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Use all the surprises

by Mark Chavez (Director, WordAlone Network)

News: July 1, 2005

Synod assemblies all have met for 2005 and there were surprises. Some of those surprises were encouraging and some were of Mark Chavez

It was encouraging that a few synods questioned the Renewing Worship proposal and called for a delay and more careful review. With the sexuality issues dominating the conversation leading up to the churchwide assembly, it was encouraging that some were able to address other critical issues before the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, like Renewing Worship, election of Church Council members and the proposed agreement with the United Methodist Church.

It was refreshing that a fair number of synod assemblies questioned and opposed the first two recommendations on homosexuality from the Church Council—the unity of the denomination, at all costs, and the blessing of same-sex relationships. I did not expect more than a couple synod assemblies to oppose the council's first recommendation that the ELCA can agree to disagree about homosexual relationships. Several did.

I did not expect a substantial number of assemblies to oppose the second recommendation because of its ambiguity, but they did. At first glance it looks as if the council recommends that the ELCA not bless same-sex unions by respecting the 1993 bishops' statement that opposes the blessings. Upon closer examination some council members made it clear in April that it interprets the bishops' statement as approving of the blessings and acknowledges that blessings are already being done in the ELCA. In other words, the church council's second recommendation is a local option for blessings. The ability of many synods to see through the double-talk was a relief.

It was promising that a solid majority of synod assemblies opposed the council's third recommendation to provide a bylaw option for ordaining non-celibate homosexuals. Even among the synods that voted in favor of the third recommendation, only a few assemblies voted by a two-thirds margin or greater. Most of those synods fell far short of the two-thirds mark. This is significant because the third recommendation requires two-thirds support by the churchwide assembly for approval because it is a bylaw change. It was not surprising that synod assembly results confirm that most ELCA members do not want to approve of ordaining homosexuals in same-sex relationships, but it was reassuring news.

It was unexpected yet encouraging that a couple synod assemblies that have voted in the past in favor of change on homosexual issues, were not able to get enough votes to endorse the council's recommendations or took no action.

Some of the assemblies threw curveballs. Synods that were thought to be very solid in their opposition to approving of homosexual behavior had much closer votes in opposition to the council's recommendations than expected. People in those synods have commented how sobering it was to learn that the pro-homosexual lobby was well entrenched within their synods.

Whether the surprises are encouraging or discouraging, let's use the surprises.

We can build upon the encouraging surprises and hold the churchwide organization accountable. Contrary to what some believe and write, the outcome of the churchwide assembly is not a given. The assembly may not be simply a rubber stamp of approval of the churchwide organization's agenda. Given the negative response to the council's third recommendation, will the churchwide organization continue to disregard not only the clear witness of Scripture, but also the clear convictions of the majority of ELCA members?

The discouraging surprises can also be used.

Instead of moving immediately to despair and concluding that the cause is hopeless, use the discouraging surprises as wake-up calls to break free from denial that things really aren't that bad in the ELCA. Use them as motivation to get organized within your synods. Start meeting and networking as concerned churches and members within your synods. Consider signing "The Common Confession" and getting your local church to join the new association of churches, which takes a stand within the center of the orthodox faith of the church and submits to the authority of God's Word over believers and all creation.

And, above all else, pray for the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and inspire the delegates to be faithful to the Word of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures.