This March, Rev. Jason Cooper of Emanuel Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Strawberry Point, Iowa, gave a sermon on the topic of sexual immorality using scripture from the lectionary on 1 Corinthians 10. (read here and listen here)
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)
9/20/2010 11:55:47 am
This should surprise no one. Pastor Cooper is clearly a man of great faith and profound conscience. ELCA is clearly the wrong place for him.
9/20/2010 03:18:25 pm
hmmmm Pastor Coopers ministry is growing and blessed. Other ELCA churches are splitting and in turmoil. Seems to me Pastor Cooper has God's favor. Keep up the good work Pastor Cooper!
9/20/2010 04:01:08 pm
9/22/2010 03:34:09 pm
I am confused about this... Reading the social statement at http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/JTF-Human-Sexuality.aspx
9/23/2010 11:12:34 am
The depth of hypocrisy in the ELCA is staggering!!!!!
Mark E. Chapman
9/23/2010 01:39:46 pm
It is for reasons like this and a long list of increasing abuses of Holy Scripture and the whole of Christian Tradition for 18 centuries (including but by no means exclusive to the Confessions) that I resigned from the ELCA clergy and the ELCA, and am now quite happy as a faithful layman in the very Bible-centered ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.
Janet Y Muldoon
9/24/2010 03:46:32 am
What I find so disturbing about this whole situation is how Jesus, the true Son of God, the Triune God, is being treated by the ELCA.
9/24/2010 01:44:42 pm
Careful, Janet: my (former) pastor immediately rebuked me when I dared use the "d" word when we tried to raise it in our (former) congregation.
9/26/2010 05:00:23 pm
I retired as President of our ELCA congregation in Holstein last February after 6 very difficult months of trying to find ways to cope with the ELCA actions while keeping our congregation from splitting itself and going in many different direcitons. We have succeeded in avoiding a wholesale transfer of memberships only by hosting informaitonal forums for all members to attend, even though our Pastor and Church Council insisted those forums could not be on Church property. Those forums held offsite have encouraged the majority of our active memebers to "stay the course" and continue to worship outside of the exisitng ELCA frame work. This Sunday we had our first off site-alternative worship service for Lutherans with very surprising large attendance. Jason Cooper led our worship service for us and it was a most meaningful experience. Jason Cooper is a pious, conservative, and compassionate Pastor and we are very fortunate that he has agreed to provide Pastoral services for the Lutherans in Holstein while we take time to determine what path we need to take. If anybody ever wants to insult Jason, tell them they should talk to him instead of about him. They would come to like him and appreciate his sincere faith.
9/27/2010 08:17:35 am
I grew up on a farm between Galva and Holstein Iowa and know the people back there. Perhaps some of the former members of the ELCA church in Holstein could attend the LCMS church in Galva, only 7 miles to the east on highway D15.
9/28/2010 09:37:52 am
The words used to describe the "new" ELCA are not ones I've heard used to describe the Lutheran Church I grew up with. Disgusting, contradictory, and deviant are used to describe what has been written for us to align our faith with. It seems we must have our "Bound Conscience" aligned to a new, socially acceptable definition of sin and discard the OLD BIBLICAL definition of sin and God's law.
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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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