Saturday, August 22, 2009

Conservatives Mull Future After ELCA Lifts Gay Ban: As Lutherans liberalize gay clergy policy, some conservatives vow to fight, others to leave

Follow this link for Professor Dr. Timothy Wengert's (of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) comments on "bound conscience"

Remarks Concerning “Bound Conscience”
presented to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly
by the Rev. Dr. Timothy J. Wengert

One of the greatest legacies that the early Lutheran reformers bestowed upon the entire Christian church is what we are calling “respect for the bound conscience of the neighbor.” This notion came up in several different contexts in Martin Luther’s own lifetime. Thus, when standing before the Emperor, confessing his faith in 1521, Luther begged his accusers to show him from Scripture and clear reason that he was wrong, but if they could not, his conscience was bound to the Scripture passages about God’s mercy in Christ. But Luther had already made the same plea in October 1518, when he stood in Augsburg before the pope’s representative, Cardinal Cajetan. It is there that we discover that this appeal to the Cardinal to deal with him mercifully was actually an appeal to Luther’s pastoral and spiritual superior not to violate his conscience by merely dismissing his arguments and what he held to be central to the Christian faith.

There is a second way in which “the bound conscience” came up in the Reformation and it dealt with very specific practical, ethical dilemmas, similar in some ways to those dealt with by St. Paul in Romans and 1 Corinthians. The reformers knew that they could not simply act like the pope and decree that people obey them. Indeed, while Luther was in protective custody at the Wartburg Castle, the Wittenbergers attempted a coercive approach to Reform, making people do things that violated their conscience, including forcing lay people to receive both bread and wine at communion. Luther came back and, not by force but by persuasive preaching, got the Wittenberg church to respect those who were not at the same place as they were. As a result, communion in one kind remained an option for the churches in Saxony for fifteen years after the time Luther returned home. Later in his ministry, Luther addressed other issues, including war and peace, or marriage and divorce, using the same appeal to balance, fairness, and pastoral care.

Now, we could view Paul’s comments about meat sacrificed to idols or Luther’s problem with the laity receiving bread and wine as minor things. In the first instance, the question was whether such behavior broke the first commandment, not to worship other gods—hardly a small matter—and in the second instance it had to do with Luther being willing to set aside a command of Christ (“Drink of this ALL of you!”) for the sake of conscience. These are small things now precisely because these pastors of the church treated all consciences with respect.

We find echoes of this principle in the Augsburg Confession, in the discussion of fasting. The reformers outline their reasons for overturning the prevalent rules about fasting for several different reasons: the rules obscured Christ’s grace, they confused human practices for God’s commands to care for the neighbor, and, “In the third place, such traditions turned out to be a heavy burden to consciences. For it was not possible to keep all the traditions, and yet people thought that keeping them was required for true service to God. Gerson writes that many fell into despair doing this. Some even committed suicide because they had heard nothing about the comfort of Christ's grace.” As important as the first two reasons were, the confessors insisted that consciences also needed care and respect from the entire church.

It is precisely this concern that lies at the heart of our proposal. Respect for the bound conscience does not mean that one can simply declare one’s conscience to be bound to a particular interpretation of Scripture, and then make everybody else deal with it. Respecting bound conscience is not a form of selfishness or an excuse to sin. Instead, it means that the very people who hold different, opposing viewpoints on a particular moral issue based upon their understanding of Scripture, tradition and reason must recognize the bound conscience of the other, of their neighbor who disagrees with them, and then work in such ways as not to cause that other person to reject the faith and fellowship in Word and Sacrament.

ELCA-United Methodist Communion Agreement

August 20, 2009
ELCA Assembly Adopts Full Communion with the United Methodist Church

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- By a vote of 958-51, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a full communion agreement Aug. 20 with the United Methodist Church (UMC). This is the ELCA’s sixth full communion relationship and the first for the UMC.

The assembly also adopted an implementing resolution by a vote of 922-15.

In 2008, the UMC General Conference adopted the same agreement.

The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.”

Before the ELCA’s vote, the Rev. Gregory D. Palmer of the UMC said it would be “a great day” for both churches. “I am grateful that we have come to this point.” At a news conference following the two actions, Palmer -- who is president of the UMC Council of Bishops -- said that “God has brought both our churches to a broad place where Jesus Christ calls us ... to all be one [and] to go out for the sake of the world.”

“We welcome you as you welcomed us last summer,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told Palmer after the first vote, “and we rejoice at what the spirit has in store for us.”

“This is indeed a day of great rejoicing,” said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, the ELCA’s executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.

Just after the first full communion proposal was read to the assembly, the Rev. Barbara M. Wills of the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod moved to refer the measure to the presiding bishop for further study throughout the church body, and for it to be re-presented to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. She said she was concerned that there had not been sufficient time for such study.

“We’ve had a long time of discussion [in both churches],” McCoid responded. “I think it’s important for our church to respect the process.”
That motion to refer the decision was voted down by more than 90 percent of the assembly.

Ten ELCA bishops were among those who lined up at microphones to speak in favor of the full-communion agreement. Speakers told of cooperative and joint ministries already being conducted by Lutherans and United Methodists and noted the need for more such ministries and cooperation, especially in rural and remote areas.

Steven Chapman, a layman from the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, asked, “What took so long?” in reference to the agreement. “I know what Lutherans are going to bring to the potluck,” he quipped, “but what are the Methodists going to bring?”

“I think we have the same recipe books,” answered Bishop Sally Dyck of the UMC’s North Central Judicatory Episcopal area of Minnesota, which drew laughter and applause from the assembly.

Full communion is not a merger. But it means that the two churches express a common confession of Christian faith; mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion; join worship and freedom to exchange members; agree to mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.

The two churches began formal theological dialogues together in 1977, which led to declarations of “Interim Eucharistic Sharing” in 2005.

The ELCA has 6.4 million baptized members, and the UMC has 8 million.


Information about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at on the Web.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:

August 21, 2009
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans09-CWA-34-CA

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
The actions here change the church's policy, which previously allowed gays and lesbians into the ordained ministry only if they remained celibate.
Throughout the assembly, which opened Aug. 17, the more than 1,000 voting members have debated issues of human sexuality. On Wednesday they adopted a social statement on the subject as a teaching tool and policy guide for the denomination.
The churchwide assembly of the ELCA is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Before discussing the thornier issues of same-gender unions in the ordained ministry, the assembly approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.
During the hours of discussion, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, the delegates paused several times each hour for prayer, sometimes as a whole assembly, sometimes in small groups around the tables where the voting members of the assembly sat, debated and cast their votes.
Discussion here proved that matters of sexuality will be contentious throughout the church. A resolution that would have reasserted the church's current policy drew 344 votes, but failed because it was rejected by 670 of the voting members.
Pastor Richard Mahan of the ELCA West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod was among several speakers contending that the proposed changes are contrary to biblical teaching. "I cannot see how the church that I have known for 40 years can condone what God has condemned," Mahan said, "Nowhere does it say in scripture that homosexuality and same sex marriage is acceptable of God."
But others said a greater acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in the church was consistent with the Bible. Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod said, "It's a matter of justice, a matter of hospitality, it's what Jesus would have us do." Wollersheim said he had been strongly influenced by meetings with youth at youth leadership events in his synod, a regional unit of the ELCA.
Some speakers contend that the actions taken here will alienate ELCA members and cause a drop in membership. But Allison Guttu of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod said, "I have seen congregations flourish while engaging these issues; I have seen congregations grow recognizing the gifts of gay and lesbian pastors."
During discussion of resolutions on implementation of the proposals, Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod asked that the church make clear provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church cannot call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monagamous, same-gender relationship. A resolution that the denomination consider a proposal for how it will exercise flexibility within its existing structure and practices to allow Lutherans in same gender relationship to be approved for professional service in the church. That resolution passed by a vote of 667-307.


Information about the 2009 Churchwide Assembly is at on the ELCA Web site.
For more information contact:John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org News Blog:

Russell Saltzman on the ELCA's Future

The original post may be found at the First Things site:

Like A Mighty Wind
Thursday, August 20, 2009, 2:10 PM
Russell E. Saltzman

As the national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted yesterday in Minneapolis to accept a social statement on human sexuality, tornado-like winds shook the downtown and ripped up the steeple at the ELCA’s Central Lutheran Church next door to the convention center. No one was injured. The statement, adopted by one vote more than the necessary two-thirds, paves the way for implementing resolutions on Friday that will permit ordination of gay pastors in same-sex relationships and the eventual recognition of same-sex marriage.

Last year the ELCA reported a loss 76,000 members and 52 congregations. Earlier this year church officials eliminated thirty-five staff positions at the denomination’s Chicago headquarters, and were forced to cut $2.4 million from the budget. Informed observers—uh, that would be me—foresee a possible loss of 300 to 500 congregations over the next three to five years as a result of the convention action.

Lutheran CORE Responds to ELCA Decisions

This text may be found on the Lutheran CORE website

Contact: Rev. Mark Chavez - - 717-823-7739
Rev. David Baer - - 605-641-2399

Lutheran CORE leaders renounce ELCA decision to endorse gay marriage and to allow pastors to be in same-sex relationships

MINNEAPOLIS — Leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) expressed both great distress and firm resolve over the decision Friday, Aug. 21, by the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to endorse gay marriage and to change its standards to allow pastors and other rostered leaders to be in committed same-sex relationships.

Lutheran CORE leaders are calling on faithful Lutherans to meet in Indianapolis in September to begin an expanded ministry that draws faithful ELCA congregations and members together. They are also encouraging ELCA members and congregations to direct finances away from the ELCA churchwide organization to faithful ministries within and outside of the ELCA.

“Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians. The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of Lutheran CORE. “I am saddened that a Lutheran Church that was founded on a firm commitment to the Bible has come to the point that the ELCA would vote to reject the Bible’s teaching on marriage and homosexual behavior. It breaks my heart.”

“The assembly has voted to remove the ELCA from the universal Christian consensus on marriage and homosexual behavior. Lutheran CORE intends to remain faithful to the clear teaching of Scripture and the consistent teaching of the Christian Church worldwide and throughout time,” said Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C., a member of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee, who was a finalist in Friday’s election for ELCA Vice President.

“The ELCA Confession of Faith says that Scripture is ‘source and norm’ of the church’s faith and life, but this assembly has shown that the ELCA is willing to violate what it officially says it believes about the Bible,” Schwarz said. “It is appalling that ELCA leaders brought these proposals to a vote. The church should not be voting on whether or not to follow the teaching of the Bible.”

“Luther’s stand was on the Word of God and sound reason. He was not convinced then, and we are not convinced now. We just voted out the Word of God, sound reason and the good orders of creation,” said Jaynan Clark of Spokane, Wash., president of the WordAlone Network. The WordAlone Network is one of the renewal organizations that make up Lutheran CORE. “When God said, ‘I Am Who I Am,’ He meant it. It’s not I am who you want me to be or who you remake me to be. God and His Word are the authority over all of faith and life. It’s not up for a vote,” she added. “And He always gets the last word.”

ELCA has broken faith with its members and Lutherans worldwide
“We are confident that most ELCA Lutherans uphold biblical standards for marriage and sexuality in spite of decisions made by this assembly,” said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa., director of Lutheran CORE.

“These decisions have damaged the ELCA’s relationship with our partner churches in the Lutheran World Federation. The Anglican Communion is in the process of splitting apart because of the actions of The Episcopal Church. The ELCA seems unconcerned about a similar effect on the LWF,” Chavez said.

“These decisions have also hurt the ELCA’s ecumenical relationships with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestant Churches.”

Faithful Lutherans to gather in Indianapolis Sept. 25-26

Lutheran CORE leaders are hosting a gathering for Lutherans who uphold the authority of the Bible for the church’s faith and life Sept. 25-26 in Indianapolis. “Lutheran CORE intends to help those in the ELCA who uphold the authority of Scripture to find a way to remain faithful Lutherans by maintaining basic Christian teaching as revealed in the Bible,” Chavez said.

“We are encouraging individuals and congregations to join us in Indianapolis to discuss what the future for faithful Lutherans in the ELCA might look like and how faithful congregations and individuals can work together ,” Bishop Spring said. “It is crucial that those ELCA Lutherans who uphold the authority of Scripture work together. We need each other. We urge people to come to Indianapolis.”

“We intend to gather the largest possible body of faithful Lutherans so that we might collectively plan a united common future. For that reason it is important that congregations and individuals not make hasty decisions about their future in the ELCA,” Spring added. “We want to work together to do what will be best for all of us and for the continuation of faithful Christian teaching.”

Lutheran CORE renounces official recognition by ELCA

Lutheran CORE leaders also said that they are renouncing their recognition by the ELCA as an Independent Lutheran Organization that officially relates to the ELCA. “We can no longer in good conscience participate in this relationship with the offices in Chicago,” Spring said.
Congregations and members are encouraged to direct financial support away from ELCA
Lutheran CORE leaders are inviting faithful Lutheran congregations and individuals to direct funding away from the national church body because of the decisions made this week by the Churchwide Assembly. Lutheran CORE will participate in and support faithful ELCA ministries, but, cannot support ELCA ministries that reject the authority of God’s Word.

“It is important that congregations and individuals continue to provide financial support beyond their congregations, but the actions of this assembly will make many of our members question whether they can support the ELCA churchwide organization,” said the Rev. Erma Wolf of Brandon, S.D., vice chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee.

“As Martin Luther said, our consciences are captive to the Word of God. We cannot support this departure from God’s Word,” said Chavez. “Congregations and individuals should continue to support local synods and synodical ministries where those institutions remain faithful to biblical teaching,” said Chavez.

“Congregations and individuals should directly support our companion churches worldwide. This could be done through synod companion church programs. Congregations and individuals should support ministries like ELCA Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, Global Health Ministries and other faithful ministries.”

Lutheran CORE is a coalition of pastors, lay people, congregations and reforming groups that seeks to uphold the authority of God’s Word in the ELCA. Lutheran CORE seeks to be a voice for the solid, faithful core that is the majority of ELCA members, pastors, and congregations. More information is available at

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