Toward the end of the service, a former church council president approached the microphone and voiced his disagreement with the message and claimed that Rev. Cooper had violated his "Letter of Call" for stating that the ELCA's new policies oppose God's directive in Scripture. (listen here - the last minute of the service)
This incident led to a meeting between Rev. Cooper, Northeast Iowa Synod Bishop Steven L. Ullestad and Assistant to the Bishop Mark Anderson. Rev. Cooper explained that during the meeting Bishop Ullestad informed him that if the former church council president followed through with his claim against the pastor, Bishop Ullestad "would rule against me, that I had, in fact, violated my Letter of Call. The only two things he specified, that I recall, was that I was a little too Catholic in my understanding of the . . . reason for sex. The second thing was that he said I couldn't say that the ELCA had violated the will of God."
At a second meeting, Rev. Cooper said that Bishop Ullestad told him "You don't understand. You could be in really serious trouble." Rev. Cooper replied, "Do what you have to do . . . I stand by what I said."
Rev. Cooper went on to say that during the meeting there "really was a feeling that either I recant or I was done, at least from the synod's perspective."
To set the context, Rev. Cooper had been the pastor at Emanuel Lutheran for 6 years, and it was his first call. The year prior to this incident, Rev. Cooper submitted his papers with the ELCA seeking a specific call, to which the bishop's office encouraged him to consider two or three other calls as well. But Rev. Cooper did not feel God was calling him to any of those positions at the time.
In February of this year, Rev. Cooper again submitted his papers seeking a new call. As of the first week of September, 2010, he has not received any profiles from any of the four ELCA synods to which he submitted his name, and none of the synods have talked with him.
According to Rev. Cooper, "When I asked the Bishop (Ullestad) flat out, 'Am I blacklisted?' He said, 'Well, congregations don't want pastors who cause problems.'"
So let's look at Rev. Cooper's record. Over the last 6 years, Emanuel Lutheran has met their expenses every year. Their benevolence has been at least 10% to 20%. They have seen an increase in worship attendance every year and received 40 new members in 2009, all in a town with a population of just over a 1000 people.
The only "problems" that Rev. Cooper can be accused of causing are that he took a public stand against the denomination's homosexuality policies and clearly stated that the ELCA is elevating their own view over the authority of Scripture. Rev. Cooper believes this is why the ELCA has refused to work with him as he seeks to find a new call.
Based on Rev. Cooper's testimony, it seems clear that the denomination wants to deny pastors the freedom to express publicly their "bound conscience," if it does not line up with the ELCA's decisions. It can further be understood that pastors are not to preach or teach anything other than what the ELCA social statement says.
With that in mind, pastors should remember that their responsibility is to faithfully live out his or her calling and the vows taken at ordination, most especially to teach and preach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the creeds and confessions. We all are ultimately responsible to God and God alone.
It is wrong for the ELCA or any denomination to prohibit or discourage pastors from teaching from the Word of God. It appears that the ELCA is trying to silence orthodox pastors, which should cause all of us to question the ELCA's motives and actions.
(Rev. Jason Cooper resigned from the ELCA, Sept. 2010)