Fox News ran a 5-minute panel discussion last Sunday about the ELCA's decision to be a sanctuary church body. (See video here) That video was no doubt seen by more people than my website has reached in 10 years. Because of the ELCA's actions and publicity they garnered this week, the ELCA has managed to upset hundreds of thousands (probably more) of their members. ELCA bishops are getting an earful from these members and appear to be in panic mode, writing and disseminating letters to try to undo the damage this decision and this publicity has caused. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here for just a few examples.)
One concerned, former member sent me a letter that the person sent to the ELCA:
"What the ELCA has done regarding its 'sanctuary' designation this week is another sign of a culture committing suicide.
I'm no theologian, but I know that Jesus exhorted his followers to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; meaning that in the civil sphere you follow the law.
I think if Christians want to try to alleviate the suffering of poor people, they should go directly to where the poor people are in person - or send private donations.
The ELCA - the church I grew up in, by the way - is wrong to encourage law breaking that affects our American compatriots outside of the ELCA.
My old church now is taking a stance that will worsen the quality of education for Americans in the public schools, and put great pressure on municipal, state and federal budgets for education, health, infrastructure, pensions and so on. The ELCA's stance also will tend to drive up housing costs for everyone. Further, it will drive down wages for the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.
As I see it, going forward the ELCA owes us all financial compensation. Unfortunately, the resources of the ELCA almost certainly don't amount to even one percent of the costs its irresponsible and wanton promotion of illegality will impose on American society.
The ELCA is no longer so much a mainstream Lutheran denomination as a bunch of radical and myopic economic terrorists hellbent on eroding the rule of law and foundation of order and prosperity in our still-great country that millions have sacrificed so much to build and protect.
I am saddened that an important aspect of my upbringing - the ELCA - no longer makes me feel happy and proud but ashamed and anxious."
The day the ELCA declared itself a sanctuary church body, many ELCA leaders celebrated. Below are some social media reactions from ELCA leadership and supporters who celebrate the decision:
The following are posts are from Rev. Steven Gjerde and Rev. Richard Johnson (Wednesday, Aug. 7). They are attending the 2019 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly. (I do not know if they are voting members or visitors.) It is nice to get an inside perspective of someone attending the gathering. I think it is safe to say that the two writers are not completely supportive of all that is happening in the denomination.
"A clergywoman from New York (pronouns she/her/hers) moves an amendment that would also recognize tenth anniversary of ordination of LGBTQ etc. "All clergy are an intersection of identities and experiences . . . we need to reorient and challenge the ways some of these gifts are not fully valued." Vice president of Metro NY (pronouns she/her/hers) speaks in favor. Pr. Minneapolis (she/her/hers): "my wife and I are both ordained in the ELCA" speaks in favor. "I'm acutely aware that ten years ago I would not be able to be here. I would love to be a part of this commemoration." Young adult from Metro NY (she/her/hers) "We must recognize that until ten years ago we did not recognize all women." NO ONE speaks against. Voting. 824 to 75. And so a commemoration of ordination of women becomes yet another LGBTQ thing. Let's see how that commemoration flies in congregations. There is applause; PB Eaton reminds people not to applaud. "There are people who do not agree with the action; out of respect for their opinion, please do not applaud." The wording of the amendment finally on the screen: 'and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA's decision to remove the barriers to ordination for people in same-gendered relationships and recognize the diversity of gifts that women's ordination brings to this church.'" - Rev. Richard Johnson (See here)
"I'm getting sick of the pronoun thing, so I'm not going to play any more." - Rev. Richard Johnson (See here)
Rev. Richard Johnson writes, "Vice President William Horne called upon to give his report. He, like others, refers to "siblings in Christ." It occurred to me this morning that this isn't just to avoid the longer "sisters and brothers," but to avoid offending non-binary people. It seems that the memo has gone out that this is the preferred language now." (See here)
"Tim Blevins of 1517 Media (Augsburg Fortress, Fortress Press, Sparkhouse and something else) is introduced and presents a video about the agency. Two of the three Fortress Press books highlighted in the video have a Nadia Bolz-Weber connection--in one case, she wrote the forward; in the other, there's a quote from her on the cover." - Rev. Richard Johnson (See here)
Bonus from Tuesday (Aug. 6, 2019):
From Rev. Richard Johnson:
"Tonight I'm attending the "hearing" on the revision of Vision & Expectations. This is sort of an outlier, since there's nothing about this on the agenda. But it was set up as an opportunity to explain what's happening with this proposed revision, hear people's ideas, etc. Chaired by Pr. Peder Johansen who is apparently a Council Member on the task force working on this. He turns this over to Philip Hirsch, executive director of ELC Domestic Mission unit. The draft called "Trustworthy Servants of the People of God" (see May 2019 Forum Letter) was so problematic that it apparently has been withdrawn.The email Hirsch sent out to all "rostered leaders" recently said "Our inclination is to begin fresh and not try to edit" TSPG "and to start with your voices." So this session is part of listening to "our voices."...
...As Hirsch explains this decision, he seems to be saying that a primary reason for it is that groups like ELM (Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries), weren't invited to be part of the process. He then adds seminary students and ethnic communities to those who "weren't included." The Domestic Mission unit has called together some listening groups. What they noticed is that there are two things conflated, one the need to deal with misconduct among the clergy, and the other a more aspirational piece about "expectations." In other words, the problem is that V&E was being used in a disciplinary way.
There's more than sexuality that needs to go into a document like this. Cultural sensitivity to racism, for instance, needs to be included.
First speaker notes that V&E had excellent theological grounding, while TSPG did not, it went right to behaviors. What's your intent for a new document? Response: a statement of faith has got to be part of the new document.
What's your intention to include folks that represent the more traditional or conservative ELCA members? Response: the bishop we have on the group is Kurt Kuserow, deliberately chosen because he represents the more traditionalist view. We want to be sure that we reach out to all four "categories" in the sexuality study (i.e., the various positions on homosexuality).
Minneapolis pastor who identifies herself as using she/her/hers pronoun. (I can see where this is going.) She wants to be sure that if there is to be an aspirational document, it has to be clear that is what it is and why we need it. It can't be used as a cudgel against LGBTQ community, but also e.g. seminarians, young leaders who may have different ideas about relationships (i.e., they want to have sex outside of marriage). I don't think we should have this document at all.
SW PA pastor. Commend church for moving past a document used to separate those "good enough" to be pastors from those not good enough. We also need guidelines on how we are to care for ourselves; the temptation is for leaders not to do so.
Chicago pastor who uses she/her/hers pronouns. I don't believe we can have a document like this without it being weaponized.
Pastor from Upper Susquehanna Synod. He doesn't identify his pronouns. Let's talk and think about money also. As we prepare people to go into rostered leadership in this church, one of the most important things we need to do is to outline realistically the economic realities of the communities into which they will be called.
Minnesota young adult lay person: Church needs leaders who can credibly relate to their congregations. I've seen peers go through candidacy process in conditions that encourage them to lie about their relationships and beliefs.
Pastor in Northern Illinois synod. Was involved in a discussion of TSPG that included some Presbyterians. In their church, expectations are for all members, not just clergy. She also saw a document from the UCC which was brief and very good (didn't focus on sex). Have you considered other church's comparable documents. Answer: some of us have, but we will be doing that more intentionally. Adds that we have different expectations for pastors because of the power dimension.
Pastor from MN (she/her/hers)--how many on the task force are single? Response: two of the twelve. Pastor says she is single, and she observes that single pastors are treated much more suspiciously than married people, who are assumed to be OK. When the people who are having the conversation are all married, that's a problem. (This gets applause) Response: Listening group is not intended to be totally inclusive. Her comment: 50% of people are single.
Pr. Johansen points out that the statement in TSPG against cohabitation was there in order to have it in congruence with the sexuality statement.
Minnesota "queer pastor, also married, pronouns she/her/hers". Church has been too interest in "CYA" (I think that means cover your ass) rather than the gospel. We need to be bound by the gospel, not by an unethical document.
Pastor from WVA/WMD synod, serving on candidacy committee. "We've been watching very carefully." We want a document steeped in the Lutheran heritage. As a clergy woman I have to squint a little to see myself in the Augsburg Confession, but I can see myself.
Pastor from SW TX: What does the church need? We need to talk about sex, when it's good and when it's bad. We need to say our pastors have sex, so deal with it. A huge part of the problem is that we're not talking about it. We want to control sex, but not talk about it. We talk about clergy having power, but female clergy actually experience men having power over them, and we need to recognize that.
Candidate for ministry, on internship. Affirm what committee is trying to do. We need a document outlining expectations. I was excited by the title of the document TSPS--"trustworthy" is what we need to be, and I need to know what is expected of me. Not just about sex.
Woman pastor: I've been married 35 years, but I don't see why my experience should be normative. Document puts terrible burden on pastors--we need self care, there's no document telling congregations they need to care for their pastor. (applause)
Iowa pastor: remember the single people. I was single when I was ordained. I dated, got engaged, got married. I felt relief on my wedding day that now I wouldn't be asked to account for my life in a certain way. Once I got married my economic reality changed, so I could consider different calls. While you're listening, include single income households.
Pastor Texas: what the church needs is healthy pastors/leaders who can have healthy relationships. Documents we've had have forced people to make decisions that have caused rushed marriages, bad marriages, etc. We don't need seminarians or pastors rushing into marriages. We don't need a document like this at all. (muttering of affirmations all around me)
College student excited to start candidacy process. It's crazy to me that people are already talking to me about V&E, that I should start practicing those values already. She is LBGTQ woman of color. This isn't realistic; we know our high school and college students are having sex. We need to hear their voices.
Pastor from Brooklyn. When I went through candidacy no one asked me about my sex life, because I had a heteronormative appearing marriage. Nobody asked me. This church is dying for a sexual ethic. We know the truth: we don't hold congregants to any standard, we're so desperate to have them come to our church. These documents are "white supremacist and heteronormative, based on some 1950s standards that we'll never see again"
NE PA pastor (she/her/hers) We don't need a new document, because we don't need any document. We already have what we need in our baptismal vows.
Pastor from Luther college (she/her/hers). Whatever we get, it shouldn't be a revision of V&E because of its history. We need to officially renounce that document. Response: We plan to begin from scratch, not revise either V&E or TSPG. Deadline is fall 2020
Ohio pastor: When I started my candidacy I was married, then divorced, single mom. Multiyear hiatus, now in my first call at 60 years old. There are churches who want pastors and can't afford them, we need to stop putting labels on people.
MN pastor (he/him/his). We don't need an aspirational document
Chair of synod candidacy committee. I've listened, I agree with much, but how about practical realities. What is a candidacy committee supposed to do? We've repudiated V&E but we don't have a new document. Response: Church council did debate that very question. They voted not to rescind V&E but leave it in place until a new document is decided. So we continue to use a document that's not being used for the purpose for which it was originally intended? Makes no sense. What can we do at this assembly to address this problem? Johansen: Constitution requires that there be a document, so we can't just scrap the present document until there's a new one. In the meantime, let's be better stewards of the existing document (i.e, don't misuse it). Conference of bishops did advise their candidacy committees not to misuse document." (See here)
Another Bonus from Tuesday: "... approved with no discussion a recommendation to ask the Office of the Bishop to "provide materials to facilitate education among ELCA members so as to build awareness of the broad varieties of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation among God's people, as well as to provide pastoral care insights regarding concerns and issues of the transgender experience and gender nonconformity, and to request that the Church Council consider authorizing development of a social message on gender identity and gender expression." Posted by Rev. Richard Johnson (See here)
This year the ELCA's Southwest California Synod voted to become a 'Sanctuary synod.' The Synod describes what that means saying "the congregations of our Synod will commit to pray for immigrants and refugees among us and will strive to be places of radical welcome, refuge, and protection” and "that we will work to protect the dignity, safety, and basic human needs of all immigrants and refugees among us, even by resisting policies that seek to turn away and harm the stranger.” (see here)
They are not the only Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amercia synod to become a "Sanctuary Synod." The ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly passed “Amended Resolution 2017-2 Regarding Sanctuary Synod.” In the Resolution we find that the Sierra Pacific Synod "pledges to resist by advocacy, protest, and nonparticipation those policy proposals that target and seek to deport millions of undocumented immigrants..." (see here)
Last year the ELCA Oregon Synod announced "Oregon Lutherans Declare themselves a Sanctuary Church." The synod writes, "This past weekend official representatives of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to make their church the first 'Sanctuary Synod' in the nation. This action encourages each of the 115 ELCA congregations and ministries throughout the state to 'become Sanctuary churches ready to protect refugees and undocumented sisters and brothers from arrest and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.' (see here)
The ELCA's New England Synod voted this year to become a "Sanctuary Synod." (see here)
The Central States Synod of the ELCA is looking at becoming a "Sanctuary Synod" and will likely make a decision on it next year. (see here) I have no doubt many others will follow.
ELCA Synods and ELCA churches declaring themselves to be places of sanctuary to illegal immigrants need to look carefully at what that means because they could very well be braking the law. ELCA Bishop Rick Jaech of the Southwestern Washington Synod warns his Synod "...no country today, including the United States, provides legal permission for a church to deny entrance to a legal authority looking for someone who is suspected of having committed an illegal act. Therefore, a congregation that is considering whether to give shelter to a person who is at risk of deportation should first consult with an attorney to research all of the specific legal considerations." (see here)
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Former ELCA seminary student and former ELCA member who is fed up with the ELCA's consistent mockery of God's Word.
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Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. - Ephesians 5:11