Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession
An Open Letter to Bishop Margaret Payne and the New England Synod Council, ELCA
February 23, 2007
Dear Bishop Payne and Council Members:
I am writing in regard to the document produced by the Synod Council of the New England Synod, ELCA, entitled: "Guidance for Pastors and Congregations of the New England Synod, ELCA, Regarding the Blessing of Unions of Same-Sex Couples" (December 2006). As a fellow member with you of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am troubled by the action taken by the New England Synod Council, insofar as I believe it undermines the unity of our national denomination, and is disrespectful of the larger body of the Church.
The document itself is disingenuous in its intentions and assertions, in that the recommendations themselves contradict the document's declared purpose and rationale. In its preamble, the guidelines claim to state the council's "discernment" upon which the guidelines are based:
"We discern the Holy Spirit's work in the 2005 Churchwide Assembly as: 1) affirming that current disagreements on homosexuality are between people of faith seeking to live in faithful obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ and the call of the Holy Spirit, 2) leading the church to live together amidst disagreements, 3) inviting continued communication, openness, and understanding among all members of this church, and 4) reaffirming the 1993 Statement by the Conference of Bishops that affirmed pastors and congregations in ministry with gay and lesbian persons in 'their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.'"
Setting aside the difference of opinion that many in the ELCA would have with the direction and goal of the recommendations, as well as the legitimate biblical and theological arguments that have been offered in opposition to such recommendations elsewhere, I would like to simply address the veracity of the document's foundational assertions. Consider the following statements:
1) "affirming that current disagreements on homosexuality are between people of faith seeking to live in faithful obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ and the call of the Holy Spirit . . ."
If the New England Synod Council has discerned that people of faith are in disagreement on the issue of blessing of homosexual unions, why then is there no mention in this document of the faithful clergy of the synod who might choose not to bless such unions? No affirmation or acknowledgment is offered in the document for pastors who, for reason of conscience, may object to such a practice and policy. Though the title of the document purports to be "Guidance for Pastors and Congregations of the New England Synod, ELCA, Regarding the Blessing of Unions of Same-Sex Couples" -- no guidance is given regarding how a pastor might decline a request for such a blessing. Neither is any mention made of whether the synod would or would not support a pastor in making such a decision. In the same way, no guidance is given to congregations on how to establish a policy of ministering to gay and lesbian persons which precluded the blessing of same sex unions. No guidance is given to church councils on how to enforce such a congregational policy, should the congregation's pastor act to the contrary. Contrary to the statement that "current disagreements are between people of faith," the document leaves the clear impression that the expectation of pastors and congregations performing same-sex blessings will be a matter of course in the synod, with no other "faithful" option available.
2) "leading the church to live together amidst disagreements . . ." The "church" is a body greater than the New England Synod. The word "together" implies a relationship between two or more parties. For the New England Synod Council to unilaterally create policies for itself that affect and concern the larger denomination of the ELCA, does not imply an intent on its part to "live together faithfully" as part of the church, as the 2005 CWA Sexuality Recommendation #1 affirmed. The New England Synod Council's self-serving action was not faithful in "discerning the body" (1 Cor. 11:29) -- either of the whole ELCA or the larger Christian community. The guidelines take into consideration nothing more than the synod's own limited context; no concern is expressed for how this individual synod's policies will affect the witness of the larger church. Additionally, since (as mentioned above) the guidelines acknowledge and discuss only one specific position with regard to the appropriateness of blessing homosexual unions, it would be fair to say that the document is not even representative of the needs and concerns of all the New England Synod's pastors and congregations on this issue.
3) "inviting continued communication, openness, and understanding among all members of this church"
For a single synod of the ELCA to draft and institute such a policy without open consultation -- or in some cases, without even notification -- of other synods, does not demonstrate a desire for "communication, openness, and understanding." Though the document is noted to have been approved on December 1, 2006, it was not "leaked" to the larger church until February of 2007. No press release was issued through the ELCA, as would be expected for a development of this magnitude. Sent to New England Synod pastors, the guidelines were not made available to the public until after the document began circulating on its own. [I personally knew of the New England Synod guidelines before my own synod bishop did.] The lack of communication, lack of openness, and lack of understanding exhibited in the creation and publication of these guidelines certainly does not express a concern for "all the members of this church."
4) "reaffirming the 1993 Statement by the Conference of Bishops that affirmed pastors and congregations in ministry with gay and lesbian persons in "their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister"
For the New England Synod guidelines to quote the 1993 Statement by the Conference of Bishops as the basis for establishing an official ceremony for the blessing of homosexual unions, is deliberately misleading and deceptive. The New England Synod guidelines conspicuously avoid mentioning the main body of the Bishops Statement, which clearly states that: "We recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor in tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church's ministry."
Regardless of one's position on "the best ways to provide pastoral care" to homosexual persons, the New England Synod guidelines offer an intentional misrepresentation of the 1993 Bishops Statement, and bear false witness to the very words of the statement itself. Contrary to the Bishops Statement, the primary purpose of the New England Synod guidelines is precisely to establish "an official ceremony of the of the church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship… as an official action" of the New England Synod's ministry. This unilateral move, taken with the full knowledge that it would provoke a controversial and contentious response across the ELCA, is at best disrespectful to the members of the denomination at large, and at worst deliberately divisive.
I would urge the New England Synod Council to reconsider the guidelines, out of respect for its own synod members, its brothers and sisters in other ELCA synods, and for our church body as a whole. Let us "journey together faithfully" in a manner that befits members of one body in Christ.
Sincerely, Rev. Steven King, Maple Lake, Minnesota
Chair, Steering Committee
LC3 - Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession
Affirmed by the LC3 Steering Committee: Rev. Bryan Anderson, Clear Lake,
Rev. Kurt Borows, Port Clinton, Ohio
Rev. Mark Braaten, Tyler, Texas
Rev. Robert Buechler, Starkweather, North Dakota
Rev. Randy Freund, Hutchinson, Minnesota
Mick Lee, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rev. Eric Swensson, New Rochelle, New York