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WA leaders say church council actions reveal direction council wants for ELCA

Betsy Carlson, editor

April 4, 2009

“Despite their attempts to appear neutral, some within the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a majority of the churchwide Church Council members and some churchwide staff have played their hand.”

WordAlone Network President Jaynan Clark Egland made the above comment in an email interview after the council voted recently to send a Task Force recommended social statement on human sexuality and separate resolutions that would establish a local congregational option for persons in same-sex relationships to serve as ordained or lay ministers to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly for consideration.

Clark Egland also said, “Churchwide leaders may say they’re ‘transmitting’ a ‘process’ and not ‘recommending’ a ‘change,’ but that doesn’t wash. They’ve made a play that clearly favors a change in ministry policies.”

WordAlone Vice President Mark Chavez said after he had attended the council meeting: “The council’s decisions to send the task force documents to the churchwide assembly are disappointing, but not surprising. What else would you expect from a system heavily stacked in one direction?

“Only three of 30 people (task force members, advisors and staff) who worked on the documents in the task force process since 2005 were willing to uphold the biblical norms for sexuality.”

In other action, the church council reaffirmed a vote from its November meeting to require only a majority vote at this summer’s churchwide assembly to allow persons in same-sex relationships to serve in ministry positions. Fifteen synod assemblies and a huge majority of bishops recently had asked the council to propose a two-thirds majority for approval of task force resolutions on non-celibate homosexuals serving as ministers.

Clark Egland wrote, “For a handful of people to think that a larger handful of voting members of one declining denomination at one point in time, by simple majority vote, can change the teaching of the Christian church regarding marriage, family, sexuality and natural created order as taught for more than two millennia is either the epitome of arrogance in this day and age of unbridled hedonism or it is just plain crazy.”

Proponents of homosexual behavior agreed that the church council actions favored a change in policy, but expressed a different view of the potential impact. Comments by Emily Eastwood, executive director of the pro-gay Lutherans Concerned/North America, evidently written during the council meeting, appeared in a post on a web site of a group known as Goodsoil.

Goodsoil is a collaboration of organizations working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in the life of the ELCA.

Eastwood said on the web site, “Our thanks are due to the council for upholding the fairness of a simple majority for elimination of the ban against ministers in same-gender relationships.

“As at CWA07 [churchwide assembly 2007], we expect an attempt to amend the rules on opening of the CWA09 to include a two-thirds requirement, but such an amendment would itself take two-thirds of the assembly to pass.”

Clark Egland asserted, “With this bold move by the church council, which ignores the pleas of 15 synod councils, the ELCA may be headed for an across the board policy change at the churchwide assembly in August with local option being sold as the middle ground, compromise decision.”

“Local option is not an option,” Clark Egland wrote, “if it is ‘okay’ with one couple, one local church and one pastor, it is only a matter of time before what is practiced becomes what is taught, preached and confessed. Practice will change faith.”

Other comments on the Goodsoil site stated, “While [the] document still fails to provide a right or rite of marriage for same-gender couples, we want the social statement to pass. All in all, this was a very good day for Goodsoil, our allies and the church we love. There is a sense in the council room that this may well be the time for change. Thanks be to God.”

Clark Egland looked at the gay marriage issue differently: “Who created marriage in the first place? That would be God, of course, so how is it that some have become so presumptuous that they believe they can change that in the church?

“In these chaotic and turbulent times as a nation and across the globe, people are grasping for an anchor to grab on to. The church should be providing that anchor through the Word of God, but instead it has hauled in the anchor, drifted away and will soon run aground unless it changes course.”

Eastwood of LC/NA said of the course the church council took:"Today's momentous actions by the ELCA Church Council guarantee that for the first time in the history of our church a recommendation for the elimination of the policy of discrimination against ministers in same-gender relationships will come to the floor of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly from the churchwide organization itself. The Church Council has acted for justice.”

Clark Egland commented on the proposed social statement on sexuality and ELCA decisions, “An added problem we have here is that many changes in teaching would be made that will go undetected by many, such as a totally different definition of a ‘bound conscience,’ ‘being captive to sin’ and ‘freedom in Christ.’ Everything has been cut down and tailored to the individual and self.”