completely wrong (since when have we as Lutheran been afraid to do that?), they chose to make a decision that they knew without a doubt would be partially wrong hoping that being partially right would be enough to keep the ship afloat.

Just my humble opinion. The 2011 Assembly should be interesting.

Anonymous said...


"in the ELCA where many laity and clergy alike are one step away from being Unitarian."
Sounds pretty sweeping...How many is many? Is that true in your congregation, synod?


"a fundamental truth: there was and is no consensus in the ELCA, not just regarding homosexuality, but a whole litany of issues."
How many issues are there in this litany?


Pastor Peters said...

To anonymous... by this time a in Missouri's unpleasantness the majority had already left... I am not being triumphalistic, just wondering what is the hold up or if this is the end of the slow leak...

Lee said...

Could questions, Dan.

Many, of course, is a relative term. So I will get a bit more specific. The synod where I first started seminary had a child who managed to stay in the synod for a first call (the rest of us were told there were no first call openings). This child has since left the ELCA to start an independent church, publicly confessing to the local newspaper that Jesus is not the only way to God but is one among many. I believe the bishop father may have left the ELCA, too, but I'm not sure.

Matthew Fox is good draw for almost any clergy conference as is Bishop Spong. They were pretty big draws in seminary as well, as were the works of Marjorie Suchocki. If I am remembering all of them correctly, I do believe there are strong pluralistic leanings. And, yes, in the synod in which I serve there is a pastor who is well known for denying the resurrection and many others who came the Democratic Party platform on par or even above that of the Lutheran Confessions. So, when I say many, I do not mean a majority, but a significant minority.

As for the litany of other issues dividing the ELCA and slowly pulling it apart piece by piece:

1. Call to Common Mission and ecumenical agreements with other denominations that have opened the Pandora's box from issues ranging from the authority of the Lutheran Confessions to Christ's true presence in the Holy Eucharist.

2. Abortion

3. Genetics and stem cell research.

4. Liturgical renewal and abandonment.

5. Mega-Church Model verses store front model verses closed down all those old stuffy building models.

6. The lack of congregational representation at the church wide level.

7. Understandings of what exactly Christan mission is.

8. Israel and Palestine.

9. Inconsistent standards from region to region regarding candidacy.

If it wasn't so late I could probably think of a few others.

Anyway, like I said, just my two cents.

I have found as the years go by I am a right-winger nutball in the ELCA and yet I am a barefoot Hippy compared to the norm in the LCMS. Well, I am the product of a Roman Catholic father and a Southern Baptist mother, baptized at age 11 with absolutely no Scandinavian background what-so-ever and I hate coffee. I guess I can't help but be an oddball and a bit confused.

Lee said...

And of course, that is "Good questions" not "Could questions".

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Desert Rat,
I don't drink coffee either, and sometimes that's harder to explain to Lutherans than some of the finer points of doctrine.

Peace to you.