Conservation of Censure: In a letter dated May 6, 2010, Bishop Mark Holmerud of the Sierra Pacific Synod lifted the censure and admonition placed on University Lutheran Chapel by Bishop Robert Matheis in April, 2000. The congregation was disciplined for calling and installing Pr. Jeff Johnson who is rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and not with the ELCA.
On May 6 at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in Reno, Nevada, Bishop Holmerud asked Pr. Johnson and the University Lutheran Chapel delegation to come to the podium. He then read the letter lifting the congregation's censure to the assembly which responded with a standing ovation.
Bishop Holmerud's action brings to four the number of congregations whose censure for calling LGBT pastors unrostered with the ELCA has been lifted (University Lutheran Chapel, St. Paul Reformation in St. Paul, Abiding Peace in Kansas City, and Abiding Savior in Fort Lauderdale)
On May 5 in the South Dakota Synod, Bishop David Zellmer issued a letter of censure to four of the synod's churches (Deep Creek Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran in Midland, Our Savior Lutheran in Long Valley, and First Lutheran in Philip). The congregations have joined Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for Christ, but have not voted to withdraw from the ELCA. Bishop Zellmer's letter explains:
Given the secretary's [ELCA Secretary David Swartling] interpretation that the constitution does not permit dual rostering and given the synod's authority to determine whether a congregation meets the criteria for membership in the ELCA, as your bishop I write to tell you that the actions taken by the congregation to be dual rostered has put it out of compliance with the constitution of the ELCA.
In physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves. Matter and energy, for example, are held to exist in fixed quantities: they are neither created nor destroyed, but simply moved around. There is some evidence that a conservation of censure law may be at work in the ELCA.
Too Late?: Reporting on the April 12-13 meeting of the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC), the Christian Post carried an article titled It's Not Too Late to Reconsider Pro-Gay Actions, LCMS Tells ELCA. The Christian Post article quotes the March 15 LCMS Task Force Report Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions:
We pray that our brothers, sisters, and friends in the ELCA, and any others who have departed from this biblical and Christian understanding, would reconsider – even now – their actions.
The task force's report was issued before the ELCA church council approved new ministry policies implementing the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
Missing from the Christian Post report, but included in the issued by the ELCA and the LCMS, was the most forthright assertion to date that the ELCA has been and remains faithful to the Scriptures. Rev. Marcus R. Kunz, executive for discernment of contextual and theological issues, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop is quoted in the news release:
[It is not true] as some are claiming, that the ELCA has abandoned or ignored the authority of Scripture. Rather, we seek to be faithful to the evangelical purpose that God intends with the Scriptures.
[The ELCA asks] respectfully that the LCMS not silently allow or tacitly encourage misrepresentations of the ELCA's commitment to the evangelical use of the Scriptures, a misrepresentation that subverts the evangelical witness we share.
The CLC meets twice a year and provides the opportunity for leaders in the LCMS and ELCA to confer. Representing the ELCA leadership in the meeting were Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson; Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops; Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock; Rev. Marcus R. Kunz; Rev. Rebecca S. Larson; Rev. Donald J. McCoid; ELCA vice president Carlos Peña; secretary David D. Swartling.
Representing the LCMS leadership were President Gerald Kieschnick; first vice president Rev. William R. Diekelman; secretary Rev. Raymond L. Hartwig; executive director of the Council for Theology and Church Relations Rev. Joel Lehenbauer; director of church relations Rev. Samuel H. Nafzger; chief administrative officer Ronald Schulz, chief administrative officer; and Pacific Southwest District president Rev. Larry Stoterau.
Fight Club: The Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE) is an unlikely sparring venue, but the May issue (Volume 10, number 5) features a tense, not particularly polite exchange between Jon Pahl (Professor of History of Christianity in America at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP)) and Robert Benne
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(Director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College) on the subject of Lutheran CORE.
Pahl's article (The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash) asserts that Lutheran CORE has traded its Lutheran birthright for the mess of pottage that is American civil religion:
[T]he leaders of Lutheran CORE, because they assert a self-righteous American moralism about sex and marriage as a litmus test of ecclesiastical purity, confuse law and gospel, and imperil the clear truth of salvation by grace through faith that is the actual core of historical and confessional Lutheran teaching. When teaching about sex replaces teaching about salvation as a defining mark of the church, something has clearly gone severely awry.
Pahl's language is occasionally intemperate:
All in all, the core of Lutheran CORE is rotten. One can get more than a whiff of Docetism, Donatism, and Pelagianism - heresies all - in the doctrinal formulations of the various groups represented in the coalition. Lutheran CORE represents, in its demographic and historical contours, a largely white, heterosexual, male backlash against the supposedly evil changes in gender roles, sexual mores, and participatory democracy that marked the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the movement also ironically embrace many of the least savory aspects of the sixties rhetoric of adolescent resentment and entitlement. Most fundamentally, the leaders of Lutheran CORE have come to the brink of dividing the church in an attempt to hold onto (or to carve out) some power.
Our reporter was not entirely persuaded by Pahl's "American civil religion" argument, but Robert Benne's dismissive, acid-tongued response turned out not to be a refutation of Pahl's thesis, but a particularly clear example of "white male backlash":
It is so bracing to have a profound seer tell you exactly what you have really been doing - defending the Empire and its civil religion, scapegoating, and holding on by our fingernails to the great power and privilege we once had - when you actually thought you were involved in a struggle over Christian teaching and practice. I am so grateful to have the scales removed from my eyes, and no doubt other leaders of CORE will also be elated to see clearly now the truth about themselves. Our self-deception has been an awful burden from which Jon Pahl has freed us.
We doubt that either of these articles will change anyone's mind on the role of LGBT Christians in the church. However, we are certain that, should you take some degree of not-so-innocent, private pleasure in the spectacle of academics behaving rudely, you can be forgiven.
Fait Accompli: On May 4, the ELCA News Service issued a news release declaring that Pr. Bradley Schmeling and Pr. Darin Easler are in the process of being reinstated on the ELCA roster. Pr. Schmeling and Pr. Easler are partners. Both were formerly on the ELCA roster, Pr. Schmeling in the Southeastern Synod and Pr. Easler in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod. Both have been approved for reinstatement by the candidacy committees of their respective synods. Pr. Schmeling is pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta. Pr. Easler transferred to the United Church of Christ (UCC) and works in hospice care.
The ELCA news release was picked up by many news sources, among them Star Tribune in Minneapolis which carried an article about Pr. Schmeling and Pr. Easler with the tricky title Gay pastors back on ELCA roster implying that their reinstatement was complete. Technically, there is still the pesky business of completing the paperwork.
As always, we recommend a cautious approach. We'll believe these pastors have been reinstated when we can query for them using the Rostered Leader Lookup on the ELCA web site.
New Bishops in LA: On May 15, in a 3-hour service at the Long Beach Arena, Diane Jardine Bruce (pictured left) and Mary Douglas Glasspool (pictured below right) were consecrated bishops suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
They are the Episcopal Church's 16th and 17th female bishops. Bruce is the first woman to be elected bishop in the Los Angeles diocese. Glasspool, elected Dec. 5, a day after Bruce, is the diocese's first (and the Episcopal Church's second) gay, partnered bishop.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori served as chief consecrator in the multi-lingual Spanish, Korean, Tagalog and English service. Retired Massachusetts suffragan bishop Barbara Harris, who in 1988 became the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion, served as one of seven co-consecrating bishops.
Other co-consecrating bishops included retired Los Angeles bishop Frederick H. Borsch, Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, and Ohio bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the first openly gay, partnered bishop in the Episcopal Church, was among the bishops attending the service.
Other guests included President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson and ELCA Bishops Dean Nelson of the Southwest California Synod and Bishop Murray D. Finck of the Pacifica Synod.
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