David Yeago: In the Aftermath

IN THE AFTERMATH

Reflections Following the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

HOW DO WE LIVE NOW?

I’m writing for those who share with me the conviction that the actions taken by the Assembly on human sexuality constitute a theological, ethical, ecclesiological, and ecumenical disaster of immense proportions. I’m not going to make the case for viewing those actions in that way; that has been done repeatedly and very capably by others in the debates that preceded the Assembly. I am writing for those who are already convinced, whom I will call traditionalists.

The question I want to address is “How do we live now?” Is this the “break-point,” the point at which, as one good friend put it in private correspondence, we must judge that this branch of the church has died and withered? What future can traditionalists in the ELCA look forward to besides contempt, irrelevance, and dwindling numbers? I want to address this, moreover, not as a question about organization and strategy, but as a spiritual question, a question about how we are to live our faith in a fallen and erring church.

LUTHER ON CONFLICT IN THE CHURCH

As the clouds have gathered in recent weeks, I have been reminding myself of the fundamentals of the approach I took a few years ago, when I agreed with an assembly action — the adoption of Called to Common Mission — that others were viewing as a “break-point.”  I often appealed in those days to Luther’s exposition of Galatians 6:1-3 in the 1519 Galatians Commentary (Luther’s Works 27, 387-394), where Luther offers something like a spirituality of conflict in the church. What he has to say is worth reviewing at some length.

Luther writes that Paul’s “those who are spiritual” are those who imitate the Holy Spirit in the face of another’s sin. Unlike Satan, the Accuser, the Spirit is the Paraklētos, the helper and advocate. For Christ’s sake, he “excuses, extenuates, and completely covers our sins. On the other hand, He magnifies our faith and good works.” This is how “spiritual” people deal with those who have gone wrong. Luther goes on to quote Augustine: “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual man as his treatment of someone else’s sin…” Likwise Gregory the Great: “True righteousness has compassion, false righteousness is indignant.”

Luther writes that St. Paul is imitating the Spirit in Romans 15:1, when he speaks of the “failings of the weak” where people in his day might have spoken of “heresy and crimes against the Holy Roman Church.” Following Paul in Romans 15:1-3, Luther grounds this “bearing with” one another in Christ’s “bearing” of our sin. Luther continues this line of reasoning in his comments on St. Paul’s “Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). According to Luther. the Apostle is modeling what he recommends: “If you have fallen, I would call it a temptation rather than a crime on your part. With the same gentleness you too must suppose it to have been a temptation whenever you see someone who has fallen; and you should not castigate your brother’s fall with harsh names.”

I find myself already called to an examination of conscience here. Have I done justice to, much less magnified, the faith and good works of people in the church whom I believe have gotten this issue wrong? I know of pastors living in “committed same-sex relationships” who are doing what I cannot describe otherwise than as heroic and exemplary ministry in a hard places. What should predominate in my attitude to them, the sin in the relationship or the heroism of the ministry? Should I magnify, make much of, the sin or the faith and good works? Luther seems clear.

More generally, should we jump to describe the assembly’s actions as deliberate “heresy and crimes against the Holy Church” or should we regard them as “failings of the weak,” a huge  mistake by well-meaning but confused Christian brothers and sisters? What does it mean to “put the best construction on my neighbor’s actions” (Small Catechism) in this situation? Again, Luther seems to point in a clear direction.

Luther goes on to Galatians 6:2. Those whose burdens we are to bear are both those whose faith is confused and those whose behavior is sinful. “Thus everywhere love finds something to bear, something to do.” Now, “to love means to wish from the heart what is good for the other person,. or to seek the other person’s advantage.” If no one fell into error or sin, where would love find its occasion? “… whom are you going to love, whose good are you going to desire, whose good are you going to seek?” It is indeed a flight from love when people “disdain having the uneducated, the useless, the hot-tempered, the foolish, the troublesome and the surly as companions in life…” “They are unwilling, with the bride, to be a lily among thorns (Song 2:2), or with Jerusalem to be situated in the midst of the heather, or with Christ to reign among enemies” (Psalm 110:2).

Luther summarizes: “Consequently, those who in order to become good flee the company of such people are doing nothing else but becoming the worst of all. And yet they do not believe this, because for the sake of love they are fleeing the true duty of love, and for the sake of salvation they are fleeing what is the epitome of salvation. For the church was always best when it was living among the worst people. For in bearing their burdens its love shone with a wonderful sheen…” After all, why did Moses not abandon the stiff-necked Israelites? Why did the prophets not abandon the idolatrous Israelite monarchs?

CONFLICT AND CHURCH FELLOWSHIP

Luther then proceeds to apply this line of thought directly to the question of church fellowship, in a passage I will cite at length:

As a result, the separation of the Bohemians [i.e., the followers of Jan Hus] from the Roman Church can by no kind of excuse be defended from having been an impious thing and contrary to all the laws of Christ, because it stands in opposition to love, in which all laws are summed up. For this solitary allegation of theirs, that they defected because of fear of God and conscience, in order not to live among wicked priests and bishops — this is the greatest indictment of all against them. For if the bishops and priests or any persons at all were wicked, and if you were aglow with real love, you would not flee. No, even if you were at the ends of the ocean, you would come running to them and weep, warn, reprove, and do absolutely everything. And if you followed the teaching of the apostle, you would know that it is not benefits but burdens you have to bear. Therefore it is clear that the whole glory of this Bohemian love is mere sham and the light into which an angel of Satan transforms himself (2 Cor 11:14).

We, who are bearing the burdens and the truly intolerable abominations of the Roman Curia — are we too fleeing and seceding on this account? Perish the thought! Perish the thought! To be sure, we censure, we denounce, we plead, we warn; but we do not on this account split the unity of the spirit, nor do we become puffed up against it, since we know that love rises high above all things, not only above injuries suffered in bodily things but also above all the abominations of sins. A love that is able to bear nothing but the benefits done by another is fictitious.

The course of the Lutheran Reformation was broadly consistent with what Luther wrote here. The Lutherans struggled to maintain unity and asked only to be tolerated in preaching the pure word, and to that end they presented their Confession at Augsburg. From their perspective, at any rate, they did not leave; they were kicked out. Even in so polemical a document as the Smalcald Articles, Luther expressed willingness to accept bishops appointed by the Roman Antichrist “for the sake of love and unity” if only the pure preaching of the gospel was permitted. Note that he did not demand that Rome adopt evangelical doctrine, only that such doctrine be allowed.

In his exegesis of Galatians 6:3, Luther understand Paul to be giving a “very beautiful and very strong reason” for his teaching. Here too, it seems necessary to cite at length:

We are all equal, and we are all nothing. Why then does one man puff himself up against the other, and why do we not rather help one another? Furthermore, if there is anything in us, it is not our own, it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is, to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt one owes to love, then I must serve others with it not myself. Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned, and is the debt I owe them. My chastity is not my own; it belongs to those who commit sins of the flesh, and I am obligated to serve them through it by offering it to God for them, by sustaining and excusing them, and thus, with my respectability, veiling their shame before God and men, as Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:23 that those parts of the body that are less honorable are covered by those that are more honorable. Thus my wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed. Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to sinners. For these are the forms of God of which we must empty ourselves, in order that forms of a servant may be in us (Phil. 2:6), because it is with these qualities that we must stand before God and intervene on behalf of those who do not have them, as though clothed with someone else’s garment, not unlike the priest, when, on behalf of those standing about, he sacrifices in a ritual garb that does not belong to him. But even before men we must, with the same love, render them service against their detractors and those who are violent towards them; for this is what Christ did for us. This is that furnace of the Lord in Zion (Is. 31:9), that tender compassion of the Father, who wants to tie us together with such inestimable virtue. By this badge, by this symbol, by this mark, we Christians are distinguished from all nations, in order that we may be God’s private property, a priestly race, and a royal priesthood.

Luther presents us with a very different approach to issues of purity, defilement and fellowship than that which became prevalent in the wake of the Reformation, which was all “Get thee out of Babylon” and don’t be defiled by going to church with heretics. Luther does not trivialize the difference between true and false teaching, right and sinful actions. False doctrine and sin are to be resisted and admonished. But the wrong of another is not seen as a reason to separate but a reason to draw near. My neighbor’s wrong causes me to suffer — it is a burden for me to bear — and my better knowledge or better behavior are gifts given me for the sake precisely of my erring, sinning brother or sister.

I am far from having penetrated, in either my thinking or my practice, the depths that open up in Luther’s reflections. And we may legitimately ask whether Luther himself always or even often modeled what he prescribed. But he has at the very least offered us an alternative to many more common ways of thinking about conflict and church fellowship. Personally, I must say, my conscience is caught in what he has written, and it is the background against which I’ve tried to think about how to live now, in the aftermath of the 2009 Assembly.

A QUESTION OF VOCATION AND DISCIPLESHIP

A few years ago, with such thoughts in the background, I told pastors who opposed CCM, “Until you see a big bad Episcopal bishop bearing down on you with a stick to force you to preach a false gospel, stay where you are and do your job.” I now find the same counsel turning around on my own head. It seems to me that the key question is whether we are able to abide in Christ in the midst of the fallen, erring ELCA.

For pastors, that means: “Do these decisions prevent you from preaching the gospel and building up the people of God as you have been called to do?” “Prevent” is not the same as “make more difficult.” Being “prevented” is not the same as being treated as a narrow-minded fossil, feeling alienated, and not seeing a bright future. Likewise, all of us as baptized believers are asked: “Do these decisions prevent you from hearing the gospel and being formed as a disciple of Jesus?” Here again, “prevent” is a word with a precise meaning. It is not the same as “make it harder.” Being “prevented” is not the same as feeling unsupported and despised. If we can read the Bible we ought to know full well that such difficulties are just the sort of sandpaper God regularly uses to shape his people.

For myself, I cannot see that these decisions prevent me from continuing to do what I have been charged to do as a seminary teacher. If someone in authority were to tell me that I must suppress what I teach about marriage or the law of God because of these actions, then the situation would change. But that has not happened yet, and I do not know that it will ever happen. Likewise, I do not see that these decisions prevent me from hearing the gospel in my local congregation and being formed there as a disciple. Indeed, if I attend to what Luther says, the Assembly actions give me a great if painful opportunity to learn discipleship, to practice love. It seems rather a distraction to speculate about leaving when I have barely started to learn what I could about following Jesus right where I am.

To be sure, individuals have different vocations and different personal breaking-points (which is something different from a break-point as described above). The assembly actions are going to speed up the discernment process for some in the ELCA who have a genuine calling to enter another church. Others are going to find that they simply cannot handle life in this church any longer – they feel too much anger and betrayal, or they’re burnt out, depleted, and can’t find rest in these surroundings. No one should sit in judgment on the decisions faithful people make under these circumstances. I have only one piece of advice about this: if you leave because you love the church to which you’re going, and its ways and teachings, fine and good. But if you leave chiefly because you’re angry at what you’re leaving, you will be nothing but trouble to yourself and to your new church. That’s based not only on my own observations, but on what I hear from Roman Catholic and Orthodox pastors who’ve had dealings with converts. And one other thing: be sure that what you’re falling in love with actually exists on the ground, in typical congregations, and isn’t just a picture you’ve formed in your mind from reading books.

ON NOT BEING THE JUDGE

Most traditional Christians in the ELCA, myself very much included, have from time to time asked ourselves my friend’s question: “Is this the point at which we must judge that this branch of the church has  died and withered?” But what does this question mean? The reference to John 15 suggests that the question has to do finally with God’s attitude to the ELCA: is the ELCA a branch of Christ the Vine that brings forth no good fruit, so that God “takes it away” (John 15:2), casts it forth so that it withers and is to be put in the fire and burned (John 15:6)?

If I recall John 15 correctly, there is nothing there about ME serving as vinedresser and deciding which branches are dead and which have hope. The vinedresser is the Father, not I. I do not see how John 15 gives me the possibility of changing positions and becoming the one who judges rather than one who is judged and pruned.

How could it ever be my place to make the judgment that God has rejected a fellowship of his baptized children? That God may indeed pass such judgments, I cannot read the prophets and deny. The holy church will abide on earth forever (Augsburg Confession) but it is nowhere guaranteed that it will forever abide with us. But even the prophets to whom God’s judgments were explicitly revealed – as they have not been to me – continued to live and suffer among the people; they did not leave for greener pastures.

Where I come into John 15 is with the charge to abide in Christ and in his love, and bear fruit that glorifies the Father. And that seems to have a lot to do with obeying Jesus’ commandment to love one another. If I can remain where I am and still abide in Christ, still bear fruit that might mercifully be viewed as glorifying the Father, and still be learning to love, then I have plenty with which to occupy myself. And what’s at stake is whether I get cast forth from the vine and wither, not whether other people do.

A FUTURE FOR TRADITIONALISTS IN THE ELCA

“Still,” it may be asked, “what is the point of staying on in a denomination that seems now to have committed itself irrevocably to a wrong path? What can traditionalists look forward to besides muttering on the sidelines as we dwindle and fade away?” Much depends, it seems to me, on what sort of success we think Christian witness should look for. Are traditionalists likely to rise up and sweep all before them in a grand triumph of orthodoxy? Doesn’t seem likely, though God does strange things. I do recall something in the Bible about mustard-seeds. But are we promised that kind of victory if we’re faithful? How about: “I” – as pastor or teacher – “stayed in the ELCA and as a result, in spite of everything, sinful human beings came to know the Lord who died for them and found hope and began to learn love”? How about: “I” — as baptized believer – “stayed in the ELCA and learned hard but important things about being a disciple of Jesus?” Would that be sufficient “point” for staying in the ELCA?

Here is my dream for the future of traditional Christians in the ELCA. Instead of thinking of ourselves primarily as dissenters and opposition, let us ask God to make of us a movement of repentance and renewal, so that the continuing presence of traditionalists in the ELCA will be a blessing and an adornment for the whole church. Let us traditionalists be the ones who live most deeply in the Scriptures, who bring forth the bread of life most richly from the Scriptures, who let themselves be most drastically challenged and remade by the word of God, who live most intensely in prayer, who are able to teach prayer to others. Let us traditionalists be in the forefront of ministry among the poor, the apparently hopeless, the despised; let us be the ones who volunteer to go to the hard places. Let our revisionist brothers and sisters, let homosexual persons in the church, be conscious when they meet us mostly of how much we care for them, how far we are willing to go for them, of the respect and honor with which we treat them, despite our clear disagreement with aspects of their teaching and/or life.

Having written the last paragraph, I have to say that it convicts me down to the ground, which strikes me as a sign that I might be on to something.

David S. Yeago

Michael C. Peeler Professor of Systematic Theology

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

Columbia, South Carolina

40 Responses to “David Yeago: In the Aftermath”

  1. Kaye Hute Says:

    thank you

  2. Bob Calkins Says:

    Where we lived previously my wife and I attended a United Methodist church. Due to similar decisions made at their national conference we dropped our church membership. However, we stayed just as actively involved in that congregation, and good stuff continued happening there.

    Besides comforting our own consciences I guess the only difference that dropping our membership made was that our congregation’s basis of suggested giving to the national conference was dropped by two members.

    So these last 10 years we have been actively involved in an ELCA congregation (though we’ve never joined). Having been through this situation before we kind of sigh and shake our heads, but we continue on supporting the ministries here.

  3. David Maxfield Says:

    Thank you for a profound and humble article.

  4. Erik Samuelson (pubpastor) Says:

    Dr Yeago, thank you for this. You make me proud to be a Lutheran. If we could all witness with this sort of grace, the work God would do through us would be profound.

    I find myself in a strange position, I’m guessing much as you did with CCM, agreeing with a great deal of the theology of the folks opposed, and yet agreeing with the prevailing side of this decision. Dr. Foerde’s article on Romans 1 is a great example–I’m with him all the way on the uses of the law until he comes to his conclusions where he actually applies it. I disagree with his assertion that homosexuality is inherently selfish, and that cuts through his whole argument on how the law ought to apply–but I think his “traditionalist” take on Law and Gospel is unbelievably helpful to this discussion anyway. (http://www.luthersem.edu/word&world/Archives/14-3_Sex/14-3_ Forde.pdf)

    To me, this decision was not about “Liberal Protestantism”, the “Social Gospel”, or simply going with the culture and sacrificing the Gospel–as many of those in my theological “family” have asserted. It is a break from the traditional teaching of the Church–but so were Luther’s reforms, so that argument makes me listen hard and seriously to tradition, but is not the trump card many (like Braaten) would like it to be. From my perspective, this decision has roots in good Lutheran theological reflection and biblical interpretation–but I say that humbly because I have no doubt that there are many perspectives on this (hence the insistence on bound conscience). Isn’t that how Lutheran theology and biblical hermeneutics is supposed to work?

    I imagine, however, that in 15 years time that I (a traditionalist at heart) will find my “break point” with the ELCA (who knows what the issue of the day will be by then) and I intend to keep this essay in a file just for that occasion. Please keep writing things like this. Thank you.

  5. Tommy Lineberger Says:

    Dr. Yeago,

    Thank you for this wonderfully thought-provoking article which assists me and will assists me as I offer pastoral care to those who are struggling with leaving the ELCA. I wish I had known more of the thoughts of traditionalists before I attended Churchwide. It would have been helpful.

  6. Pam Smith Says:

    Dr. Yeago, I add my thanks to those who have previously posted.

    I reflect upon your words of the kind of “burden-bearing” to which we are called as I consider the two categories of “traditionalist” and “revisionist,”. And, for now at least, I will not place myself in one camp or the other because the terms themselves, like most labels, carry more overtones and nuance than may be intended. As “burden-bearers,” may we come closer to each other.

    Thanks be to God that I am not “prevented” from proclaiming the Gospel in the congregation to which I have been called. We had Rally Day and our Ministry Fair today — much vitality and life and exuberance, all of which was centered around Word and Sacrament. And we’ll all gather ’round the Table again next week, too.

    Thank you.
    Pam+

  7. michael murphy Says:

    Extremely helpful and insightful — thank you!

  8. Jolene Allen Says:

    Cannot the revisionists live most deeply in the Scriptures; bring forth the bread of life most richly from the Scriptures; themselves be most drastically challenged and remade by the word of God, who live most intensely in prayer, who are able to teach prayer to others. Let us revisionists be in the forefront of ministry among the poor, the apparently hopeless, the despised; let us be the ones who volunteer to go to the hard places. Let our traditionist brothers and sisters, let homosexual persons in the church, be conscious when they meet us mostly of how much we care for them, how far we are willing to go for them, of the respect and honor with which we treat them…

  9. Rev. Clinton Kersey Says:

    Dr. Yeago:

    Your article is not only touching, but also the most helpful piece I have read in response to the CWA.
    Our Lord’s Peace to us all.

  10. ELCA Convention aftermath: Is the Dust Settling? #CWA09 & #Goodsoil09 | Spirit of a Liberal Says:

    […] Yeago of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of South Carolina offered his own musings entitled, In the Aftermath.  It is pretty thick reading, as theological writings often are, and laypersons may find his essay […]

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Are you saying that revisionists or those who do not call themselves traditionalists have not gone far or far enough for others in this church or in its ministry simply because we do not call ourselves traditionalists?

    Many, many people in this church are to be commended for their work, their ministry, their commitment to the poor, hungry, and hopeless, and for their willingness to hear the other side–no matter what category into which they fall.

    I do appreciate your words and thoughts. I do think you offer something important to ponder and chew on as we figure out what’s next. But I would caution against making an “us” and “them” argument–which is how I read some of what you have written.

  12. Douglas Schoelles Says:

    You ask the question “Do these decisions prevent you from preaching the gospel and building up the people of God as you have been called to do?”

    A question posed by others seeking to hold a tenuous unity

    I find the question to be very narrow – almost self-centered.
    For those who oppose congregationalist orientations – this is a very congregationalist question.
    The question also centers on whether the pastor will be inconvenienced.

    The question is also narrow because it looks only at the short term.
    While, yes for as long as I am the pastor, I will lead my congregation and we will steer clear of the ELCA and its heterodoxy.
    We will avoid using Augsburg Fortress materials, we will avoid being involved in a lot of other ELCA events. We will not send our pastoral candidates to ELCA seminaries.

    What happens after I am no longer the pastor?
    This is the case of my last church. A solidly conservative church called a liberal pastor. I am know he downplayed his liberal views.
    As I talk with leaders in the congregation, they say the pastor has avoided the ELCA issues. He has not raised theological and ecclesial questions.

    So, this congregation is ignorant of the events. focused on immediate matters of ministry.

    But what happens with the next pastor and the one after that.

    Asking whether this decision just effects MY ability as the pastor to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments is a narrow view, especially since the pastor is not the church where the gospel is rightly preached or where sacraments are rightly administered/ The congregation is the local incarnation of that.

    The question needs to be “Do these decisions prevent congregations from preaching the gospel and building up the people of God as they have been called to do?

    Not just over the short span of some pastor’s tenure, but over the course of a generation or so.

    Clearly these decisions will prevent congregations from preaching the Gospel and reaching people for Christ and making disciples because these decisions have created a different gospel.

    Rom 8:11
    Douglas

    • Debbie Roberts Says:

      Douglas,
      I am a member of your former church, and I have been (as far as I know) the only person who has spoken up (in a Sunday school class on the topic of right and wrong) about the issue. It was danced around for a while until I point blank asked the Pastor his views. His response was a flipant ” You knew I was Berkely trained when you hired me.” I think if the matter were discussed the congregation would have a different view. I mostly think we are hanging in lukewarm territory, which is frightening.
      I am struggling with this. I love my church, they are my family. I love people of whatever orientation who are members, but by my own bound conscience I can’t accept the vote of the ELCA that so clearly contradicts what I find in the Bible. To say that homosexuality isn’t a sin when it clearly states that is. I just don’t get it. No it is not the worst sin, but sin is sin.
      That is the defining element to me. We all sin, we are all covered by God’s grace, some just don’t want to admit it and or accept it!

  13. chris tallman Says:

    I am not a very well read person so I cannot comment on all the theological arguments being made. I do however read scripture every day and can appreciate comments made by everyone previously. I find a very thin line being drawn between the sinner and the sin. I love sinners of all sort and have acted to help these people to turn their lives around so they can bring glory to God by offering themselves as a perfect sacrifice. On the other hand, I do not condone habitual sin of any sort and find it defiant of God to elevate habitual sinners to the status of leadership of any church. I find it somewhat interesting that I somehow am now guilty of a greater sin by my position. I do not involve myself with politics or any social cause as I choose instead to focus on the race I am running. I am not ready to leave the Lutheran church as I have much blood sweat and tears invested, but I cannot continue to support the ELCA as they plot a steady course away from scriptural interpretations that for thousands of years christians have cherished and even died for. I don’t consider myself a traditionalist or other staunch conservative by any means but will ask this one simple question to anyone who has ears: How does all of this political maneuvering within ELCA bring glory to God?

    • Rhonda Cannon Says:

      Yours is one of the few responses that I can wholy identify with! I, too, wonder how it is a sin to believe that it is wrong to “elevate habitual sinners to the status of leadership of any church.”

      The main defenses that I have heard for the ELCA’s decision have essentially been commandments to love one’s neighbor and to not sit in judgement of others’ because we are ALL sinners. I try to live my daily life by these two ideals. I believe the majority of the other Lutherans I know who are opposed to the ordination of homosexuals in committed, same-sex partnerships try live by these ideals, as well. I have compassion, acceptance, and love for ALL of my brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, etc.. HOWEVER, I also believe that a leader of a congregation of people should be held to a higher moral standard, and I think that this is in direct conflict with homosexuality.
      Will I leave my church over this issue? No. My church is my family and is as much a part of me as one of my limbs. I will pray for the ELCA, but I will also continue to support my church’s decision to indefinitely suspend its’ apportionment to our synod.

  14. Chaplain John Connolly Says:

    I have struggled with this very dilemma over the previous few weeks. I have had other chaplains question my integrity for not being more demonstrative against my church body. I too feel that it is very important for Christians to be able to live together in harmony – even if we do not agree on every subject. I will not abandon my church, this is the manifestation of the Body of Christ that I know and love. “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” (Small Catechism 8th Commandment – bookofconcord.org) In that I will also not speak poorly about my church body or stand idly by for others speaking poorly against it – even if I disagree. The people of the ELCA can continue to proclaim the Gospel. The people of the ELCA can continue to administer the sacraments. The people of the ELCA can continue to serve, minister, teach, etc all in the name of Christ.

    No, in all, I will not abandon my church. I will not cease being a pastor / chaplain in the ELCA. I will not cease to be proud of the wonderful ministry that is conducted in the name of Christ in the ELCA, even when I do not agree with every action they may take.

  15. Lura Groen Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. As one who disagrees with you about justice for people of all sexual orientations, I nonetheless find this to be one of the most convicting pieces I’ve read in a long time, as well as being full of Good News. Your balance between love and unity with those we disagree with, and yet persistently speaking truth is one that I have been looking for. I will use it as Spirit-Inspired teaching about disagreement in our church. Thank you again.

  16. Micah Says:

    I grew up in the Lutheran Church although on my own adult path I have not joined a community that worships the Divine according to any specific historical tradition. However, I have always been enormously proud of what I still consider to be “my church.” It warmed my heart to see the actions that the Church took regarding the acceptance of human sexuality. But I am also very happy that it contains “traditionalists” as thoughtful and compassionate as you, Dr. Yeago. Best of luck in your journey to find your place within or outside of this particular human institution. Also please stay open to more being revealed by God to you on this issue.

    Peace,
    Micah

  17. Mitzie Says:

    I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for what you have to say here. I wonder though if you could speak to the idea that some of those who voted at Churchwide were convicted to their knees by the Spirit to vote yes on the resolutions and wept after because they understood the hurt for so many?

  18. Tilman and Nancy Frye Says:

    Thank you so very much for your essay. As two committed traditionalists, we have increasingly felt out of the mainstream of Lutheranism as practiced by the ELCA, but your words give us new hope that we can continue to labor in the vineyard in which we find ourselves.

  19. Mark Wilhelm Says:

    Dr. Yeago,

    Several years ago I sat in your Introduction to Theology class at LTSS and heard you declare that your job was “to make our job (future pastors and rostered leaders) just as hard as it needed to be.” I understood that to mean that we would not be let off the hook for sloppy thinking or for applying simple solutions to complex issues and the like. I am grateful for that many other things you imparted while I was a student there. It is easy and tempting to evaluate the disaster of the CWA in simple, reactionary terms. In fact, if it were just myself to be concerned with that temptation would be even greater. But I am pastor of a congregation. I also hear the concern of the person (listed above) who left a fairly traditional congregation only to see it led astray by a pastor of more liberal persuasion. This too, is of deep concern to me and has to be weighed out. My views are in a minority in my conference and with rare exception, the ‘bound conscience’ clause has been practically interpreted by the majority as ‘be quiet and be nice’. You are contributing to this issue in a unique and helpful way. Thank you for speaking up and thank you for making my job as hard as it needs to be ; )

  20. Cynthia Huth Says:

    I don’t see myself as a “traditionalist”, but more as a “scripturalist.”
    How can an ordained leader of the church who is in a same-sex partnership teach scripture while living against scripture? I have great difficulty with this.

  21. kate Says:

    I am not a theologian and I’ve only been worshiping as an ELCA Lutheran for about 12 years so my comments will be simplistic to many but I need to respond to this post. While I see the love you’re trying to impart, I find this offensive. I do not consider gay people to be the “worst people” I live among. Someone’s sexuality isn’t a burden to me—it’s the way they were born. If I follow your logic then I must follow it to the extreme: How can I worship among divorced Lutherans? Or Lutherans who chose to have sex before marriage? Or take communion from a divorced Lutheran pastor?

    I rejoiced when I heard about what took place at the last gathering because I thought about all of the gay people I know who have felt so left out. And I thought about the young gay Lutherans who wondered if there would ever be a safe place for them to worship and considered abandoning it all. If you hear feisty passion in this post it is because I am so tired of all of this bickering and rule-mongering. Can’t we just get on with the work of Christ? To be his hands here—to reach out to all people—even to the ones who don’t look, act or think like us?

  22. Rev. Russel Yoak Says:

    Thank you for your insight.

    Like Mark Wilhelm I too am grateful to be one of your former students who has carried much of what you taught with them into ordained ministry. I currently have no intention of leaving the ELCA as my job has always been hard, now I merely have a better view of all the players. Knowing that I stand with brothers and sisters in Christ of such character and faith is a true inspiration.

  23. Susan Blough Says:

    I agree with Cynthia, above. I also don’t put a label on my type of belief other than to say that I believe the Bible for it is what contains all of God’s truth for us as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ. I also question how an ordained leader of an ELCA church can teach scripture, model a Christian lifestyle (even including regular departure from right behavior, for which repentence is offered and forgiveness is sought from our Lord), and try not to lead others down a path in conflice with the WORD when that leader has chosen to deliberately participate on an on-going basis with no repentence in something that is called a sin in that scripture. My question comes from a place of confusion withing myself; I also have great difficulty with this. I extend my grateful thanks and appreciation for being allowed to express this thought.

    • Laurie L Says:

      I agree with Cynthia and Susan above. I am not anti-gay people. I am anti-sin. The Bible clearly states that homosexual behavior is a sin. All humans are sinners. The Bible also tells us to love each other and lift each other up. However, it is not right or proper to ordain a sinner who is not repentant and continues to thumb his/her nose at the Scriptures and twist it’s meaning to suit their desires. I cannot accept any of the rationalizations from those who want the Bible to mean something else. You can call me a traditionalist, but I prefer to call myself a Christian who believes the Bible is the Truth and you can’t take that away from me. I do not want to be included as a member of the ELCA anymore. I’m not that kind of Lutheran.

  24. Lura Says:

    Susan and Cynthia-
    I understand your questions and frustrations. If those of us in the “revisionist” camp were rejecting Scripture on one issue, it would be hard to see how we can lead congregations in trusting Jesus revealed to us in Scripture.

    What is often lost in the debate is that we “revisionists” are also reading Scripture, faithfully, deeply, and led by the Spirit. We come to different conclusions than you do, and that leads to pain, but we are just as in love with the Bible as you are.

    The question is how to live in the Body of Christ together, knowing that our readings of Scripture lead us in different directions.

    For more on this, see Rev. Timothy Wengert’s reflections at:

    http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Issues/September-2009/Reflections-on-the-ELCA-6.aspx

  25. Pastor Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

    I am another pastor who stood in Minneapolis and wept at the decisions made. I had heard the arguments from “the other side” and while their calls to a new reading of scripture, justice, and equity were a siren song, I found (find) them unpersuasive and unconvincing.

    Dr. Wengert’s work on Luther, Melancthon, and especially “The Priesthood of All Believers” is groundbreaking. I applaud his scholarship. Yet, on this issue of bound conscience, I am not moved.

    Thank you to you Dr. Yeago for your work and in addition, let me thank Dr.’s Root and Braaten for their work on this blog. I serve on the ELCA Church Council where I have often been a lonely (and sometimes singular) voice in opposition to the changes now permitted in the Minneapolis decisions. I will be voting in November on the actual wording of the changes. It is important for me to read a number of views and attempt to ground my votes in scripture, theology, and tradition. This blog helps.

  26. TeeJay Says:

    Luther brought us to grasp sola gracia, sola fide, and sola scriptura, and now we wish to add sola tradition? What will this work bring us? While I understand the press to follow tradition and argue with it for the sake of service to the church, even in Luther’s day, when church tradition is changed so that it will no longer retain the scriptural roles outlined for the people of God, then I believe it is time to pray and then act as the Spirit guides.

  27. Diane Roth Says:

    I don’t consider myself a “traditionalist” or a “revisionist”; I think these labels are helpful in someways,but harmful in others. I appreciated your words though I find myself more in agreement with Pastor Erik.

    Thank you.

  28. Pastor Dan Says:

    The other night 85 members of our ELCA Lutheran Church came to discuss the four decisions regarding our relationship with gays/lesbians in our church. Our moderator put a continuum on the wall which reflected different ways people interpret the Bible. On the far left were words like, “Written by God, literally true, infallible, inerrant.” On the far right were words like “Inspired but need contextual interpretaion and fit for today.” With that continuum (like a visual embrace), people felt free to share their convictions and stories … and passions.
    After hearing voices along the continuum I became convinced that the “glue” that needed to hold us together was our common on the life and teachings of Jesus. Last night as I mulled these things over, I thought of his choice of disciples. What a selection. Jesus even said that “one of them was a devil” but he didn’t stop him from being their treasurer! It seems to me that Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners, knew how to live in the tension of people with very dissimilar views and beliefs. In that mix he kept encouraging mercy and love as the fulfillment of the law. To me its helpful to see Jesus actively entering the scriptures of his day and interpreting them in a fresh way. “You have heard it said, but I say unto you!” For that fresh interpretation of the scriptures he had his enemies, but he persisted by living and proclaiming the “new” Commandment of his greater love, the heart of God. I think we all need to sing Amazing Grace till it flows out like a living stream.
    I know that in golf if I focus on the water or the sand, my ball will likely go there. If I focus on where I want it to go, there’s always hope! :)

  29. Rusty Morse Says:

    First, I must thank David Yeago for the thoughtful and intelligent commentary. It helps me to better understand how I can respond as a Christian to those with whom I may disagree. It is all to easy to become angry or judgmental, no matter which position one has taken. It is too bad that we have to label everything (revisionist/traditionalist), however. We tend to be dualistic in our thinking, and it comes naturally, I guess.

    The commentary reminds me of something written or spoken by Fr. Richard Rohr, AFM. He described Christ as a non-dualistic thinker and teacher. The picture he painted was of Christ on the cross, with His body at the intersection of that cross, holding the tension of two opposites in His body (this world and the Next). That speaks to me. I will gaze upon that cross and pray that I can receive God’s power to help me hold the tension of opposites that I struggle with today. God’s Peace to all of the thoughtful people who have written from their hearts. I am inspired by the care and concern and love that is instilled in those writings.

  30. Pam Says:

    Interesting commentary. I believe the majority in our church congregation are traditionalists. Members here are voting on the ELCA Resolutions with their pocketbooks, and not wanting to support a church they believe has gone astray. Attendance and offerings are way down, and the leadership doesn’t appear to “get it.” I am disheartened with the ELCA decisions. I feel that this will severely damage our witness to other nations in the world, where they consider homosexual behavior a grave sin.

    I consider myself a Scripturalist who needs to be faithful to God’s Word. I just can’t practice “salad-bar Christianity” (I’ll take some of that, but not that – that surely can’t be what God meant. See how the Devil tempted Eve with his words in Gen. 2). For me, the question has now become – how can I stay when the church (churchwide and local) is causing my faith to stumble greatly? God kills to build up! Would that my congregation was WordAlone or Lutheran Core or Lutheran Church in Mission For Christ. The church is becoming more OF the world than IN the world. One rotten apple in a barrel spoils the whole barrel. After the Resolutions passed, the next Lutheran magazine had an article with HUGE headlines celebrating 200 Years of Darwin*, and I read a couple articles in our church newsletter, I am forced to leave my congregation. I am truly sad and it is truly unfortunate. I do believe God has a place for me somewhere else. *Darwin’s autobiography tells how he finally came to the belief that Jesus Christ was NOT the Lord and Savior … and we allow that in our faith magazine? What has the ELCA wrought??

  31. Jonathan Jenkins Says:

    As you know, the 1535 commentary (LW 27, p.115) is less forebearing;
    “Hence the commandment to burdens should be borne does not refer to those who deny Christ and who not only do not acknowledge their sin but defend it; nor are those who persist in their sins (who also partly deny Christ.”

    Part of the problem is that some of us take the Law/Gospel distinction to mean that it is not denial of Christ to deny anything deemed “Law.”

  32. Dan Says:

    By now we should all know on which side of the issue we stand.
    One side is right, and the other side is wrong. They cannot both be equally convicted. One side is less concerned with Church unity than with the right of some Pastors to engage in certain sins they particularly like. It really is as simple as that.

    So where do we go? In my case I’ve been forced by conscience to leave my church. This is just the last straw for me. But a more urgent straw because in this case, it is very plain to me that there is false teaching going on, and I think I know who’s behind it, and he has horns. If I stay, I will be sending money to to a group in Chicago that is engaged in what I’m pretty sure is false teaching. So I will be supporting false teaching and therefore actively working against Jesus Christ. It is that simple.

    I suppose I could stop giving, but why in the world would I stay in a church I can’t trust with my tithes (which are the Lord’s not the ELCA’s) when there are churches all around that I can trust?

    Forget the money angle. How can one be an effective witness for a church with which he disagrees. The thought seems to be that we are to explain to prospects all of the wording of the resolutions and “bound conscience” and all that stuff and how we aren’t exactly in step with our denomination unless the prospect would like us to be. This will all be about as clear as mud.

    Or we just don’t mention any of this and hope the subject doesn’t come up for a while. We just keep this aunt chained up in the attic. We trick the prospect into joining. That is deceitful and just plain evil, because sooner or later their kid will come home from a Youth gathering with lots of crazy ideas that are actually the accepted ELCA policy. Only then will that member find out that they’ve been paying to support the eventual undermining of their child all along.

    But wait a minute, why do I (Sunday School teacher, VBS director, big giver) have to leave and listen to my little girl cry herself to sleep over leaving the only church she’s ever known? Why am I being put in a position that threatens to weaken my family just because I have a conscience? Why can’t my church, where probably at least 90% of the membership agrees with me, simply leave the ELCA?

    Unlike the Episcopals we don’t really need to worry about the property. We would still be free to give money to Lutheran World Relief or Lutheridge or whoever. No there aren’t any perfect fits among the other Lutheran bodies, but some are much, much better fits for the average Southern congregation than the ELCA.

    The aguments for staying presented here are really, really, really weak. Pretty but weak. Cannot a pastor or teacher lead sinners to know the Lord, find hope and learn to love outside the ELCA? Wouldn’t they have more of an opportunity to do that since other groups are so much more evangelical and would bring them into contact with greater numbers of people?

    Do people who leave for other denominations not learn hard but important lessons about being disciples? I find this argument almost offensive. Isn’t leaving behind 10 years of hard work and about $150k of money given hard? Isn’t having to explain all this to a 4th grader hard? It would have been much, much, much easier to look the other way on this and just settle back into my pew, but I couldn’t do it.

  33. Glenn C. Petersen Says:

    Dear David,
    I’m glad you have written such a blog.
    In the life of the Church, we have always struggled with loving our own sense of righteousness, the pride of being religious, more than we love the Lord Jesus and the powerful, liberating word of the Gospel. We are in the midst of a major struggle. Note your own language when referring to pastors you know who live in “committed same-sex relationships”. With no apparent circumspection, you glibly judge the “sin in the relationship.” My! I expect better biblical-theology from one of our seminary professors. It is so very good of you to stay in fellowship with “the fallen, erring ELCA”. Truly, I am glad you stay, even while I pray that the Spirit continues to move among us, prodding us and pulling us forward in the Way of Jesus.

  34. Craig Nessan Says:

    Dear Dr. Yeago,

    I am sincerely moved by your paper and reflections. Were the members of the ELCA (those of all persuasions on the present conflict) able to focus centrally on the matters of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and living charitably and respectfully with others–ministering to the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for creation–this just might yet turn out to be a church in which the Spirit is forging us (as through fire) to be Christ’s body. Along with you, your closing paragraphs “convict me to the ground.”

  35. Janet Says:

    Would that we could all recognize the truth of what you have said in this article and live our faith in love. Thank you.

  36. Bradley C. Jenson Says:

    Like others, I find myself touched by Dr. Yeago’s concluding two paragrahs; an emotional impact similar to that which I had when I first read Abraham Lincoln’s concluding paragraph of his second inaugural address, “with malice toward none. . .”

    Some, indeed, many traditonal Lutherans will remain in the ELCA only to see further erosion of orthodox beliefs. It is inevitable. Dr. Yeago certainly remembers Richard John Neuhaus’ maxim that “where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will be proscribed.” It is only a matter of time.

    And so it will be that some congregations leave the ELCA. (My best guess is around 400 congregations.) Most that do will affiliate with LCMC—taking their first vote at their January 2010 annual meetings or before). Most congregations will not wait for Lutheran CORE to establish a new Lutheran Church. CORE will rally less than 100 congregations—not enough for a viable denomination. As a resistance/renewal movement WordAlone had it’s swan song in November. Thus, the splintering of traditional ELCA Lutherans. If E. Clifford Neson—my church history professor at St. Olaf College—were alive today, he’d have quite a sad chapter to add to the history of North American Lutheranism.

  37. bryan Says:

    “test the spirits,” says the scripture and though at first convincing i must finally say no to our author. why? for one simple reason–scripture trumps even beloved luther. much could be said but ponder this one example. elijah on mt. carmel… if the prophet were to take dr. yeago’s advice and simply worked among the prophets of baal as a loyal (shall we say “traditionalist”) dissenter all would have been lost. a drop of truth in a sea of of falehood does little good. no–the new wine bursts the old skins (read church). why even Jesus would be made nothing if we take dr. yeago’s thoughtful comments to their final conclusion. let us take our stand on mt. carmel and say as elijah’s did: “choose this day whom you will serve.” i love my homosexual brother and sister too much to do anything less. anything less would be a betrayal. i know. i’ve been on the other side. and someone cared enough to speak a loving and clear word to me and it saved my life here and for eternity. dr. yeago should know he will be used by the “revisionist” side as a pawn.

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