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'Sinners' and 'repentance' too 'narrow' at assembly

by Betsy Carlson, editor

August 7, 2007

photo of Betsy Carlson(Chicago) By late Tuesday afternoon, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting in Chicago this week, re-elected Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and adopted a five-year initiative to encourage and support ELCA members, clergy and institutions to hear, read and study "God's Word" more than they have been.

Hanson, who needed a 75 percent majority vote for re-election, received 88 percent on the second ballot on Tuesday morning. This will be his second and final six-year term because of ELCA term limits.

The Bible reading and study initiative, "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible," is to be led by Prof. Diane Jacobson of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

An amendment to give the program a distinctly Lutheran flavor was defeated after two successful amendments to it that basically undid what was proposed in the initial amendment.

In a paragraph calling on the whole ELCA to increase its biblical fluency, experience deeper worship and devotion and to develop a more profound appreciation of "Lutheran principles and approaches for the use of the Scriptures," Pastor Steve King of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod moved to take out the phrase after "profound appreciation of."

He wanted to replace it with a more profound appreciation of "the distinctive Lutheran focus on God's use of Scripture to bring sinners to repentance and salvation in Christ."

A lively discussion followed with several bishops taking part. A layperson Katie Abercrombie of Florida-Bahamas Synod and Pastor David Weeks of Southwestern Minnesota Synod were the first to speak and were in favor of King's move. Bishop Bruce Burnside of South-Central Wisconsin Synod spoke against the amendment saying it "narrows the purpose of the initiative."

Bishop Warren Freiheit of the Central Southern Illinois Synod spoke in favor of the amendment, but moved to amend it to remove the word "sinners" and replace it with "all." That amendment was adopted by a vote of 887 yes to 139 no.

And Bishop Steve Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod spoke against using the word "distinctive" in King's amendment. He stated that the salvation story is not unique to Lutheranism.

Pastor Michele Fischer of the Upstate New York Synod wanted to add the words "and relationship" and proposed another amendment to the amendment to do so. It failed 444 yes to 555 no.

Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the Northwestern Ohio Synod spoke in favor of King's amendment and said it was important to lift up the Lutheran focus.

Pastor Elias Kitoi Nasari of the Greater Milwaukee Synod spoke against the amendment saying it should say "use of God's word," not "how God uses Scripture." He said saying that God uses Scripture involved personal interpretation and put words in God's mouth.

New Jersey Synod Bishop Roy Riley asserted there were different approaches to Scripture and that King's amendment would eliminate "some work we need to do" concerning differences in the church, which is working for inclusiveness. He also moved to replace the word "repentance" with "faith" and said that humankind is not saved by repentance, but by faith.

Riley's amendment passed 531 yes and 451 no.

King's weakened amendment was defeated with a vote of 296 yes and 725 no.