Archive for August, 2009

Bound Consciences and First Words on Implementation (Implementation 1)

August 31, 2009

The implementation of the Ministry Proposals adopted at the Churchwide Assembly needs to attend both to what was adopted and how it was adopted. The Task Force on Sexuality did not present a comprehensive biblical and theological argument in favor of same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian persons, which then convinced a large majority of the Assembly. Rather, the Task Force noted an impasse on these questions and counselled a diversity of practice that would respect the differently ‘bound consciences’ within the ELCA. The proposals on same-sex blessing and ordinations of partnered gay and lesbian persons were adopted by majorities of 60 and 55 percent, respectively. The amendment adopted by the Assembly (at the motion of Bishop Kusserow) to Resolution 4 committed the church to find ways of recognizing dissent in the policies to be developed on the basis of these proposals. The argument from ‘bound consciences’ to these actions may have been a bad argument (I think it was), but it cannot be simply kicked aside as a tool that has served its purpose and can now be forgotten. The argument from bound conscience must be the context that shapes the specific policies adopted. In the process, we may need to rethink the theoretical and functional ecclesiology of the ELCA, with its three expressions (congregation, synod, national church), all of which are ‘church’ in a theological sense. That is the task that the ELCA now has ahead of itself.

The first word on the development of these policies, however, is not encouraging. An ELCA news release (see here) seems to indicate that the accommodation of bound consciences means nothing more than that no congregation will be forced to call a partnered gay or lesbian pastor. Since no congregation in the ELCA can be forced to call any particular pastor, this provision does not amount to much. If the language of bound conscience indicates an intention to find ways to let dissenters continue to find a home in the ELCA, a great deal more will be needed The news release may not have intended to give a picture of what is to come, but in these sensitive times, language must be carefully chosen.
Michael Root

Advertisements

Who or what has a conscience?

August 29, 2009
The ELCA now faces a difficult philosophical question: who or what has a conscience?  That every member has a conscience is clear; the conscience of no pastor, bishop, or layperson can be forced.  But can institutions or groups of persons have a conscience?  Does a synod, as an institution or a social body, have a conscience?  Can a synod say that it is conscience bound not to approve for ordination a partnered gay or lesbian candidate?  Who determines a synod’s conscience: the bishop? the synodical assembly?  the synod council?  Can a synod state that, as a matter of conscience, no non-celibate gay or lesbian pastors will be included in the synod’s ministerium?
The actions of the ELCA Assembly did not decide these questions.  They are left to the ELCA Church Council.  How they decide these questions will have far-reaching impact on how the ELCA handles these matters and on how those who dissent from the Assembly’s decisions see their place in the ELCA.
The ELCA now faces a difficult philosophical question: who or what has a conscience?  That every member has a conscience is clear; the conscience of no pastor, bishop, or layperson can be forced.  But can institutions or groups of persons have a conscience?  Does a synod, as an institution or a social body, have a conscience?  Can a synod say that it is conscience bound not to approve for ordination a partnered gay or lesbian candidate?  Who determines a synod’s conscience: the bishop? the synodical assembly?  the synod council?  Can a synod state that, as a matter of conscience, no non-celibate gay or lesbian pastors will be included in the synod’s ministerium?
The actions of the ELCA Assembly did not decide these questions.  They are left to the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops.  How they decide these questions will have far-reaching impact on how the ELCA handles these matters and on how those who dissent from the Assembly’s decisions see their place in the ELCA.
Michael Root
Commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist

Standard 20th Century Lutheran Theology

August 29, 2009

Some people have asked me about point number 3 in the Augsut 27 post. I have elaborated what I mean in a presentation I did at Concordia/Ft. Wayne in January 2008, which can be found here.  The first part of this presentation is on another topic; the discussion of “Standard 20th Century Lutheran Theology” begins on p. 5.  I would emphasize that when I say in this presentation that my thoughts are tentative and in need of further research, that is what I mean.
Michael Root

The present crisis and this blog

August 27, 2009
The ELCA is now in crisis.  On the most obvious level, the decisions to permit same-sex blessings and to permit ordinations of persons in such same-sex relations will lead many individuals and congregations to contemplate leaving the ELCA.  Historically, fewer congregations leave than one expects, but some will leave and others will find ways to disengage from ELCA structures (e.g., by withholding contributions to synods and the national church).
Beyond those organizational results, the teaching and practices adopted represent a crisis.  For some, myself included, these are more than just mistakes, policies and ideas with which we disagree.  They are false teaching, teaching that directly contradicts the clear command of Scripture and the authoritative tradition of the church.  The ELCA is now not just a pilgrim church, an imperfect church on the way, but an erring church, a church which has, in an important part of its life, lost its way.
For many, these two items are the crisis.  But I think the crisis extends further.  A third aspect of the present crisis is the way tendencies present in Lutheranism since the early 20th century are now coming to a head.  One reason false teaching has captured the ELCA is that various views (a crude and static understanding of simul justus et peccator, a confusion between paradox and ambiguity, bad understandings of biblical authority) have come to be accepted as authentically Lutheran, even as defining Lutheranism.  Recent developments are not simply the outcome of ‘liberalism,’ but also of what we have come to think of as ‘Lutheranism.’  (What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as ’Lutheran’ actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.)  We will not come out of our present predicament without careful and extended thinking about basic questions of Lutheran theology.
Finally, a fourth aspect of the crisis are the propositions the ELCA has come to affirm in the
course of adopting the recent proposals, e.g., that opposing ‘bound consciences’ can stymie consistent church teaching or that no disagreement on ethics can divide the church (unless one side of the ethical disagreement is inconsistent with the doctrine of justification).  These are bad ideas that will come back to haunt us.
These topics and the process that stills lies ahead of us in the ELCA as the quite general decisions are turned into policies will be the subject matter of this blog.
Michael Root

The ELCA is now in crisis.  On the most obvious level, the decisions to permit same-sex blessings and to permit ordinations of persons in such same-sex relations will lead many individuals and congregations to contemplate leaving the ELCA.  Historically, fewer congregations leave than one expects, but some will leave and others will find ways to disengage from ELCA structures (e.g., by withholding contributions to synods and the national church).

Beyond those organizational results, the teaching and practices adopted represent a crisis.  For some, myself included, these are more than just mistakes, policies and ideas with which we disagree.  They are false teaching, teaching that directly contradicts the clear command of Scripture and the authoritative tradition of the church.  The ELCA is now not just a pilgrim church, an imperfect church on the way, but an erring church, a church which has, in an important part of its life, lost its way.

For many, these two items are the crisis.  But I think the crisis extends further.  A third aspect of the present crisis is the way tendencies present in Lutheranism since the early 20th century are now coming to a head.  One reason false teaching has captured the ELCA is that various views (a crude and static understanding of simul justus et peccator, a confusion between paradox and ambiguity, bad understandings of biblical authority) have come to be accepted as authentically Lutheran, even as defining Lutheranism.  Recent developments are not simply the outcome of ‘liberalism,’ but also of what we have come to think of as ‘Lutheranism.’  (What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as ’Lutheran’ actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.)  We will not come out of our present predicament without careful and extended thinking about basic questions of Lutheran theology.

Finally, a fourth aspect of the crisis are the propositions the ELCA has come to affirm in the course of adopting the recent proposals, e.g., that opposing ‘bound consciences’ can stymie consistent church teaching or that no disagreement on ethics can divide the church (unless one side of the ethical disagreement is inconsistent with the doctrine of justification).  These are bad ideas that will come back to haunt us.

These topics and the process that stills lies ahead of us in the ELCA as the quite general decisions are turned into policies will be the subject matter of this blog.

Michael Root