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Open letter

—to Daniel Lehmann, editor of "The Lutheran"

by Mark Chavez (Director, WordAlone Network)

July 14, 2006

Dear Mr. Lehmann,

Thank you for devoting the theme of the July issue to dissent in the ELCA. However, the article "It's about Scripture - Reform-minded groups argue authority," pp. 15-17, undercuts "respectful conversations" with its inaccurate and incomplete reporting. Bishop Mark Hanson's column, "Discerning dissent – 'Church must welcome debate, disagreement,'" p. 58 expresses the hope that we in the ELCA can have "respectful conversations" about issues upon which we disagree.

Your incomplete reporting is seen in your decision to conclude the article with lengthy and accusative quotations from ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen without giving dissenters a chance to respond. He blames "reforming movements" for misunderstandings in the ELCA and accuses the movements of spreading "misinformation and lies" and speaking "lies and falsehoods." These are powerful charges and certainly do not contribute to "respectful conversations" when the accused aren't given the opportunity to respond.

To the best of my knowledge no official WordAlone communications have ever stated any of the "lies and falsehoods" he mentions in your article. However, in fairness to all in the ELCA, all sides can admit there's been enough misinformation to go around.

For instance, Almen's accusations include the debate on the full communion agreement, Called to Common Mission. While he may have heard of rumors that the Queen of England was going to appoint ELCA bishops, WordAlone members heard it said that regarding historic succession of bishops down from the early Apostles, you don't have to believe it, you just have to do it.

That's not how Anglicans look at it. U.S. Episcopalians are part of the international Anglican Communion, which is based in England. "Theologically, the sacrament of ordination is of indelible character – once a bishop, always a bishop," Episcopal Bishop Ed Little, Northern Indiana, said recently at the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. (Episcopal News Service report, June 16)

Regarding historic succession or historic episcopacy, Bishop Hanson recently gave a graphic example of what we might call obfuscation, except, he called it, "differentiated participation."

At his presentation at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, during the spring Hein-Fry lecture, Hanson jokingly told his hearers that his Anglican colleagues can not figure out that he will no longer be a bishop after his elected term ends. He continued to say that they bring up the fact that he was invested into the historic episcopate. Hanson said he tells the Anglican bishops that we and they have "differentiated participation in our understanding of the historic episcopacy."

"They just shake their heads," Hanson concluded his story, "and then I just say, 'That's us Lutherans. We exist to make other people shake their heads.'" Case in point: he did it, got into the historic episcopate, but didn't believe "once a bishop always a bishop."

No wonder Anglicans (and Lutherans) are confused.

Now, I'd like to discuss some inaccuracies. Conversations are difficult when an article in the ELCA magazine misstates what I said to an editor.

Why was "[homosexuality]"--in those brackets--substituted for what I said to your editor: "Both the Old and New Testaments prohibit homosexual behavior"? In the interview with your editor I consistently referred to homosexual behavior and relationships, never homosexuality. Someone's writing or editing changed the meaning of my statement and hid what I said.

Additionally, the presentation of the following statement: "I'm disappointed when churches leave the ELCA. ... It's for the sake of the gospel and the crucified one that I stay [in the denomination]," produced a significant omission.

Here is what I said: "I'm disappointed when churches leave the ELCA. It is for the sake of ELCA members and churches that I stay in the ELCA. It is for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord, the Crucified One, to ELCA members and churches that I stay and work within the ELCA."

The paraphrase about the action taken at the 2000 constituting convention for WordAlone is inaccurate. WordAlone did not start Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ "for about 50 WordAlone congregations that had 'given up' on remaining in the ELCA." I told your reporter that WordAlone intentionally created LCMC for two reasons. First of all, there were a handful of people, one pastor in particular, who came to the 2000 constituting convention expecting that WordAlone would become a new Lutheran denomination. They--not 50 congregations--were disappointed that WordAlone intended to remain as a renewal movement within the ELCA.

The second reason was to provide a place in which seminary graduates who would refuse to conform to CCM's requirements would be able to serve. There was no guarantee in March 2000 that the ELCA would eventually allow for some non-episcopal ordinations as it did with a 2001 bylaw amendment.

What I did say about 50 WordAlone churches was that the last time I checked (spring 2005) more than 50 of LCMC's churches were also ELCA and WordAlone churches. Obviously I didn't say, "More than one-fourth of LCMC's 80 congregations are also on the ELCA roster," which was attributed to me. The actual number of LCMC churches is more than 170.

There was a serious misinterpretation in, "Chavez said the majority of WordAlone's 232 congregations are still among the ELCA's 10,585 congregations." I told the editor that almost all WordAlone churches are ELCA churches. A "majority" can be as few as 51 percent. By "almost all" I meant more than 95 percent of WordAlone churches are in the ELCA.

If we are to have respectful conversations, let's all be more careful in what we say and how we say it, and, let's put the best construction on our neighbor's actions and statements.

  • Yours in Christ,
  • Pastor Mark C. Chavez
  • Director, WordAlone Network