Simple Majority?: At its November 14-17 meeting in Chicago, the ELCA Church Council made recommendations for the parliamentary rules that will govern the ELCA's 2009 Churchwide Assembly which will be asked to approve a social statement on human sexuality and resolutions to implement that social statement.
The council recommended the 2009 Churchwide Assembly retain rules (stipulated by the ELCA Constitution) that require a two-thirds vote to adopt social statements and amendments to the ELCA Constitution and Bylaws. However, the council declined proposals to require a two-thirds vote for adopting recommendations or resolutions related to a task force report. Consequently implementing resolutions that do not call for constitutional changes would require only a simple majority for adoption.
Final approval of the procedural rules for the churchwide assembly will be one of the first orders of business when the assembly convenes in Minneapolis on August 17, 2009.
Reaction from some quarters to the ELCA News Service report of the council's action was swift. On November 21, Pr. Mark Chavez Vice President of the WordAlone Network published an inflammatory article titled ELCA council says majority enough to change sexuality standards.
Not So Simple Majority?: On November 17, a Petition for Writ of Mandate or Prohibition was filed with the Supreme Court of California (pictured below) on behalf of the California Council of Churches, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ,the Right Rev. Marc Andrus Episcopal Bishop of California, the Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles), the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, and the Northern California Nevada Conference of the UCC and the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC.
The 8,208-word petition asks the court to prohibit the enforcement of Proposition 8, a ballot measure to revoke the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. On November 4, a simple majority of voters approved Prop. 8 by a margin of 52% to 48%.
The petition argues that Proposition 8 poses a severe threat to the guarantee of equal protection for all and was not enacted through the process (Article XVIII) the constitution mandates for such dramatic changes:
California's constitutional right of equal protection is sacrosanct, Not even the electorate can take it away selectively – at least not without a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a constitutional convention. This writ petition seeks to enforce that basic principle.
On November 19, the California Supreme Court agreed to consider the petition but denied a request for a stay of Prop. 8 while the issue is under consideration.
Rules Trump Conscience (Again): In a letter dated November 15, Bishop Michael Pryse (pictured) of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) advised Pr. Dawn Hutchings of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario that the Synod Council had voted to "suspend" Holy Cross for having extended a call to Pr. Lionel Ketola. Pr. Ketola is a married gay man, and the ELCIC refuses to roster clergy in homosexual relationships. Pr. Ketola is rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Suspension is a lesser punishment than expulsion: Holy Cross will not be allowed to send delegates to conference, synodical and national conventions of the ELCIC and its members and clergy cannot be candidates for elected positions in the ELCIC. The suspension will remain in effect until either Pr. Ketola's call ends or the ELCIC accepts Pr. Ketola's call.
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Bishop Pryse's letter includes this paragraph:
While clear in their resolve to act responsibly in accordance with our church's governing documents, the Synod Council experienced no joy in making this decision. Indeed, it is this Council's expressed desire to responsibly work toward changing policies that preclude the full participation of all God’s people in our ecclesial life.
We call your attention to the two "responsiblies," one splitting an infinitive and one not. We also suggest that the synod council could experience more joy by taking responsibility for ending the policy of discrimination against LGBT people called to ministry.
Reaction from some quarters to news of the suspension was swift: Lutherans Concerned/North American (LCNA) was momentarily Lutherans Dismayed ("Lutherans dismayed by the disciplining of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Canada"). Emily Eastwood, Executive Director for LCNA, remarked:
Once again the authorities of the church have failed to demonstrate leadership, failed to follow the lead of the Christ and Holy Spirit, and, instead, have endorsed a policy of oppression and discrimination based on dusty prejudice and ignorance. Holy Cross has chosen to live life as Christ's church should. One day, and soon, the rest of the church will follow the example they have set – recognizing that LGBT people have always been part of the wondrous diversity of God's creation and Christ's redemption.
Ask Pr. Sophie: Pr. Sophie Fortresson, our resident expert on all matters of theology, Lutheran etiquette, and social protocol, answers questions submitted by our readers and occasionally simply volunteers advice when no question has been asked. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Pastor Sophie: I would appreciate your advice on a matter of etiquette: I have made plans to attend Jay Wilson's ordination on December 6 in San Francisco, but I understand that the bishop in that synod will not be present. In the ELCA, is it permitted for a bishop to cross synod lines to attend an ordination extra ordinem? Is it rude of me to attend? If I do attend? Is it acceptable for a visiting bishop to vest with the other clergy and participate? Thanks in advance, "Wally"
Dear Bishop Noe-Effingway: Thank you so much for your question. Pr. Sophie is certain that you are not alone in your concern. She is convinced that many bishops are, in fact, puzzled over how to respond to ordinations extra ordinem, and she will do her best to shine a little light on this particularly dark and musty corner of churchly social convention.
Perhaps we should begin with a review of past practice. With respect to ordinations extra ordinem, ELCA bishops have been overwhelmingly "unavailable for comment." Perhaps the bishops have felt that acknowledging an extraordinary ordination might prejudice subsequent disciplinary proceedings or might be interpreted as a sign of disloyalty to the ELCA.
Notable exceptions to this episcopal silence are Bishop Paul Egertson (Southern California Synod) and Bishop Paul Landahl (Metro Chicago Synod). In April, 2001, Bishop Egertson traveled to the St. Paul Area Synod to participate in the ordination of Pr. Anita Hill. He is the only sitting ELCA bishop to have participated in an extraordinary ordination, and he crossed synod boundaries to do so. Mark Hanson was bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod at the time. Following the event, ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson requested that Bishop Egertson resign and he did.
In 2006, Bishop Landahl attended the ordination of Pr. Erik Christensen, and though he did not vest, his interactions with members of the congregation were cordial and gracious.
Some commentators have opined (and Pr. Sophie agrees) that Jay Wilson's Dec. 6 ordination ought to be a "freebie" for ELCA stalwarts. (Naturally, it is Pr. Sophie's fervent hope that all ELCA bishops are stalwarts.)
Jay Wilson's ordination has nothing to do with the ELCA: the calling congregation (First United (SF)) is an independent Lutheran church: it is not under ELCA jurisdiction and is not affiliated with any ELCA synod. The ordinand is rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the Welcome Ministry where Jay Wilson serves is not an ELCA agency.
What does this mean? It means that participating in this ordination is not an act of ecclesiastical disobedience, but simply an affirmation of the ordinand, the call, and the ministry to be done. If you are able to affirm those things, you should attend and participate, secure in the knowledge that you are not trespassing on the jurisdiction of a colleague.
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