The Spectrum of Options: Staying Together as Much as Possible (Implementation 4)


(Not quite what was promised in the last post)

The “option of maximum uniformity” outlined below preserves the institutional structure of the ELCA. Since congregations already can turn down any pastor proposed to them by the synod, no structural adjustment is necessary. Dissent would be marginalized. Respect for “bound consciences” would have no institutional embodiment.

But what are the alternatives? To describe those requires both institutional and theological creativity. Most immediately, synods could be allowed to adopt policies of their own on ordaining and permitting congregations to call partnered gay or lesbian clergy. More radically, congregations that disagreed with their synods on these matters could be allowed to re-affiliate with another synod (thus blurring the geographical definition of our synods). Seminary boards, with input from faculty and constituencies, would need to make decisions about policies that govern such matters as student housing. Other changes might be appropriate. The important point is that such an option must “provide space” for those who cannot in good faith cooperate with the proposals adopted by the Assembly.

Is such an option worthwhile? That depends on how one sees the present situation and how one understands the commitment to respect ‘bound consciences.’ For those who see the actions as false teaching, some form of such an option is necessary if they are to remain in the ELCA with integrity. For those who support those actions, such an option would be the decisive, irreplaceable sign that they in fact wish to ‘respect’ those who cannot agree; that they in fact, and not just in word, wish to continue in whatever communion is possible with those who dissent.

The price of such an option would be high. The ELCA would tend to become a federation of synods in less than full communion with each other. Some synods could become the site of bitter argument. If one believes that dissent will die down on its own, that people will come to embrace the new policies in time, then one might judge such an option as unneeded.

But could the ELCA, amidst the swathe of denominations tearing themselves apart on this issue, provide an example of a community within which each truly seeks to bear the burdens of the other; which stays together as much as possible in the midst of division? Could the ELCA embody as a church the sort of spiritual outlook that David Yeago recommends in his piece on this blog? The details of such an embodiment would take time to work out; the intent to pursue something along such lines needs to be stated soon, however, before irrevocable commitments are made on both sides.

As I closed the last posting, I will close this one. Much depends on the attitudes of those who dissent. More, however, depends on what is said and done in the next months by those who are responsible for how the Assembly’s policies are implemented. Will those who supported the change speak out in favor of truly providing a space for those who dissent?

(Pressures of teaching, etc., mean that there will probably be no new posting until Monday, Sept. 28, at the earliest.)

Michael Root

14 Responses to “The Spectrum of Options: Staying Together as Much as Possible (Implementation 4)”

  1. James Gustafson Says:

    “But could the ELCA, amidst the swathe of denominations tearing themselves apart on this issue, provide an example of a community within which each truly seeks to bear the burdens of the other; which stays together as much as possible in the midst of division?”

    Revelation 3:16
    “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

    Matthew 12:25
    “Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. ”

    Luke 6:46-49
    “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

    Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

    A church body should not desire unity with itself more than it desires to please God by obeying Jesus and striving the live the words of the NT scripture, or it will not have unity or peace.

    Unlike what the current “hermeneutics” apologists would have us believe, the “door” is not wide open with many ways to interpret it, it has always been narrow and hard to squeeze through…

    Luke 13:23-24
    “And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’”

    Even though we all know that we can NOT enter the door on our own abilities, Jesus says we are to “Strive” to do it, and we can keep our hope because with God all things are possible. But the ELCA’s current changes are telling us that the ELCA way doesn’t need the narrow door anymore at all, the CWA’s actions pronounces to the world that it doesn’t even need to try.

    Now and then it’s time to leave and not look back, and other times we have to brush the dust from our feet as we go, there’s just no staying. IF the traditionalists and center try to stay in the ELCA, the combined total unity will be neither hot nor cold AND it will be a house divided against itself, and if Jesus knows anything about what he speaks, that will not be good for anyone to be a part of. It seems an unsafe plan to advocate for.

    • Michael Root Says:

      A down-payment on a longer response:
      I am not advocating simply staying; the time may come when leaving is the right thing to do. (I would advocate not making snap judgments, but that is another matter.) But I want to resist the logic of contemporary denominationalism, where we all seek the place we are most comfortable. My question is whether there is an option between simply staying and simply leaving, something that does not just give another example of the fissiparous nature of Protestantism. My argument is not with those who judge it is time to go; it is with those who advocated this change and now need to show that their arguments about ‘bound consciences’ had substance. Will the church leadership ‘provide space’ for those who dissent?
      Michael Root

  2. Joe Copeck Says:

    The fundamental problem that I see is that there is very little trust that “bound conscience” will be respected by the ELCA. This means that congregations, pastors, and other entities have doubts about whether their dissent will be respected or accepted on any level. Or perhaps, more correctly many feel that “bound conscience” will only be respected one way (in favor of those who desired this change” and not the other.

    A middle way between leaving and staying would be good in some ways, but I wonder what kind of unity we would have. True, we do not need to all agree on all things to be one church but I’m not sure at all how any real sense of unity can be maintained now. The two sides seem so far apart that any permanent unity seems unlikely.

    But ultimately I wonder if there isn’t something within Protestantism that ultimately leads to more and more denominations. To put it in the language of recent debates: Are Lutherans born with a desire to eventually separate from one another?

  3. Erich Heim Says:

    It may be worth waiting just to see if suspicions are confirmed about how much space will be allocated for dissenters, if for no other reason than to keep consciences clear when shaking the dust off the sandals and bidding adieu. But, for Pete’ sake, the last thing Lutheranism in the US needs is yet another branch. What is so objectionable about finding a home in one of the existing sister Lutheran branches where the Gospel is taught in its purity and the Sacraments rightly administered? Perhaps those community pools are big enough for us to get along better over in those than it would be to stay in the messy one we’re swimming in now, or even squandering more resources trying to build our own pool.

    • Padre Dave Poedel,STS Says:

      I have found myself thinking in these same terms for quite some time now. As one who often identifies myself as “in, but not of, the LCMS” I am finding this a good place to be right now. I see the wonderful and orthodox materials coming out of CPH (especially the past 4-5 yrs) and wonder if an infusion of orthodox clergy and laity from the ELCA might be God’s way of helping the LCMS to take her place amongst the orthodox Lutheran bodies of the world as a leader. The problem is, as is so obvious to all but those in this category, that our sectarian tendencies, our mean-streaked purity folks tend to put the kabash on anything even resembling this vision of mine.

      In the aftermath of the Seminex split, the Synod had a moment in history where she could have stood on orthodoxy and reached out to the rest of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as the rightful heir of the Evangelical Catholic movement that A.C. Piepkorn saw. Instead, my reading of the history is that she circled the wagons and pointed the guns inward. I contend that this is not a terminal condition.

      Despite my reservations about Ablaze! and the seeming abandonment of our heritage for an imitation of what is now a declining American Evangelicalism, the institutions are in place for a renewal and revival of an American (International?) Evangelical Catholicism. We have 2 excellent seminaries, a Divine Service, sacramental theology and approach to Holy Scripture that our world needs. What we can benefit most from an influx of orthodox Evangelical Catholics from the ELCA is a re-evaluation of the pastoral office (including a recovery of an Evangelical Episcopacy and Diaconate), a practice of social ministry that remains Scripturally and Confessionally grounded, and a breadth of experience and education in a canonical approach to Holy Scripture, and a Confessionally responsible ecumenism.

      Oh, I know how naive this sounds, even to me as one of irenic optimism. But, to go back to the beginning of this post, the last thing we need is another Lutheran denomination in the USA.

      Can we be “reformationed” together?

      • Michael Root Says:

        Padre Poedel,
        Thanks for the comment. We need to keep such visions open. As I said to Pastor Allison, it is a long road and there will be plenty of forks.
        Michael Root

  4. Pr. Dan Biels Says:

    I find it strangely, almost humorously, sad that the talk in the ELCA — on all sides — is how to find a place where the “dissenters” of CWA can “stand.” Imagine that — finding a place for orthodox teaching in the Church.

    As Neuhaus’ Law states, “Where orthodoxy is optional, sooner or later it will be proscribed.” i>e.: it will be given an increasingly smaller place in which “to stand.”

  5. Kevin Kibler Says:

    If I were a traditionalist who was single, married without children, or, perhaps a pastor, I’d see an evangelical opportunity and future in the ELCA. After all, such an action would simply follow that “Luther preaching in hell” thing. However, with three school age kids, it would be shear negligence to stay in the ELCA – what, with their soon to be “poisoned” Augsburg/Fortress educational materials. With such control of publishing, programs, missions, etc., this CWA action will be pervasive. Because of the potential harm to kids related to the CWA actions, IMO, I see the ELCA losing almost all kids/young families within a generation – thus, the denomination, I feel, will die a fairly quick (and to me, sad) death. For me personally though, this lifelong ELCA-er (and LCA-er) is thankful to have an opportunity to remain both scripturally-sound and a Lutheran by being a part of the Missouri fold.

  6. Pr. Rafe Allison Says:

    Dr. Root writes: “My argument is not with those who judge it is time to go; it is with those who advocated this change and now need to show that their arguments about ‘bound consciences’ had substance. Will the church leadership ‘provide space’ for those who dissent?”

    Dr. Root, while fully understanding and agreeing with your argument, (along with the leadership of our parish I am trying very hard to ‘buy some time’ to explore all the options and not simply ‘cut-and-run while at the same time not self-destruct!), I have to say, once more, for the sake of other pastors and rising seminarians reading this post… you can forget the idea of “respecting bound conscious!” After a conference meeting, the Fall Convocation, and a meeting with the bishop and the congregational leadership… well, as we say down South, “It ain’t gonna happen!” and “Even puppy dogs open their eyes after 14 days!” Now, to paraphrase a certain governor who used to say: “You can hear me now, or believe me later,” well, I suppose its up to the individual. But from my perspective at least, this is a done deal. If you are a dissenter there are not a lot of options. I suppose one could push for “unity” no matter the cost… but we have to ask ourselves if that is the most “faithful” option. I don’t know… still processing. But it seems the questions becomes more and more: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

    Franz: Yeah. Listen to me now, and believe me later: you know, if you don’t think this matters, you know.. maybe we should take a belt to your buttocks muscle until it’s all black and blue and swollen!
    (SNL Season 13: Episode 1)
    [Hey, in the midst of all this, you gotta laugh at something!]

    Christ’s Peace along THE Way!

    • Michael Root Says:

      Thanks for the information. Unfortunately, one hears this from various corners. It will take more than a few months for all this to shake out. I am not saying ‘do nothing’; I am saying
      1) we should, in the spirit of Luther on the 8th Commandment, believe that the ELCA means what it says and thus hold the collective feet of the Conference of Bishops and the Church Council to the fire about commitments made.
      2) we should think about forms of partial fellowship, an alternative to the organizational logic of the denomination.
      It will be a long road ahead.
      Michael Root

  7. Pr. Ian Wolfe Says:

    Pr. Rafe,

    First of all it’s good to see you (rather read your thoughts). I hope you are doing well and my prayers are with you. I think you are very much on the money. I recently went to a “Jesus, Justice, Jazz” concert following the Youth Gathering where one of the musicians called myself, my youth, and the entire audience to repent of our “homophobia” and also sang about welcoming same-sex love. I couldn’t help wondering if this was the new bound conscience in action (of course this is nothing official, but rather a musician who got into his mind that this was good thing to sing about). Yet my colleague who was also there put the issue more precisely, “can we not even feed the hungry without talking about sex?” The concert is to raise money for World Hunger Appeal and yet it came back to the “issue.”

    While not an official policy of the church council, I think though it may be a truer barometer of how the bound conscience doctrine will play out. If people truly hold to their bound conscience on this issue then they can no matter what preach, teach, and confess what they believe to be true. To do otherwise would not be to follow one’s conscience. If the true sin at hand is believed to be something like unwelcoming, homophobia, or self-righteousness, then indeed a call to repentance for those things is a right proclamation of the gospel (broadly defined). If the true sin is homosexual behavior, then indeed a call to repentance for that is a right proclamation of the gospel (again broadly speaking). If these are true then the ELCA is split in their proclamation of the one gospel. Indeed I believe it is two different gospels. How can the ELCA honestly maintain two different gospels proclaimed, both rightly proclaimed (according to BCD of the social statement)? I fear that is not possible on a practical level, let alone on a theological one.

    I hope Dr. Root’s call to hold the Conference of Bishops and the Church council’s feet to the fire is indeed possible. My only fear is at this time we don’t have a collective voice of one movement or body to accomplish this task. Can we do this together? How is the best way to accomplish such a task? The Conference of Bishops has no accountability, other than their self-imposed accountability and being voted out of office (seems a little to political for my catholic senses). What about the Church Council? How do we in a healthy christian charitable way speak as unified voice our concerns and demands?

    Sorry Dr. Root, but I have another question about your vision of “partial fellowship.” Is it only staying together for the sake of “mission and ministry”? Is it a break in eucharistic fellowship? Is it being united in both, but in some lesser sort of way?

    One lens through which this question has not been discussed and the needed response is whether or not the teaching of the social statement puts souls in danger. Not speaking specifically of homosexual sin, but if as an orthodox pastor I am preaching and teaching wrongly and calling people to repent for something that needs no repentance, what about my soul? The words spoken by Bp. Ullestad at my ordination have been ringing ever louder in my ears lately, “Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, I ask you:” The social statement gives me no comfort in my own proclamation or bound conscience, perhaps we need to also address our words and teaching in the primary terms of caring for souls as seelsorge, “healers of souls”.

    • Michael Root Says:

      1. Your comment about repentance is very important and it had not occurred to me in the way you put it. For Melanchthon esp., the preaching of the gospel is always both the call to repentance and the offer of forgiveness. Certainly, every time two preachers disagree whether act x is a sin and to be repented of is not a cause of church division, but when differences become fundamental, the question of unity in the faith must be asked.
      2. On your question: I don’t have a clear institutional picture of partial communion in the case of the ELCA. What I am asking is: What form of life rightly reflects the reality of the bleeding and broken body of Christ? Whatever that form is, it should reflect a) the bleeding and broken b) body of Christ.
      Michael Root

  8. Nickki Wiles Says:

    I too like so many are struggling and praying on what is my families best course of action in this. What we need more than anything is a place where we can together openly pray and discover where God is directing us in the midst of our pain. For this is painful and uncomfortable and we need to know we are not alone. In our church our pastor wants us to come to him so we can talk about what we’re struggling with, but has openly said that no plans for us to discuss this together as a congregation so we can find out what we as a faithful community believe. This I believe is very sad and unhealthy in more ways than one. I appreciate that I can come here and read what others are grappling with.
    May the Holy Spirit help us to discern God’ will and may we be able to hear God’s still quiet voice amongst all the loud noise that is so clearly Satan’s way of attempting to drown out our Lord’s voice.
    Come Lord Jesus, Amen!!!

  9. Kevin Kibler Says:

    Nickki, I very much understand your struggle. My congregation (of 30 years – in addition to being a lifelong LCA/ELCA member) too refused to truly discuss the CWA outcomes. Sure, they had group discussions and one-on-one talks, BUT, they were obviously quite fearful of an up-or-down vote by the congregation as to a course of action. All across this great nation, members of ELCA congregations have had the same experience. Therefore, one can only conclude that this is a “top down”, muscle out exercise being conducted by the ELCA (to rid the congregation of traditionalists, maybe?), regardless of how much prayor and discernment is being highligted in the media. Though again, as for me and my family, I really haven’t looked too far back as I am just happy to have an opportunity to continue being a Christian (Lutheran) as a member of the LCMS. Frankly, the LCMS is a wonderful denomination.

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