Policy Revisions: Toleration, if You Don’t Get in the Way


The proposed policies to implement the decisions of the Churchwide Assembly have been placed on the ELCA website with no fanfare. There was no news release or email informing all rostered leaders. If you go to the ELCA website without knowing where to look, you will have great trouble finding the texts. (They can be found here). Some first thoughts.

What is being proposed?
1. The revision of Vision and Expectations, which states expectations for clergy behavior, treats marriage and “publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships” as functionally equivalent. Whatever difference may be asserted elsewhere between marriage and such relations, none exists here.
2. The more significant document relates to revisions to the call process. Here is where the ‘bound conscience’ promises must be kept. How is this to be done?:
a. As many decisions as possible are defined as strictly procedural: a congregation’s registration of a candidate for ministry; a synod’s release of a candidate for transfer to another synod, a bishop’s signature of a letter attesting a call. As merely procedural, these actions are held to be outside the area in which appeals to conscience are appropriate.
b. Synods and candidacy committees can “state openly their diverse convictions” and “express its general understanding of what will best serve the mission of Christ in the places and times for which they have decision making responsibility.” Candidates who did not fit that understanding would be urged to transfer to a synod where they would be more welcome.
c. A synod cannot, however, turn down a candidate simply on the grounds of being in a same-sex relationship.

What does this mean?
1. By insisting that the bishop’s signature on a call letter is merely procedural, the proposal eliminates any synodical action that would block calls to pastors in same-sex relations. Every synod must be open to all such pastors.
2. A synodical candidacy committee can only urge a candidate to transfer. If a candidate refuses to do so, the committee must ignore their consciences and overlook the sexuality question. One might ask: what candidate would refuse to transfer? It is easy to imagine situations in which a candidate would be reluctant to transfer. Candidates may not want to leave their home congregations, which might be supporting their seminary education, to take up membership in a new synod that would accept them. Or candidates may discover their orientation far into the process and not want to begin with a new candidacy committee. Or a candidate may just want to make a point.

What is missing?
1 Nothing is said about protection of diversity of opinion in the candidacy process. Can a candidacy committee refuse a candidate who expresses strong judgments on these questions? Nothing is said. A statement that a candidate is not to be refused because of their bound conscience on such matters will not stop a committee from resorting to a standard euphemism, such as ‘rigidity,’ to reject the candidate, but the candidate would at least have a published standard to which to appeal.
2 Most notably, nothing is said about what would happen if some, out of bound conscience, refuse to cooperate. If a synod passes a resolution instructing its bishop to refuse to sign letters of call to pastors in same-sex relations or if a candidacy committee denies a student who refuses to transfer, what then happens?

What is being proposed is toleration of dissenters, but only as long as they do not get in the way.

30 Responses to “Policy Revisions: Toleration, if You Don’t Get in the Way”

  1. Tony Metze Says:

    I intend to get in the way!

  2. Joe Copeck Says:

    I wonder what candidacy committee would refuse a candidate on the grounds of PALMS (publically accountable, life-long, monogamous, same sex relationship). All candidacy committees have is a right to “urge”. What’s the point? At that point, were I a member of a candidacy committee better to resign than to participate in “urging” someone to go somewhere else.

    The main message seems to be: Resistance is futile!

    • Erich Heim Says:

      Not only “resistance is futile,” but also “you will be assimilated.” So, “live long and prosper,” fellow Trekkie!

  3. Brian Says:

    When the CWA proposals were first rolled out, some of us noted they were little more than “organized chaos.” It was apparent from the beginning that introducing disorganization into the core processes of the church was kind of the whole point. IMHO, no organization can thrive with that level of disunity except … if change agents are/were actively seeking it in order to tilt the church powerfully in a new direction. This is basic John Kotter “leading transformation” theory. Before you can lead systemic change, you have to throw the organization off balance. Effective leaders know this. Now that it is fully in motion, it will not quit until the ELCA has become completely undone.

    To quote another management term, the “useful idiots” in the ELCA who thought this was about hospitality and welcome will discover too late it was all about destroying the church, as least on the part of the pro-gay secular foundations that funded LC/NA and Good Soil’s efforts. I sometimes wonder if even the Good Soil understands where this will eventually lead.

  4. Claude Villemaire Says:


    I agree! I can only see this moving towards a “do not ask do not tell” policy where synods and congregations will have their hands tied on the ability to say no!

  5. A.B.Cely Crowe Says:

    C. S. Lewis wrote: “A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” (The Abolition of Man)

    The Churchwide Assembly’s implemented decision has effectively shoved the dogmatic belief of the sanctity of marriage and what marriage entails out the window. If two men or two women decide to stay monogamous, why is marriage necessary for a heterosexual couple? Why can’t a man and woman just decide to “stay monogamous”?

    As to the tyranny / slavery bit: 1) those who which to honor the sanctity of marriage, by recognizing that monogamous relationships are not equivalent to marriage, are not allowed to honor their beliefs. When a synod is told that they “[…] cannot, however, turn down a candidate simply on the grounds of being in a same-sex relationship” they are being told that they can not honor their faith. They are bound by the convictions of others, to the point of going against the the teachings of the Church for over 2000 years.

    2) Instead of telling pastors to witness to the self-discipline that the cross requires, it seems to me that the ELCA has bowed down to the fact that human beings like having sex, and has effectively stated that the sex drive is too great for God to transform. It seems to me that the ELCA has thrown out Jesus’ crucifixion and our call to bear our own crosses.

    To make this a little clearer: I understand sex outside of marriage to a be a sin, period. From what I gather, homosexuals are not allowed to be married in the ELCA, thus being in a sexually active homosexual relationship the one trying to be a pastor is actively living a life of outward sin. By the decisions which the ELCA is enacting, it seems to me that it has decided that the sin of sex outside of marriage is something that a human being stays in bondage to and cannot get out of; at least, if one is a homosexual human being.

    So, what happened to costly discipleship? And how is it good news that the pastor stays in bondage to sin? And if a synod, congregation, etc. sees one who is supposed to lead the flock to God but is instead actively living a sinful life–why are they forced to follow that shepherd if they believe that one to be walking the path of perdition?

  6. Dan Says:

    So why is everybody staying in the ELCA? That’s the thing that sort of blows my mind. I’ve asked over and over again and I never get much of an answer. The arguments seem to be that if a Church leaves the ELCA it:

    A. contributes to disunity and the destruction of The Church. The idea seems to be that the ELCA isn’t just a denomination like the LCMS, PCUSA or the SBC, but is actually THE CHURCH. I don’t buy that one.

    B. cuts off funding to ELCA charities and starves the poor. The idea here seems to be that there are no worthwhile charitable efforts outside the ELCA. Pretty silly.

    So since we don’t want to destroy the Holy Catholic Church or starve the poor we stay and write to this blog. And not too many years from now our children will be attending same-sex weddings in our Churches and chuckling about how their parents resisted the idea for a few weeks back in ’09.

    • Pr. Rafe Allison Says:

      Dan, you make a very salient point. Some say the aversion to leaving is due to apathy (“It doesn’t really affect me/my congregation.”) Others say it is due to self-interest/self-preservation… things like Board of Pensions investments, property issues, etc.. On the other hand, I believe it has more to do with a sense of identity and deep loss, as it is not so much an issue of “leaving” the ELCA as dealing with the hurtful fact that the ELCA has left/abandoned us. The delay, I believe, is thus more a result of grief and the desire to, no matter what, remain “faithful.” The grief process takes time and that time varies from one person/congregation to another. There is shock, anger, disappointment, denial, misplaced hope and a whole myriad of emotions to be processed. It’s easy to remain focused on anger and jump ship, (much like telling that person whom you despise to go fly a kite and have nothing else to do with them.) But, even if or when we part ways with the ELCA there will still be faithful brothers and sisters who remain. All I’m suggesting is, that how we depart (if we depart) makes all the difference as to whether or not that departing is an act of faith or an act of vengeance (“right” or “wrong.”)

      I totally agree with you, we cannot destroy the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of Christ; not by our staying, not by our leaving, not by any majority vote or opinion poll conducted by human institutions. And you are certainly correct that being about the work God has given his church to do (as in feeding the poor) is not a task or directive exclusive to the ELCA but a command given by Christ to ALL the faithful. However, your inference that those who do not quit the ELCA quick enough… but rather stay and “write to this blog” are somehow being unfaithful or making the wrong decision is a bit much.

      I do think, however, that you’ve hit the “party-line” on the head; individuals and especially congregations are being made to feel that even thinking of leaving is (1) unfaithful… and… (2) detrimental to the mission of “the church.” As I have posted before, “bound conscious” is out-the-window! In the midst of our personal and corporate “processing” we should not be made to feel like we’re being held hostage to “faithfulness” to the Body of Christ… that is indeed, the ultimate insult. Keep writing to this blog and help others of us to “process” along the way… that is indeed a high calling! And don’t worry, our kids will find something else (hopefully not as fundamental) to chuckle at us about anyway. Christ’s Peace on this tough journey!

    • Rebecca West Says:

      I’m asking the same question. Our children are 19 and 21…we need to have a conversation with them about this issue so that if they stay in the ELCA, they do so with their eyes wide open. My question…if a homosexual couple can live in a “committed relationship,”(with one of them being an ELCA pastor), can a heterosexual couple also say they are “in a committed relationship” and can one of them still be an ELCA pastor? Or, does the heterosexual couple have to remain celebate?

  7. Erich Heim Says:

    So much for “local option”! Really, is anyone surprised that this can be foisted upon your synod or your congregation without regard to your conscience whatsoever by the powers that be?

    The grieving process as an explanation as to why stay in the organization makes some sense to me, though, actually. The grieving process helps you to eventually “get over it;” that is, it deals with the loss and then allows the person to press on from where they are now at within the new paradigm. At its heart, then, I have to wonder whether those who cite the grieving process are really just hoping, planning, or waffling about actually “getting over it” and staying in the same organization within the new paradigm that they have been dealt.

    • Rebecca West Says:

      My husband is a retired Lutheran pastor working in a part time interim; he is going through the phases of the grieving process. I feel for him…I am a lifelong Catholic who “converted” to Lutheranism 20 years ago…This issue has dominated our conversation of late. I can leave the ELCA, but what is he to do?

  8. Pastor Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

    I am very much a “traditionalist” in this argument. Yet I have a student at university from my congregation who has many gifts for ministry and is openly, actively homosexual. According to the new proposed manual, I now have no option but to endorse him.

    While I do not believe my bishop would invoke discipline against me if I refuse, given the posture of some bishops and the fact that all clergy are constitutionally mandated to advocate and promote appropriate candidates for ordained ministry, it seems under these regulations that it is only a matter of time before someone like me will be disciplined for refusing to sign.

    • Erich Heim Says:

      Really, are pastors now even allowed to preach that homosex (like all sex outside God-ordained marriage) is a sin any longer regardless of whether it occurs in a “long-term, committed relationship” or not?

    • Pastor Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

      I would not go that far.

      As to why am I still in the ELCA? Where would I go? The LCMS has a number of problems for me and LCMC lacks a component of mutual accountability that I find necessary. If an Evangelical Catholic, Lutheran body were to arise in the upcoming months I would likely go. Until then I am planning and considering options.

      • Tim Bean Says:

        Pastor Hunsinger,
        There IS an Evangelical Catholic Lutheran body in formation. Over 100 EC Lutheran clergy are already members. Membership will include laity, clergy and congregations.

        Once fully formed, the Society will affiliate with Lutheran CORE.

        Information is available at the following link: http://www.sevenmarks.org/

  9. Erich Heim Says:

    No disrespect intended at all, but I must assume you mean you would not go that far as to say that pastors are forbidden to preach that truth, not that you personally wouldn’t go that far. And wondering, if it’s not too intrusive, for those who are seriously considering making the jump, what exactly it is about the other church bodies that prevents you as a steward of the Word from considering those options, and should the same hold true for the flock?

    • Pastor Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

      You are correct. No bishop or member of the heirarchy has ever told me how to preach or what not to preach on any topic.

      My concern about the LCMC is the ecclesiology of the group with its extreme congregational orientation. I believe mutual accountability to be if not esse then certainly bene esse to the Church. The LCMS’s stand against ecumenism and the ordination of women are positions which have strong negatives for me as well.

      When and if I leave, I want to do it once. I am in discussions of how to form such a body with other folks here in Ohio but they are preliminary at best.

  10. Jack Wilder Says:

    So, all this talk about “local option” was really just meaningless words, an empty campaign promise, smoke and mirrors? That seems to be what I’m hearing. In plain English it appears “local option” at this time means that candidacy committees, bishops and synods have the option not to say no and the option to say yes. This is not an option by any stretch of the imagination. Will this kind of option be extended to call committees, church councils, and congregations seeking pastors in the call process? Probably. Where will it leave pastors and other church leaders who are “dissident?” Judging from what I have seen “dissidents” will have the same options as the rest of the church: the option not to say no and the option to say yes. Having witnessed colleagues who openly “dissented” be labeled “fundamentalist,” “biblicist,” and “homophobic” I am not optimistic that “tolerance” is going to stretch very far when one choses the option to say no. BTW, isn’t that type of labelling usually considered slander because of its destructive effects? As this situation continues to unfold the political nature of all this becomes more and more disturbing.

    • Brian Says:


      It always was about aggressive politics; either changing or removing the church as an impediment to gay and lesbian marriage. It has never been about Christ or the mission of the church. That became blatantly clear during my brief sojourn on the gay and lesbian taskforce for Sierra Pacific Synod. The CWA is only the beginning. It will progressively get much worse. The question for many of us is whether we’re called to leave the evil behind or become Hosea and stay married to the prostitute.

      I think CORE’s approach is probably the best alternative out there. We need time to locally organize and that includes giving space for folks to fully grasp what’s actually changed. Even so, now that advocates have control of three mainline denominations, expect the slander to drift into overt defamation.

      • Rebecca West Says:

        I agree. Where are the ELCA bishops who would speak out against this on a national level? Or aren’t there any? Today, I heard an ELCA bishop sound bite…he was saying that this is “good for the ELCA all the way around.” Where is the dissent?? I know that CORE is out there and working hard (I’m a member). We need a national voice.

      • Jack Wilder Says:


        I agree: this is very political. And that is a great concern for me. I understand that as pastors and theologians we are attempting to deal with the problem in a theoloigal context, hence the presence of this blog, and I commend Dr. Root and Dr. Yeago for their efforts. Yet I wonder if the political nature of the problem will enable it to sidestep any legitimate theological solution.

        My apologies if I am getting off topic here. The last few years I was in the Upstate NY Synod, with MA and the gay marriage battle literally just over the county line, the issue became very political and I would say even explosive in some areas of the UsNY Synod as well as in the interfaith community. In the Hudson Interfaith Council at one point the sentiment as even expressed that (and I paraphrase here) “A pastor who will not preform a gay marriage is not a Christian.” But isn’t this a litmous test? And a litmous test not found in the Bible or in church tradition (the Church Fathers) but one generated by a specific political agenda. Now, in a different synod, after the CWA, I’m seeing a very political, partisan approach taken by some of my colleagues. (I should point out that this is NOT being done by our bishop our synod staff who are attempting to deal with the split in the synod in a pastoral manner.) The result is that loud, aggressive, confident voices are now speaking up who label other pastors as “fundamentalist” and “homophobic” when in fact they are not. This is slander. This is destructive. This is a political tactic common in good old American politics.

        It worries me that we are now dealing with a type of “liberal fundamentalism” which takes the stand that those of us who are not with them are against them. My experience with fundamentalists from the opposite end of the spectrum tells me there is no dealing with people who are immersed in that kind of mentality.

        It worries me that ultimately we may not have an effective theological response to aggressive partisan politics pushing a social-political agenda within the church. (Other than leaving the ELCA, in as far as such action could be considered theological.) In that case the ELCA will be irrevocably split and as an ordained pastor I will an outsider in my own church.

        And heck, it worries me that in the near future I may be contemplating my early retirement from the ordained ministry or contemplating somewhere else to go.

  11. Michael Root Says:

    Mr Wilder,
    As my following post argues, I think the ‘local option’ mostly got removed by the Church Council in April, without much notice what was happening. Note the way that “structured flexibility’ shifted from being a proposal of what should be introduced, in the Task Force Report, to being what we already had, in the way the Vocation and Education office presented the ministry proposals after the April Council meeting.
    There is local option on same-sex blessings – no congregation is to be forced to perform them (that is what the Assembly adopted; we will have to see how it develops). But ordination policy as proposed is, so far as I can see, tolerance as long as one does not obstruct. A synod could urge partnered gay and lesbian candidates to go somewhere else, but it could not outright refuse them.
    Michael Root

    • Pastor Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

      As a member of the Church Council, I will confirm Dr. Root’s assesment. I was the only one of the 37 who voted against sending the proposals to the CWA. (In fairness, Bishop Hanson abstained on procedural grounds)

      As the proposals were presented to us, the staff of V & E (led by Stan Olson) made it clear that the only flexibility that could exist, short of multiple rosters, etc. would be what we have now, that is the right of a congregation to call or not call anyone they wish. No further local option was to be considered.

      In fairness, while the task force had some nice sounding language, the practical implications of trying to implement that language would have been cumbersome at best and at worst, impossible to adminster.

      • Pr. Rafe Allison Says:

        So, in other words, “we” were duped in Minneapolis? The voting members were presented a Social Statement with “some nice sounding language” simply to win over enough votes to get a simple majority… but the Council never had any intention of moving forward on this “nice language” because it would be “cumbersome” if not “impossible?” I pastor an ELCA parish and I’ve been trying my best to encourage deliberate and informed discernment over this issue… but I’ll be damned if the leadership of my own denomination is not making THIS “cumbersome”… if not impossible. In civil court I believe this is called “bait-and-switch!”

  12. Jack Wilder Says:

    Thanks, Dr. Root, et al, for the *clarificatory* 🙂 remarks.

  13. Brian Says:

    Dr. Kendall Harmon (see TitusOneNine) of TEC has suggested the “institutional liberals” (his term) in that denomination have only now woken to the fact the radicals among them are now running the church. What seemed like a good idea at the time, welcoming gay and lesbian clergy, has turned into an international mess they can no longer control.

    Several hundred years of legacy resources (seminary facilities, endowments, etc) are now in the hands of those whose stated goal is to change the culture’s understanding of marriage and family. For anyone in the ELCA who still thinks this is about actual ministry in the name of Christ, they haven’t seen anything yet. The financial support and energy for this change did not come from inside the ELCA.

    So in all due humility, I believe we are dealing with a profound evil that has taken root in this expression of the church. Dr. Root, I’d be interested in hearing your reflections on this and, given at least this is my perception, what does it mean, really, for the orthodox in the church? IMHO, the resources of prior generations will be used to undermine not only the unity of the church, but the most intimate of all human communities: the family – a community so basic we used to understand it as an Order of Creation. Now, according to evolving ELCA policy, it’s just a tolerated vestige of a more hateful era.

    • Michael Root Says:

      I have a post or two more to do on the revision proposals and then I want to go back to the larger question of what all this means.
      Michael Root

  14. Gary Bauer Says:

    The people must be EDUCATED enough to be convicted to LEAVE the ELCA not as individuals, but as groups of congregations.

  15. Dan Says:

    But it looks like the lay people will have to educate themselves and decide for themselves, and Lutherans just don’t seem to be wired that way. I think a lot of pastors would be relieved if their councils just said “Look, we’re leaving the ELCA and that’s that.” But instead the councils look to the pastors for guidance and the pastors are sort of hamstrung and grieving so you just get inertia. I think the other guys were betting that would happen.

  16. Brian Says:


    IMHO, the “other guys” don’t really care if this gives you indigestion and sleepless nights. If your orthodox/traditional congregation crumbles as a result of these changes, so much the better. I’m talking the hard-core advocate/leaders of these changes, not as I noted above, the “Useful Idiots.” The later will discover too late what they’ve set loose on the church.

    I’m not yet a member of CORE, though I’m leading my congregation in that direction. As we become strangers in the ELCA, we will also become more so in the larger culture. It’s why I’m convinced we need to articulate a strong core understanding of marriage and family AND make efforts to put those understandings into practice in our congregations. After that it’s up to the Holy Spirit.

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