What now?

The morning after…

…actually it’s the first day of the week following the historic vote at the ELCA CWA09 last week in Minneapolis; a vote that changed ministry policies allowing homosexuality clergy in committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationship to serve ELCA congregations.  The vote also opened the door for ELCA congregations to bless same sex unions if they so choose.  But also recognizing that fact that people across the church have “bound consciences” and that we are to respect that.

With this vote I knew I would get lots of questions (as I did as I walked into the coffee shop this morning) so I decided to address this right away on Sunday morning in the sermon.  Below is the newsletter article I wrote that is a very brief summary of what I preached on Sunday.  I used the text from Joshua 24:14-15 about choosing whom we will serve.  Here’s my newsletter article:

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“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)

By the time this newsletter reaches your mail box and is in your hands, the ELCA will be forever changed.  ELCA Church wide assembly met Aug. 17 – 23 in Minneapolis.  The big agenda item (and one that garnered the most passionate discussion/debate) had to do with lifting the ban on homosexual clergy, who are in life-long, monogamous, committed relationships, from serving on the ELCA roster and allowing congregations to bless same sex unions. Many of you are no doubt experiencing a number of emotions surrounding this that include but not limited to:  anger, confusion, disappointment, sadness, etc.  Some of you no doubt believe that scripture is clear when it comes to homosexuality.  Some of you no doubt are not even willing to discuss/debate this because you believe there is no discussion/debate.  But I also recognize that some of you may be very excited and happy about this change.  Wherever you fall and however you feel the reality is still the same:  We live and serve in a Church that has been forever changed.  In a way we now live in a foreign land.  So what now…

…As with everything there are decisions to be made, but in our case there is only one faithful option:  We will continue serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in advancing the Gospel with all our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ…who are all as equally sinful as you and me.

This may be hard to accept for some, but when you consider how Jesus treated the outcast, it makes a lot of sense.  In the sermon on Sunday, Aug. 23 (one that many of you were not in attendance to hear) I reminded people of the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8:  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.

Jesus taught us to separate the sin from the sinner; to hate the sin NOT the sinner.  So what does all this mean?  Simply this:  In light of the change in ministry policies here in the ELCA concerning homosexuality I echo Joshua’s words, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord”.  Basically…nothing is going to change.  The ELCA vote will not change what I preach or how I preach; I will continue announcing forgiveness and presiding at the table; I will continue to baptize, marry and bury people; I will continue teach and love people.  And (as I expect everyone here to do) I will continue to welcome ALL people.  I may not approve of their lifestyle but I will continue to separate the sin from the sinner and serve the Lord through loving my neighbor.  That is what Jesus commands us to do.  Loving people and accepting ALL people is serving the Lord.

The ELCA has been forever changed (there is no question about that), but Salem Lutheran Church has not been changed.  We will continue to serve the Lord; we will continue to welcome ALL people; we will continue to advance the Gospel.  But as we do this I urge you to dive even deeper into scripture and explore the Good News that God has for us.  Know what the Bible commands us to do AND know what God promises to do for us.  Get to know God better through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So join me, as we travel through this uncertain time, and continue to serve the Lord…all the while praising God always and forever.

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I know that more and more questions are going to come.  There is going to be much spirited discussion and debate through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and coffee shops.  But through it all we need to remember that we are all children of God.  And my hope and prayer is that we can somehow move forward in mission.  We need to get out there and announce to people this awesome love we have from God through Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness needs to be proclaimed; people need to experience love; the stranger still needs to be welcomed.  Let’s not lose focus.

We serve an awesome God…let’s continue to do so…praising God always and forever.

-edh-

19 responses to “What now?

  1. Eric,

    I have no argument with what you shared. What you preached and wrote seems, however, to pertain more to the previous position held by the ELCA than the current one. If I understood you, it would seem unsatisfying to those on either side of the issue…

    Those favoring the changed ministry policy allowing clergy in a committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationship to serve ELCA congregations might ask… “what sin?” when you say ‘hate the sin and love the sinner.’

    Those opposed to the changed ministry policy allowing clergy in a committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationship to serve ELCA congregations might ask… “isn’t this cheap grace which is justifying sin instead of justifying the sinner?”

    I am not ELCA but I am Lutheran and I love my ELCA brethren where I grew up, so the branding that occurs as a result of the decisions of the largest Lutheran church body affects all of us to some degree who identify with the Lutheran confessions.

    I’ve read the documents from the CWA. I know, love and am related to people who are in committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationships, so my interest in this issue isn’t from a judgmental or detached point of view.

    • heartofapastor

      I totally expect people to disagree with me about the sinfulness of homosexuality. For me that is what the Bible says, but I do respect the bound conscience of those who believe otherwise.

      Cheap grace — I can see where you are coming from. I am by no means saying homosexuality O.K. Part of me wants to pass judgment but scripture says that God is the only judge. By writing what I did one could say that I am already passing judgment, but I am not. I believe you can show grace and love toward someone without showing cheap grace. I can say that I disagree with ones behavior but still welcome them in the doors of the church building and the life of the congregation.

      This is a tough issue and I admit I am still wrestling. I am wrestling with how to proclaim the Good News in the midst of what I believe to be biblical truth. It’s a tough thing and I continue to pray for understanding.

      Thank you for your comments.

  2. Eric,

    I’m trying to understand and process the contradictions of the new policy…

    You wrote:
    “I do respect the bound conscience of those who believe otherwise.”

    My question is… Why? Luther’s bound conscience was due to the testimony of scripture and clear reason. If you honestly believe scripture says something contrary to the bound conscience of someone due to their misinterpretation of scripture… why respect it? (Love them? Welcome them? yes… but respect ‘it’?) Would you welcome to your pastoral staff someone who held to a theology of glory or semipelagian views simply because they felt conscience bound?

    You wrote:
    “I can say that I disagree with ones behavior but still welcome them in the doors of the church building and the life of the congregation.”

    I can understand that, but would you also welcome them into a leadership position? Would you welcome them to teach your congregation a new hermeneutic?

    The former position of the ELCA was redemptive for we poor sinners … I’m not sure what it is now. I’m seeking clarification from you or your readers.

    • heartofapastor

      It is one thing to say that you respect someone’s “bound conscience” or respect their beliefs even though you disagree with them and wanting them serving on ones staff. I was a program director at a Bible Camp for 2 1/2 years. And I hired summer staff…many of whom were not Lutheran. Our focus was teaching the Bible and showing the love of God to the kids but the staff was also expected to understand that we are a Lutheran Bible camp. For example, I had staff members that came from a decision theology background. I am obviously not from that camp and they knew that. I respected their beliefs even though I disagreed with them and they respected mine and the camp’s. In the end they were expected to abide by the camp’s theology. In that case I have no problem working with someone with a different belief. But to invite someone on a pastoral staff or a church leadership position who believes a different theology or belief system and teach that…well…that is a whole new ball game.

      I can welcome someone into the life of the congregation, but as with anyone who is going to teach, they need to understand that I am in charge of the spiritual well being of the congregation and teach according to that. I don’t let people teach Sunday school who don’t attend worship. I am very strict about that. I don’t just let anyone teach…they need to know what they are doing.

      It’s one thing to welcome people and respect their beliefs and quite another to put them in positions to teach their beliefs in a congregation that you have been charged to care for.

      Now…with regard to homosexuality: Would I want to serve with a pastor (on the same staff) who was in a committed same sex relationship? I don’t know if I could…knowing that we see scripture in such a different way like that. I could work with them in an ecumenical way if they were serving another church in town. I work in ecumenical ways with pastors who have a different theology than mine. We disagree on a number of issue, but we still respect one another and our beliefs.

      I don’t know if I have cleared anything up here…maybe as clear as mud so keep asking your questions if need be.

      Thanks for the comments.

      • Eric,

        I think I understand your heart on this… I’m wondering, however, how this policy will work itself out in the practical workings within the ELCA. Under the new policy, what freedom will you have to exercise what you stated above when your superiors hand down to you educational materials, directives, etc that rub against your bound conscience? It seems that pastoral or congregational autonomy on this issue, because of cultural pressure on one hand and hierarchy on the other, will have a brief shelf life.

        • heartofapastor

          What the future holds no one knows, but what I understand from what I heard from the task force at the assembly, pastors and congregations will have freedom here. My superiors don’t hand down educational materials…never have. I write most of my own curriculum but we are using Augsburg Fortress stuff this year for Sunday school. I can’t see my bishop, synod or the ELCA trying to force me to use a certain curriculum or preach a certain message. I can’t see them forcing Salem to consider a homosexual pastor if that is not what they want to do.

          I am worried, though, that this vote will cause a snowball effect in the government in changing the definition of marriage (if the largest Lutheran denomination says homosexuality is alright well…). If that happens then I will cross (or jump off) that bridge if/when it comes.

          So who knows what the future will hold…but I will deal with any “pressure” or changes as they come.

  3. It has been quite interesting to follow postings by people who actually understand the several votes and what was behind them. At Bible Study today we talked about this rather than our lesson, but we did read the James passage at last. Our pastor was a delegate, so she shared about the week, how much hard work it was, etc. And she told us what was actually voted upon. Since I has seen several news reports that were contradictory, I’m not surprised to hear that what was reported in the press was oversimplified so much that in some sense it isn’t accurate. So that brings me to the sub topic you’ve discussed above. I do wonder if now some pastors will just go and bless unions, and some bishops will just go and ordain pastors. My sense, based on what my pastor said, is that the resolutions were to find ways to “work toward” these goals. Yes, I do know that some of these things have happened already.

    My own view on marriage in general is that the legal union (marriage license, etc.) should be a separate construct/event from a church wedding, so that our Christian pastors don’t have to be, in effect, agents of the state. Any couple could then be married in the eyes of the law. A particular church needn’t be involved.

    An aside: not all that many years ago, even people of different Northern European ethnic groups or different Christian religions might have been strongly discouraged from mixing in marriage. But this past weekend, I attended a wedding of the daughter of the Baptist pastor to the son of a Lutheran AIM, held in a Lutheran church, presided over by two baptist pastors. That type of service would have been unthinkable when I was young. While we don’t teach that most other churches are not christian, I have heard overt statements from people in both groups “dissing” the theology/doctrine of the other denomination.

    • heartofapastor

      You offer a great reminder to everyone that we need to dive into these issues as a congregation and not rely solely on the reporting of the media.

      Thank you for your comment.

  4. Eric,

    I know you’re probably experiencing CWA overload so this is a for what it’s worth… just some thoughts after a couple days of reading.

    Your readers who are wanting to see more reactions to the vote, might like to see Bishop Hanson’s response to the vote (text and/or video) and responses offered by readers on the ELCA blog: http://blogs.elca.org/assembly/2009/08/21/bishop-hansons-message/#more-118

    I am not ELCA, but I am Lutheran. Since branding occurs because of the decisions made by the largest Lutheran body in America, I cannot be indifferent to the effects of that branding.

    Rather than having a knee jerk reaction to the new policy of the ELCA, I am trying first to understand it. Love compels me. I’ve read the documents from the CWA. I’m reading thoughts and perspectives by ELCA pastors and parishioners. I’m trying to understand the perspective of those on both sides of this divisive issue… both of whom claim to be faithful to God’s Word.

    After listening to Bishop Hanson, I couldn’t help but think that while Bishop Hanson’s words and eloquence is clear… what is not so clear is what has actually happened here.

    The ELCA did not bring into the fold people who were estranged and separated by this vote… that occurred 2000 years ago at the cross. We poor sinners (gay, straight, transgendered etc.) were brought near through the blood of Christ… it is not something subject to a vote.

    What actually did occur was a vote to bring near and sanctify a behavior that appears to be condemned by scripture. Is it “cheap grace”? (justification of sin instead of sinners?)

    If there is some new evidence that the interpretation of the church for hundreds of years has been wrong, that has not been made evident. I’m looking for a compelling hermeneutic to support the new policy.

    • heartofapastor

      I have read and printed off all letters from Bishop Hanson and from the synod about “the vote” and other actions taken at the CWA. I am glad you have read Bishop Hanson’s remarks.

      And you are right…I am experiencing a little CWA overload, but I know this isn’t done…not by a long shot.

      But lost in all of this homosexuality debate is the fact that other very good things were acted upon at the CWA: Full communion with the United Methodist Church, Malaria initiative, support of comprehensive immigration reform, etc. See http://www.elca.org for more details and these other actions.

      And you do bring up some good points. Thanks for all your comments.

  5. Eric,

    You’re probably going to block me from writing on your blog… but I’m wondering in print…

    You listed among the “good” things that happened at the CWA the action to begin full communion with the UMC.

    I’m curious about what “Full Communion” with other church bodies actually means. On a local level does it effect your relationship with the UMC up the street from Salem? Practically speaking, what will that look like?

    I love Methodists, I married one… she is now a full fledged Lutheran.

    What does full communion with Episcopalians, UCC, Reformed, Methodist etc… mean theologically?

    Do those church bodies now adhere to what were strongly held Lutheran distinctives or has the ELCA moderated?

    Does the UMC now understand real Presence as we have historically understood it… in, with, and under the bread and the wine? Is it no longer symbolic for those who once thought that way?

    Does the UMC now adhere to Luther’s understanding of a “bound will” instead of an Arminian view of “free will”… which lends itself to decision theology?

    Do the Calvinistic bodies that the ELCA has entered into full communion with now regard grace as resistable? No longer view the atonement as limited?

    Don’t get me wrong… I am all for unity in Christ… but I believe it is something that we ‘recognize’ instead of something we ‘organize’. The fact is we ARE ONE in Christ with true believers everywhere… a vote does not affect that. I believe that there are true believers with whom we are “one” in churches who have a theology that taken to its logical conclusion is unbiblical and perhaps heretical. felicitous inconsistency

    I guess what I’m driving at is a concern that in an ever present quest for ‘unity’ and expanding the fold, we may be dumbing down our theology to make it happen… resulting ultimately in actions that have little biblical support. What we are losing may be greater than what we are gaining.

    Do you wrestle with any of that? Your thoughts?

    • heartofapastor

      Not to worry…I am not going to block you. You raise important questions and concerns and I appreciate being forced to process things more.

      As for your questions…I will respond but not right now. I have been so busy blogging this week that I am going to take a day or so off to regroup and rest. I am feeling a little overwhelmed, but like I said, I will respond.

      Thank you for your comments.

    • I also have wondered about the full communion thing. You have some good questions. I sure think that Christians working together, putting the Good News into practice, is a worthy goal, and also commanded by our Lord. And we can agree that we are brought together by Christ. And it shows a positive face of Christianity and of Christ to the world.

      The opposite of full communion also shows something to the world and to other Christians. It seems to apply to individuals who are already Christians, ie “Saved,” (supply the definition of whatever denomination) as well as to denominations. Some of us can’t commune with other groups or in certain settings. Some of us aren’t acceptable as Sunday School teachers in other churches, can’t join, unless we are rebaptized. On and On. Some people are refused burial in their old church because they attended another church when they moved away.

      The affect of this type of thing is that it looks like some groups are saying they are better than others, or that their theology/doctrine is better, that one group is within God’s closer circle and the others aren’t.

      Sincerely believing that a certain way of interpreting scripture is one thing, but letting this somehow look like a case of being saved by specific doctrine, rather than saved by Christ’s act, in another. I think the “WORLD” sees petty disagreements rather than the family of Jesus.

      • PSanafterthought,

        I agree and have no argument with ecumenical ways we can work together with other groups. I agree too that some divisions are petty and silly… like burial space etc. and creates the appearance of divisions to the culture that aren’t necessary.

        On the other hand there is nothing loving about surrendering truth for the sake of uniformity. Unity does not demand uniformity. If someone wanted to teach Sunday School in my church who held to and taught a heterodox theology, the least loving thing I could do is allow it to happen for the sake of the Gospel.

        It isn’t a matter of us thinking “we’re better”… the fact is we are ALL sinners at the foot of the cross. What is at stake is not our pride, but instead the truth of the Word.

        No matter what, our words, actions, and decisions should be said and done in the most loving way possible without compromising the truth. Doctrine is simply what we believe to be true about who Jesus is and what he has done… it isn’t a bad thing.

        Will people sometimes be offended? Certainly. There is an offense to the Gospel. People walked away from Jesus at times because what he said was offensive to them.

        • I am thinking of some specific examples, and you, undoubtedly, are thinking of this from the pastor frame of reference.
          I am thinking of a friend and wife who attend a church that teaches non-infant baptism. The man grew up as a Christian, was baptised early, and can’t teach at the church he attends. His wife grew up a non-believer, but was brought to church at age twelve by a friend, then baptised. She can teach; he can’t, unless a pastor is in the room. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who attend there who don’t join because of the baptism issue, yet they clearly profess faith and their lives show it.
          The other person I think of was raised in a very conservative Lutheran church. She and her husband moved, but the only Lutheran Churches were they type thought to be un-Lutheran by some of the conservatives. Her previous church teachings kind of made her feel guilty to attend where she now lived, which she did only rarely, but when she died and the family wanted burial back where she came from, there was a “problem” with that.

          If one reads the websites of some of the various Lutheran groups, which I have done, there are some clear distinctions between groups. That is understandable. But these groups do work together in certain causes, and overseas, but are less likely to share in their own neighborhoods.

          Jesus shared day to day life with people who were outcasts and who did things that needed repentance and forgiveness, yet he shared with them BEFORE they came to a life changing moment. He seemed to accept that people grow gradually in their faith, so he didn’t demand complete acceptance before he accepted them.

          I guess I’m getting way off the topic, but I’ve heard all too often a nose-in-the-air attitude of people in one group toward other groups. I don’t think that pleases God.

          • PS,

            I want to carefully and thoughtfully reply to your comments… I’m leaving shortly to drive to the other coast of FL to see the shuttle take off tonight (hopefully). I’ll write when I get back.

            Pat

          • PSafterthought,

            Sorry about my slow reply…

            I have a plaque on my office wall that says:

            In the essentials – unity
            In the non-essentials – liberty
            In all things – charity

            I agree with you that it is sad when churches get bent out of shape over non-essential issues. It is even more sad when church people are uncivil toward each other regardless of the issue. Even when we disagree, we are to speak the truth in love.

            The answer, however, is not to dilute the truth so everyone agrees. It is better to respectfully disagree than to dilute the truth.

            Moses didn’t come down the mountain and try to make peace between the worshipers of the golden calf and the worshipers of Yahweh… sometimes a hard line stand is called for.

            It was conciliatory, but there was something dissatisfying about Bishop Hanson’s response to the CWA… I think real leadership is called for.

            Grace & Peace

    • heartofapastor

      I have enjoyed following your conversation and I almost feel guilty butting in now…especially when things have probably run it’s course already. But I do want to add one thing. The full communion vote with the UMC, for me, was just a formality. The UMC in Jackson and Salem have been working together ecumenically for sometime now. We share a Thanksgiving eve worship serve with the Presbyterians. A few years ago the UMC and Salem shared a Maundy Thursday service at Salem AND celebrated communion together. The UMC pastor and I both preached short homilies, presided at the table together and served communion together. It was a great time of shared worship.

      When the ELCA voted a full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church…well…that raised eyebrows. There the ELCA had to accept the historic episcopate that goes back to St. Peter (apparently I was ordained in this historic episcopate, but I feel no different). In this case, full communion meant accepting something that went against our Lutheran confession.

      I believe we can serve together and worship together while maintaining our history, confession and beliefs. There…we should not compromise. In no way did we compromise with the UMC.

      • “Full communion means that the two churches identify in one another a common Christian faith; agree to mutual recognition of Baptism and the sharing of Holy Communion; worship together and recognize each other’s ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and agree to a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.” – ELCA

        It’s difficult for me to understand how in one ‘vote’… the centuries old differences of understanding of the nuances of free will, real presence, resistability of grace, depravity of man, conditionality of election, preservation of the saints etc that exist between Calvinists, Lutherans and Arminians is somehow gone and now full recognition of each others ordained ministers and critical decision making is possible.

        I’m not referring to ecumenical endeavors such as you have described… that is quite different from “full communion”. I have Calvinist and Arminian believers in my congregation with whom I worship… but I would not give them carte blanche authority to teach their doctrines.

        How can you not ultimately compromise if you give full recognition to the ordained clergy of a different confession?

        Don’t get me wrong, I believe I will spend eternity with Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, & Orthodox believers… I’m not arguing against unity in Christ. My concern is about dumbing down of doctrine.

        I preached 5 sermons (found on my church website) to a group of Arminians & Calvinists on the book of Galatians back in January… and spoke candidly about our differences and am still friends with them. If you get a chance take a listen… I’d enjoy your critique.