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Posts for May, 2013

Minnesota DFL representative Rev. Tim Faust cites religious freedom for his position on marriage bill

Timothy Kincaid

May 6th, 2013

Rev. Tim Faust is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in rural Minnesota. Faust is also the local representative to the Minnesota House. And he’s been one of the DFL (Democratic) reps from a conservative district about which there has been uncertainty as to how he will vote on marriage. His district supported the (failed) anti-gay marriage amendment last year by about 60%.

Now Faust has decided that it is important to consider religious freedom in the upcoming bill: (SeattlePI)

“We have churches that want to bless legal gay marriages. The only way to give them that option is to pass this bill,” Faust said.

So Faust will be siding with religious freedom and supporting equality. I don’t know if Faust’s church will be one that blesses legal gay marriages, but he is affiliated with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ELCA gives its member churches that choice.

Identifying your (dwindling) opposition

Timothy Kincaid

January 4th, 2013

On NomBlog, the National Organization for Marriage describes a letter issued in opposition to equality as “An extraordinary show of support for true marriage by a wide spectrum of faith communities in Illinois”. But that letter illustrates just how narrow that spectrum has become.

There are a variety of signatories on the bottom, but the logos atop the letter tell the story.

Our denominational opposition in Illinois consists of:

* Catholic Conference of Illinois
* Anglican Church in North America
* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
* The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago
* The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod

That may seem like a “wide spectrum” at first glance, and quite diverse, but when you look closer it reveals how few denominations have signed on to oppose civil marriage in the state. Our opponents are the Catholic hierarchy (lay Catholics support equality), Mormons, Muslims, and two Protestant denominations: the churches that left the Episcopal Church when she became pro-gay, and the smaller of the two major Lutheran churches (the other blesses same-sex unions).

It can no longer be said that the battle over civil marriage is between the gay community and people of faith. Far too many in the religious community have either disengaged or defected to our side.

- TK

Moderate Christians begin to speak up

Timothy Kincaid

June 8th, 2012

There is a fairly new but growing trend in Christianity: moderate Christians who have finally decided that far right conservatives will not be the only face of the faith. I’ve been saying for a while that if moderates don’t speak up that they have only themselves to blame if the unchurched think that all Christians are extremists and homophobes. But now they are speaking up.

In Minnesota, ministers from different denominations have joined together to oppose the proposed marriage ban. (Necn.com)

Among the latter was the Rev. Kelly Chatman, lead pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He took take a public stand against the amendment, he said Friday, “because I don’t want that other voice to be the only voice, I don’t want same-sex people to see all churches that way.

“I’m doing this because it’s important people see a pastor who believes that God is loving to everybody.”

Plenty of prominent Minnesota denominations have come out squarely against the amendment. Five Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have approved formal resolutions in opposition to the marriage amendment. Earlier this month, the general assembly of Minnesota’s United Methodists overwhelmingly approved a resolution against the amendment.

This is so important for us for two reasons: first, it is essential that people not believe that the position of all people of faith is to support discrimination or that this is what God wants (many who never darken a church door will do “what God wants” on an issue they are not real clear on).

But as important is that when ministers begin to see this as a matter of justice and what they believe to be consistent with the call of Christ, they can get pretty worked up about it. And they can inspire their congregations to become allies for equality. And little old Methodist church ladies can reach people we have no access to with the message of “well, I just believe God wants us to treat gay people the way we want to be treated”. And that is a very powerful message indeed.

And I think that when compared to the other voices, those who call for equality, justice, and mercy have a natural advantage. They don’t sound like this:

The Rev. Bryan Pedersen of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Robbinsdale, said he’s been approached by parishioners at odds with his own public stand for the amendment.

“Every one of them will be accountable to God for how they’re informed by their conscience,” Pedersen said. “The definition of marriage is non-negotiable.”

Bavarian Lutherans allow coupled pastors to live with partners in parsonages

Timothy Kincaid

November 17th, 2010

Bavariia, Germany’s south-eastern state, is conservative and Catholic. But the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, to which about one in five Bavarians belongs, has further extended recognition to its gay ministers (Christian Century)

Gay and lesbian Lutheran ministers in the conservative German state of Bavaria may live with their partners in parish parsonages, but only if they enter into a state-sanctioned civil union.

Although the move may seem bold for what is generally considered one of Germany’s most traditional states, Bishop Johannes Friedrich of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria said it was no great departure from existing policies.

He noted that the church had already welcomed openly gay ministers and same-sex unions. “We had only left out that a couple could live in a civil union in the parsonage,” he said.

To abide by the ruling, gay or lesbian ministers must receive a church blessing for their union and enter into a civil union officially recognized by government officials.

According to church officials, six Bavarian ministers already live in same-sex civil unions.

Germany does not recognize marriage equality, but does allow registered partnerships with nearly all of the benefits and obligations of marriage. The new policy seems to me to be simply applying the same rules to its gay ministers as to its straight pastors.

Lutheran Leader joins It Gets Better campaign

Timothy Kincaid

October 29th, 2010

Some conservative Christians are dismissive of the notion that their campaign against “the normalization of homosexuality” contributes negatively to the mental health of young people. They may say “no one should be bullied,” but this brief aside is quickly drowned out by protestations of innocence and further denunciation of gay people. Take, for example, the statement released by a coalition of some anti-gay activists led by Linda Harvey:

“Gay” activists nationwide are fueling an effort to indict traditional moral values as “guilty until proven innocent” in some bullying incidents involving teens. Their proposed solutions end up sexualizing teens at young ages into known high-risk behaviors and silencing concerned parents.

In debate, they loudly insist that those children who go to church are taught not to bully, and that the guilty parties in most of the cases were not regular church attendees. We do not have any way of knowing the extent to which bullies do or do not attend regular services, but considering that anti-gay activist have taken their culture of condemnation of homosexuality outside of the boundaries of their sanctuary and into the public square, it really doesn’t matter.

It is, one would assume, incontrovertible that statements which rail against “homosexual activists” (defined as any self-identified gay person) in terms of contempt and loathing would have some impact on kids who recognize within themselves same-sex attraction. Any person working from logic would have to recognize that national organizations who claim that God doesn’t want a same-sex attracted kid to be able to have a support group in school has to play havoc on that kid’s self-worth.

Yet, the loudest voices who claim to speak for Christianity deny any fault. They are only speaking “the truth in love.”

We are not fooled by this, but they really don’t believe it themselves. They know – though they may not admit it – that bullied children are a victim in their war on our lives, freedoms, and civil rights. They know that those kids who commit suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying are a direct consequence of their political and social endeavors.

They simply believe it to be a sad but acceptable collateral damage. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but it’s better that that some kids be dead than that others think it is okay to be gay. As one anti-gay activist (who, to their credit, did not sign on to Linda Harvey’s statement) responded in private correspondence to my concern, “You are willing to put children through suffering in the assumption that your understanding of scripture is correct. Because of what you believe, others get to suffer.”

Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.

But the blame does not lie solely with those who come bringing accusations of “abomination” and fears about the destruction of society. It also lies with those who let such statements be credited as holy. And for far too long, those less hostile within the Christian faith have been complicit in this message; they have stood aside lamenting the pain that was being caused, but doing little to counter-act it.

Those who read here regularly know that I defend Christians and others of faith from blanket accusations. But let me be bold to say that the Christian Church in America, collectively, is the primary facilitator of the message of condemnation that young gay kids hear, be it by active denunciation or by failure to counterbalance those who do.

So it was with a great deal of joy that I watched the contribution of Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the It Gets Better campaign.

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Hanson speaks of love, he speaks of being the person God created you to be, he speaks of nothing being able to come between you and God. And at no point does he feel compelled to temper his comments with denunciation of “homosexual acts” or rants about agendas. He even acknowledges the hurt caused by some Christians and takes ownership for the pain caused by the silence of others.

I truly hope that every gay kid out there who is being raised in a Christian family and has equated their own person as being immoral or vile or ungodly will hear this message.

It is of tremendous importance that the inclusive Christian denominations find their voice in the debate over the place of gay men and women in society and the church. I welcome Hanson’s contribution, and hope that it is but the first of many positions on which the Lutherans, along with the other mainline churches, will be willing to speak out in favor of love and inclusion and in opposition to those who would usurp the authority of Christendom to engage in evil against our community.

More, more, more amicus

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2010

Three more amicus briefs were filed today in addition to those of Ed Whelan and Liberty Counsel.

The American Center for Law and Justice (Jay Sekulow) wrote:

II. MORALITY IS A LEGITIMATE BASIS FOR LEGISLATION.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558(2003), did not abolish the legitimacy of morality as a state interest. Indeed, to have done so would have been both revolutionary and destructive, as morality has long been recognized as a basis for law, and countless laws today rest upon morality. The district court therefore erred in dismissing moral considerations out of hand.

Something called The Hausvater Project, which appears to be related to the parochial schools of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod filed to support “the right of parents to determine their children’s education”. This one flummoxed me; I have no idea what they are talking about.

Parents have a fundamental right to determine their children’s education, protected under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause. California citizens voting in favor of Prop. 8 (“Prop. 8 Supporters”) had, and on their behalf the defendant-intervenors-appellants (“Prop. 8 Proponents”) in this case continue to have, good reason to regard Prop. 8 as a safeguard of that fundamental constitutional right. Since the safeguarding of a constitutional right properly serves the state’s interest, the district court erred in concluding that Prop. 8 serves no legitimate or compelling state interest. Moreover, parents’ fundamental right to determine their children’s education should take priority over the competing claims of plaintiffs-appellees Kristin Perry et al./same-sex couples (“Prop. 8 Opponents”) who plea for Equal Protection and Due Process rights to same-sex marriage.

It seems that they are arguing that because the Proposition 8 campaign played on the fears of parents (“I learned in class that a prince could marry another prince, and I can marry a princess!”) that therefore it is based in the constitutional right of parents to make sure that public schools condemn the things which they condemn. Or something like that.

Which is an odd argument coming from an organization of parochial schools.

The second part of their argument was that allowing gay people to marry would have a “chilling impact” on the religious freedoms of those who want to stop them. If governments actually treat gay people as full citizens and if schools refer to them as such, then it greatly reduces the impact of those who preach from pulpits that they are not.

Far from furthering a state interest, such religious organizations would be in opposition to a state interest, at least insofar as one accepts the district court’s own identifications of the state’s interest and the religious groups’ motivations. This is not small potatoes.

And if Judge Walker’s decision is left intact it would lead to “nothing short of the abolition of parochial schools and homeschooling.” And then they really go bat-poop crazy. It’s all a plan on the part of the homosexuals to destroy family and society; first they redefine marriage and then they’ll take away our children.

A tremendous burden falls now to this court as to whether those asserting the freedom to chose a spouse of the same sex can secure that socially constructed status apart from denying, with increasing tenacity, the fundamental right of a man and a woman to direct the education of the children whom nature calls their own. The social engineers of incremental strategies favoring same-sex marriage have themselves answered the question in the negative. Whatever disappointment a reversal of the district court’s decision may bring to the particular homosexual couples who originated the complaint, at least they will be liberated from serving as pawns in a larger scheme that ultimately would constrain not only their neighbors’ liberties, but also their own.

And finally we have the amicus brief of

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The California Catholic Conference
The National Association of Evangelicals
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons)
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The Calvary Chapel Fellowship of Ministries of California
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc.
The Council of Korean Churches in Southern California
Southern California Korean Ministers Association
Holy Movement for America

Believe me, other than all being in the broad category of “Christian” and being devoted to the condemnation of gay people and bringing harm to their lives, these folks have nothing in common. It takes a powerful amount of joint purpose, in this case their religious-based animus towards gay people, to get them in the same room.

And I do find it interesting just who is not present in this joint statement. This, more than most any other document, draws the line between combatants over the religious direction of the nation.

We write separately to answer the district court’s distortion and condemnation of our beliefs as irrational and illegitimate and to defend the constitutional right of citizens and associations of faith to participate fully in the democratic process. Contrary to the aspersions cast by the decision below, our beliefs about marriage are not based on hatred or bigotry. Our support for traditional marriage has vastly more to do with a rich tapestry of affirmative teachings about marriage and family than with doctrines directed at the issue of homosexuality. To be sure, our religious beliefs hold that all sexual acts outside traditional marriage are contrary to God’s will. But our faiths also entreat us to love and embrace those who reject our beliefs, not to hate or mistreat them. Bigotry is contrary to our most basic religious convictions.

A bit ironic when you consider that the purpose of this brief is not to love and embrace those who reject their beliefs, but rather to force by law those beliefs which they cannot persuade through preaching.

Faith communities and religious organizations have a long and vibrant history of upholding marriage as the union of a man and a woman for reasons that have little or nothing to do with homosexuality. Indeed, their support for traditional marriage precedes by centuries the very notion of homosexuality as a recognized sexual orientation (see ER106), not to mention the recent movement for same-sex marriage. Many of this nation’s prominent faith traditions have rich religious narratives that describe and extol the personal, familial, and social virtues of traditional marriage while mentioning homosexuality barely, if at all.

Except, of course, that every single denomination listed decries homosexuality as sinful, rebellious, or evil. Without exception.

The gist of their argument is that it is unfair of Judge Walker to take a side in the religious culture war, that they have the right to try and vote their religious beliefs into law, and besides they loooooove the homosexual, they just want to grant special privilege to those who follow their beliefs.

Reformed Church makes nuanced response to Lutherans

Timothy Kincaid

June 26th, 2010

When the Evangelical Church in America decided to give congregations the authority to be accepting of gay ministers, some outside partners were not pleased. And some feared that this would impact the church’s alliances with other Christian denominations.

But at least one, the Reformed Church in America, has decided that this is not an issue that is significant enough to sever relationships. (Christian Post)

“Cutting ties with the ELCA over their Assembly’s narrow decision would witness to the world that Christians will fight and divide themselves from one another, and break the bonds of Christian fellowship, over such an ethical difference,” RCA spokesman Paul Boice told The Christian Post last year.

Still, the RCA voted to express concern with the actions and to direct a panel to discuss and explore the ELCA’s human sexuality statement with representatives from the ELCA “in the spirit of ‘mutual affirmation and admonition’ called for in the Formula of Agreement.” The panel will report on the progress of the dialogue to the General Synod in 2011.

RCA delegates also approved a resolution that invites the ELCA, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the Christian Reformed Church to join in a “consultation on the interpretation and use of Scripture in moral discernment and ethical decision making.”

This may be an indication that the Reformed Church may be moving further and faster than I imagined. The UCC is proactively supportive of our community and the ELCA is cautiously accepting (and perhaps more now that those who define their faith in terms of their opposition to gay people have packed up and stomped out). And as the Presbyterian Church (USA) seems to be moving closer each year, this alliance may prove to be the beginning of a unified Christian repudiation of homophobia within the faith.

Pennsylvania Lutherans confirm pro-gay positions

Timothy Kincaid

June 26th, 2010

elca
Last August the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to revise its policy on sexuality to allow member congregations freedom to decide for themselves whether they would now accept ministers in committed same-sex relationships. Conservatives predicted schism.

To date only a few dozen churches have left the denomination over the decision, but the “conflict” is enticing to news sources so each disgruntled congregation receives breathless coverage. Less dramatic, but no less important, was a decision this week by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. (readingeagle.com)

Delegates failed to approve a resolution that would have petitioned the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America churchwide assembly at its next meeting in 2011 to rescind actions of 2009 relating to persons in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

An exact vote tally was not yet available, but the Rev. Catherine A. Ziel, executive associate of synod Bishop Samuel Zeiser, said the resolution was resoundingly defeated.

Lutherans in Tanzania shun those in the West

Timothy Kincaid

May 7th, 2010

There are a lot of Lutherans in Tanzania. With 5.3 million Lutherans, there are more there than in any nation other than Sweden (and Swedes take their religion a bit laxly).

And while the Lutherans in Scandinavia and, increasingly, the United States are welcoming of gay people and supporting of gay rights and relationships, the Tanzanians are not at all happy. They are so very pissed off at their fellow believers that they want nothing to do with them. Or their money.

From the Ecumenical News International

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania says it will not accept money or help from groups that allow or support the legalization of same-sex marriages.

“Those in same-sex marriages, and those who support the legitimacy of such marriage, shall not be invited to work in the ELCT,” says a statement posted to the church’s Web site on April 29. “We further reject their influence in any form, as well as their money and their support.”

It’s very sad. African remains largely hostile to gay people; so much so that at times it tears at the fabric of their shared faith.

The great Lutheran schism that wasn’t

Timothy Kincaid

February 26th, 2010

elcaWhen the Episcopal Church confirmed Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire even though Robinson was in a long-term committed relationship with a man, it resulted in a world-wide shake-up of the Anglican faith. Several congregations, including some with historical reverence, separated from the denomination. Three dioceses voted to leave the church, and legal battles have warred over church property. In total, the Episcopal schism included as many as 700 congregations and in excess of 100,000 congregants.

Internationally, this decision was catalyst for a split between more liberal Western members of the Anglicanism and the churches in the Global South. Primates in Africa and Asia, which have more congregants but are poorer and traditionally less influential have seen this as an opportunity to redefine the global power structure of the Anglican Communion and to redirect the flow of Anglican Christianity in a more conservative direction.

The Episcopal Church, and other western bodies of the union, have shown no inclination to rethink their liberal understanding of Christianity or to adopt anti-gay attitudes or rules that the Bishops of Nigeria and Uganda (among others) sought to dictate. But having had a taste of international prominence and influence, conservative African Anglican leaders are unlikely to “allow” Anglicans in the United States, Canada, or even the United Kingdom to set their own policies. It seems inevitable that the corporate structure of the third largest Christian community in the world will fracture.

So when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the seventh largest denomination in the nation, came together in August of last year to consider several changes to the way in which the church would recognize gay Lutherans, some pointed to the Episcopal schism and warned of the same. And after the ELCA voted to adopt a new social position on sexuality that included as valid those who advocate for full civil marriage, changed their rules to allow gay partnered pastors, and authorized blessings of same-sex unions (all with significant majorities), dissenters warned of a great consequence that the church would have to pay.

Six months have passed since the denomination chose a more inclusive stance towards gay Lutherans. And while several local newspapers have carried stories about positions and actions of specific congregations, it has not been immediately clear to what extent the changes have impacted the body. But an article in the Washington Post has now provided the answer: not much.

Since August, congregations have not left the ELCA in huge numbers. The denomination has about 10,000 congregations, and in all 220 have taken at least one of two required votes to leave. So far, only 28 congregations have actually approved leaving, which requires two separate votes that each attain a two-thirds supermajority.

“Even if that number doubles or triples, it would still be less than 5 percent of the ELCA,” said Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul, Minn. synod. “So it’s not as though a schism has happened, where we’re a denomination split in half. Nothing on that magnitude is in the offing.”

So the great Lutheran schism exists more in the minds of those who are theologically anti-gay than in reality. Considering that Lutherans, on the whole, are less liberal on the grand scale of religious ideology than Episcopalians, this might come as a surprise to some.

But there are several reasons why the ELCA is not fracturing over the issue of homosexuality in the church.

First, there are far fewer ELCA member with sharp ideological differences but a long affiliation to the history of the denomination.

Unlike the Episcopal Church, there is not one official historical organizational body for Lutherans. While ELCA is the largest Lutheran community, there are many others including the traditionally more conservative Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (the nation’s eighth largest denominational body). And the ELCA has only been in existence since 1988, when it was the result of a merger of three smaller Lutheran groups. And those who were somewhat similar in thought probably would not have merged at that time.

Secondly, leaving the ELCA is not administratively easy. It requires a two-thirds agreement of congregants in two votes separated by 90 days. It is not easy to keep a sense of anger whipped up for three months.

And Lutherans are not known as a divisive or confrontational bunch. The “oh, sure, you betcha” stereotypes are not without a basis. In more than one instance, church leadership got all fired up only do discover that the members just didn’t care that much.

Next, there is no unified schismatic organization to lobby for continued division.

Unlike the Episcopal offshoot, The Anglican Church in North America, those who left or are leaving the ELCA have a number of options with whom to affiliate. The Lutheran Core, which sought to be the anti-ELCA, moved too slowly to create their own new community and with so many Lutheran groups focused on the positive who are ready to welcome breakaways, it is less easy to organize around anger and discontent.

Finally, there is no sense of international outrage and thus no feeling of entitlement in breakaways or any sense that they are the “real” Lutherans.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the Lutheran World Federation. But unlike the Anglican Church, Lutherans are more dominant in Northern Europe and have a much lesser presence in the developing world (other than Ethiopia, which seems to have been a religious anomaly for millennia). As the ‘official church’ of a number of Scandinavian countries, Lutherans in Sweden, and Norway, Denmark have long since become accustomed to ever more inclusive theology.

Going forward, other denominations may be well served by looking at the resulting situation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rather than that of the Episcopal Church. The Lutheran model is probably much closer in structure and international presence to most other mainline churches.

Lutherans tells State Department that Uganda bill is “abhorrent injustice”

Timothy Kincaid

January 12th, 2010

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express the church’s grave concern over the Proposed Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda.

Here is a portion of his letter:

The ELCA is gravely concerned that this measure, introduced last year by Ugandan member of parliament David Bahati, would, in certain cases, impose the death penalty for persons convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Enactment of this kind of legislation would be an abhorrent injustice and outside the norms and standards of internationally-recognized human rights.

For the ELCA such an action would be inconsistent with various aspects of our church’s social policy, such as the social statements, including “Death Penalty” (1991), “For Peace in God’s World” (1995), and “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” (2009), as well as the 1993 Church Council action related to “harassment, assault, and discrimination due to sexual orientation,” all of which affirm the foundational human dignity of each person created in the image of God.

We welcome this strong witness.

Anti-gay Lutheran pastor heads his own church-split

Timothy Kincaid

November 24th, 2009

In August of this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took strongly affirmative stances in welcoming and supporting gay Christians, including allowing gay and lesbian ministers in lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA pastors.

Immediately, conservatives encouraged pastors and congregations to break from the ELCA and to join together in their own new denomination united by their rejection of gay men and women. And, indeed, the ELCA has lost many churches since their decision.

Among the many tales of disassociation comes this one from Little Falls, Minnesota, in which the church did not vote to leave the ELCA. What happened next is worth notice, even if Lillian Kwon spun the story absurdly. (Christian Post)

The Little Falls church defeated a motion to withdraw from the ELCA by a vote of 160-96. It also voted 95-73 not to affiliate with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which allows gay clergy as long as they are celibate.

So those who lost the vote did what they do in many such situations. They split from the congregation to start their own church.

Church splits are hardly rare. But those who know the etiquette of pastoral service will see the problem with the following:

Bjorge is currently leading a group of people who left First Lutheran to start their own church, Faith Lutheran. He was called by the group to serve as their pastor.

So the pastor, Rev. Nate Bjorge, did not leave to seek a position with a congregation in another community that better suited his theology. Instead, he is staying in town to run a rival church (most likely created at his instigation) to the one that did not vote in accordance to his ultimatum. He is behaving punitively and in the most petty manner possible.

There is no law or – due to his separation – even denominational force to stop Bjorge. He’s entitled to try and be as destructive as possible to the church whom he previously had pledged his servitude.

But Nate Bjorge’s behavior has made his character perfectly clear. Rev. Nate Bjorge is just plain tacky.

A Texas Lutheran Bishop’s Perspective on the ELCA Vote

Timothy Kincaid

August 26th, 2009

Rev. Michael Rinehart, Bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is in the process of burying his father-in-law. And it is from that perspective that he discusses his thoughts on the recent vote to allow partnered gay clergy.

Rinehart’s words are thoughtful and wise and truly compassionate. His entire letter is worth reading; here is a sample:

Susan goes through her Father’s clothing. His shirts and pants, are so him. They smell like him. They look like him. She decides what to keep and what to give away. She decides to give away his furniture except for a small oval end table that has personal meaning. It’s an odd piece, but it has emotional significance. It’s so hard to let go of things.

I think people feel this way about change in general. The world has changed. The quaint hyper-patriotic euphoric post-WWII baby-boom world no longer exists. People are grieving the loss. I may struggle with the strange hermeneutics of the Bible being employed, but I understand that there are people who see the world a certain way, and it’s changing fast. I wonder what it felt like when we started ordaining women, for those who were strongly opposed. What exactly were they afraid of? Sometimes it’s hard to get at. It just may be a loss of what was. I think of America after the Emancipation Proclamation, when European Americans had to accept African Americans into mainstream society. Why was this so hard? What were they afraid of? The slave-enhanced economy might falter? The gene-pool might be weakened? The fragile fabric of society might be somehow irreparably damaged? I’m not sure.

Lutheran Schism In the Making?

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2009

Leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) responded to the church decision to accept partnered gay clergy with a press release (PDF: 25KB/2 pages) calling on “faithful Lutherans” to meet in Indianapolis in September to begin an “expanded ministry that draws faithful ECLA congregations together”:

“We are encouraging individuals and congregations to join us in Indianapolis to discuss what the future for faithful Lutherans in the ELCA might look like and how faithful congregations and individuals can work together ,” [Lutheran CORE chairman and bishop Paull] Spring said. “It is crucial that those ELCA Lutherans who uphold the authority of Scripture work together. We need each other. We urge people to come to Indianapolis.”

“We intend to gather the largest possible body of faithful Lutherans so that we might collectively plan a united common future. For that reason it is important that congregations and individuals not make hasty decisions about their future in the ELCA,” Spring added. “We want to work together to do what will be best for all of us and for the continuation of faithful Christian teaching.”

Lutheran CORE also announced that they are renouncing their recognition by the ECLA as an Independent Lutheran Organization. Spring said, “We can no longer in good conscience participate in this relationship with the offices in Chicago” He also encouraged congregations and members to direct their financial support away from the ECLA.

 

Partnered Gay Lutherans Can Be Pastors

Timothy Kincaid

August 21st, 2009

Capping a week in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took strongly affirmative stances in welcoming and supporting gay Christians, the Lutherans have now voted to allow gay and lesbian ministers in lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships to serve.

First the assembly voted to keep today’s controversial vote a simple majority, rather than a 2/3 supermajority. Then they affirmed, by a 2/3 vote, a new statement on sexuality.

Today the denomination addressed the four step process outlined by their task-force, though the ordering has shifted to 3, 1, 2, 4:

Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all.

This step was confirmed 771 – 230.

Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

This step was confirmed 619 – 402.

Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church.

This step was confirmed 559 – 451. It is official. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American will accept as ministers – for those churches who so desire – gays and lesbians with partners.

Step four proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all.

The details of this step are yet to be announced.

Lutherans Allow Blessing of Gay Unions

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2009

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted today to allow — but not require — congregations to bless same-sex unions. The vote was 619 in favor and 402 opposed. Next up later today: a vote on allowing gay clergy to serve while in committed relationships.

Lutherans Adopt New Statement on Sexuality

Timothy Kincaid

August 20th, 2009

Today the Lutheran convention voted 676 to 338 to adopt a new social statement of sexuality, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. This was exactly the two-thirds required for passage of the statement.

The statement specifies:

The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

But it also seeks to address the public accountability and legal support for “lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.”

We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships incerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

And, indeed, they are various:

This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such relationships as traditional marriage.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however, affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care, and may wish to surround lifelong monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.

In other words, Lutherans run the gamut from those who think you’re a threat to society to those who want to plan your marriage to their nephew. However, they are in agreement as to some social positions impacting the gay community.

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection.

In synopsis, when it comes to Lutheran belief on same-sex relationships the church does not define marriage in an inclusive way but recognizes that there is no concensus on the approach to same-sex realtionships. However, it has endorsed employment non-discrimination legislation and opposes attacks, both physical and verbal. It also seems that it doesn’t buy into reorientation as either a requirement or a possibility.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, it has conceded that those who support same-sex relationships are not doing so out of some liberal appeasement or thwarting of the clear teaching of scripture. (“The difference between interpreters should not be understood as a conflict between those who seek to be ‘true to Scripture’ and those who seek to ‘twist the Bible’ to their own liking. The disagreements are genuine.”) Rather, they do so on the basis on conscience-bound belief and they are encouraged to “live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized.”

Conservative Lutherans were not pleased with the vote:

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) decried the document: “We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman. It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years.”

But I find this statement to an admirable step in the direction of full inclusion.

Hint of Hope from Minneapolis

Timothy Kincaid

August 18th, 2009

A vote at the Lutheran (ELCA) convention last night gives up a hint of hope that the body may side with inclusion in Friday’s vote on clergy in same-sex relationships.

Those opposed to allowing partnered gay ministers proposed that Friday’s vote require two-thirds for passage rather than a simple majority. (Christian Post)

supporters of the supermajority said a higher hurdle was needed to signal wide support for a proposal they view as a major change in the church’s approach to homosexuality

However, delegates defeated this parliamentary change by a margin of 57-43. Friday’s vote will be a simple majority.

All sides caution that Monday’s vote is not a predictor of the eventual vote on policy change. However, it does hint that the proposed change has significant support.

As an interesting side note, it was in Minneapolis in 2003 that the Episcopal Church ordained Gene Robinson as a Bishop, thereby igniting an international firestorm with has likely led to schism in the Anglican Communion. This midwestern city may earn a reputation as a site central to the greatest restructuring of American Christianity since the Civil War.

Lutherans to Vote on Gay Clergy

Timothy Kincaid

August 17th, 2009

This week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be holding their biennial convention in Minneapolis. And issues about the inclusing of gay clergy are predicted to dominate conversation and debate.

The ELCA has accepted celibate gay men and women as clergy, but has banned office from those who are in relationships. In February, a task force recommended that the leadership allow gay men and women in committed relationships to serve as clergy and further recommended that the church find some way to recognize “lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

This year the church will make two decisions about gay Lutherans, one ideological and one structural. (Washington Times)

Of the two main documents on sexuality issues that will be considered at the ELCA assembly, one is a proposed social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which, as a statement of church teaching, must be passed by a two-thirds vote (about 700 people) of the 1,045 voting members present.

Eight years in the making, the 33-page treatise is a theological and teaching document that sets out denominational policy on a variety of topics ranging from marriage to pornography, and defines human sexuality as a “gift and trust.” It will be debated Tuesday afternoon and put to a vote Wednesday.

The other document, called a “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies,” recommends a change in ELCA ministry policies so Lutherans who are in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships” can serve as ELCA associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers and ordained ministers.

The latter document, slated for debate on Thursday and a vote on Friday, would allow local synods to decide whether they would allow a gay minister in a committed relationship to serve. The vote is considered by all sides to be too close to call.

Should the 4.8 million-member church choose to follow the lead of the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, it will be the largest denomination to side with gay Christians in the debate over full inclusion in the body of believers. And it will likely experience defections and condemnation based on such a decision.

Ultimately, as gay men and women are viewed by parishoners as a variation on life rather than a perversion of God’s Plan, this is a decision that will be faced by all of Protestant Christianity.

Showing Christ

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2009

Christians speak of “showing Christ” to the world around you. Sadly, too often this is expressed in forms of self-righteousness and public condemnation of others. Frankly, I often think that if this is Christ that you are showing me with your arrogance, condescension, and careless condemnation of those whom you don’t think are as good as you, then I want nothing of him.

But some have found a Christ to show the world that is quite unlike the one whose primary purpose seems to be passing laws to impose religious adherence by non-believers. Their Christ is more interested in helping the needy, healing the hurting, and loving the loveless.

Such a Christ is observed in the actions of Christians in Worcester County, Massachusetts. They have become a haven of safety and help to gay men and women from around the world who are fleeing oppression and torture in their homelands. (Worcester Telegram)

For the past year, Hadwen Park Congregational Church has provided gay immigrants with food and money for clothes and rent, as well as spiritual and emotional support. Lutheran Social Services, which helps many immigrants apply for asylum, established a program to help gay immigrants apply for asylum.

Immigrants such as the Ugandan tortured for two days by men trying to get him to give the names of the patrons of his gay bar. Or the Jamaican who was beaten by crowds four times. Or the Lebanese man sent to the hospital with a broken neck.

The United States government allows those persecuted for their orientation elsewhere to see asylum in America. But few social service programs are available for these victims of brutality, and they are not allowed to work while waiting.

The church’s program is unique in the United States, church members believe; the Lutheran Social Services asylum program for gay immigrants is one of only a handful nationwide.

And theirs is no hand-off missions program designed to placate liberal guilt.

The church started by feeding the gay immigrants with its food pantry, then paying their rent and cell phone bills. Parishioners took immigrants on shopping trips for clothes and other essentials. Two parishioners offered to host two immigrants in their home. The immigrants started coming to the church, telling their stories, and connecting with people who don’t judge them.

Now the Christ of the Hadwen Park Congregational Church and Lutheran Social Services in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a Christ that the world could see much more of.

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