Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Living Lutheran. . .

Having a few moments, I turned to the pile of journals and magazines on my coffee table and began to survey the offerings.  It did not take too long to pick up the February Issue of Living Lutheran, the official periodical of the ELCA.  It also did not take too long to find out what the ELCA is focused upon and how the Gospel and grace are defined among them.

In "Grace and God's Welcome" the reader was treated to poignant stories of gay and lesbian folks who thought God was not happy with their attractions until they encountered grace without bounds and then ended up pastors in the ELCA.  It was a focused call to see the GLBTQ agenda as one of the primary agendas of that church body and, despite nearly wide open doors, how this must be reaffirmed lest someone be denied the desires of the heart simply for such a trivial thing as God's Word.

In the next article, "We're On the Move," a celebration of the election of several bishops of African descent, decried racism and called the ELCA to depart from its eurocentricity.  This is interesting because the ELCA is like 95% white and to have 2 of 65 bishops of African descent is not just a start but way above the proportion of its membership.  It is a good thing when race and color fade and qualifications raise up leaders.  What is curious, however, is that one of the installations began with the singing of Ain't No Stoppin Us Now.  Spontaneous or not, this is hardly more than an R & B tune and certainly not a hymn of faith.  The song is less about faith than getting your foot in the door.
The energy in that space told us we weren’t alone—we were surrounded by the great cloud of  witnesses. We were wombed together in that crowded space, united in solidarity and celebration. God, as midwife, birthed in us something ancient yet altogether new. I was ancestor and infant. The spirit from that processional leads me to now ask where we go from here. Where is God calling the ELCA?  To achieve lasting transformation,
the ELCA must continue to wrest our congregations from the grip of racism and   Eurocentricity. The bishop elections of 2018 have set us on a path toward greater understanding, greater equity and greater freedom. It is my hope that we will continue to honor our Reformation heritage by acting as an agent of change in an unjust world. I am hopeful for the future of the ELCA.
While I can understand her excitement, I wonder if others are wondering for very different reasons Where is God calling the ELCA?  Nothing there about Christ's freedom in that most central of Lutheran proclamations -- justification by grace through faith in Christ or freedom from sin and its death or salvation freely offer for its cost paid in full in Christ Jesus.  Is the trajectory of the Reformation really acting as an agent of change in an unjust world?  I wonder if Luther might find this a surprise -- I know a great many Lutherans would.

At the end of the publication, the Presiding Bishop asks What is God up to?  After a sobering assessment of where the ELCA is demographically, she asks if this is a problem needing a solution or trust to follow God in whatever new thing he God is doing in the ELCA (remember that male pronouns referring to God are not popular in this crowd).
What is to be done? Our congregations are growing older and smaller. At least 40 percent of our congregations have an average weekly worship attendance of 50 or less. ELCA membership decreases by 70,000 people a year, or roughly the loss of a synod per year. Clergy retirements outnumber new candidates for ministry. Financial pressures and building maintenance create stress. There is a dearth of people in their 20s and 30s in our pews. How do we change this? How do we reverse the trends? I think we are asking the wrong questions. . . The questions we are asking have to do about us: “What can we do?” They express loss and grief and fear—loss and grief for what we were and fear about what we will become. Not only do these questions not lead to productive answers, they also don’t point to hope. It’s as if the church’s one foundation rests on us and our efforts. I think we need to ask: “What is God up to?”
I wonder if it might not surprise God to find out that the decline in the birth rate, the aging of the population, the seeming impossibility of the ELCA to actually reflect in numbers the diversity it proclaims in print, and the decline of the family are God's doing.  Perhaps Bishop Eaton is channeling Pope Francis in suggesting that our problems just may be God willed and we need to just learn to live with it and go with the flow, so to speak. 

Hmmmmm.  Well, this is certainly a different take on what it means to live Lutheran.  It makes me thankful for the somewhat hum drum world of the LCMS The Lutheran Witness.


Carl Vehse said...

Hmmmm. You keep copies of the Living Lufauxran on your coffee table...

.... and not on a roll in small room ?

Anonymous said...

Bishop Eaton is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The ELCA is sinking rapidly in the choppy waters of secularism.
When your agenda affirms gay and lesbian married pastors, then you
know you are drowning.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters wrote:

"In the next article, "We're On the Move," a celebration of the election of several bishops of African descent, decried racism and called the ELCA to depart from its eurocentricity."

I respond:

That the ELCA strives to be racially diverse to reflect the American population as a whole is admirable. However, where are all of the "people of color" in the ELCA? The ethnic and racial makeup should comprise at least 50% of the total membership. The fact that the ELCA remains 95% percent white since its founding over 20 years ago indicates that the ELCA leaders are unable to attract non-white people.

Do the ELCA leaders realize that the name "Lutheran" is Eurocentric, as the name honors a 16th century white heterosexual German male. The ELCA leaders need to change the name of their denomination as quickly as possible. Instead of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, it can be changed to Evangelical Church of America. Just drop the name "Lutheran." What do you think? If anyone asks, tell them you are an American Evangelical!

Anonymous said...

As an LCMS member, yes, ELCA, please drop the name Lutheran. You give true Lutherans a bad name. Changing the name is another Titanic deck chair move. There are MORE Lutherans in Africa than North America (how can that be with a white European name.)

North American denominations that: hold that the Bible is holy, without error; hold to the sanctity of life; hold to the sanctity of marriage; hold to Biblical sexuality; do not take votes on what is sin; and still believe doctrine matters - are losing the least number of people. Maybe churches should consider that.

I have thought for 10 years the ELCA will drop eventually drop the name Lutheran for the sake of their appeal. I long for it.

Janis Williams said...

I always was taught that Christianity made you color blind. Certainly being raised in the South makes it difficult to deal with prejudices, and we are all prejudiced, since we like ourselves and our ways better than anything. In this season of Lent, if we examine ourselves and repent of our prejudices, that would be good.

I do not find lack of diversity listed in Scripture as a sin. If we want to see worldwide diversity, maybe African Lutherans need to focus more on ensuring they are also racially diverse? Why do we believe the church needs to mirror demographics? I think it is the Holy Spirit who calls... Not relieving ourselves of responsibility to reach all, but reminding we are not in charge of the outcome. Because the church in heaven is made up of every tribe, kindred and race, I’m assuming our Lord can overcome our imbalances (not to mention our sins).

Diversity is a straw man that would end with humanity being one huge shade of gray. We are not all alike, and hopefully never will be.