[Note from Mark Chavez: Pastor Grorud made this statement at the last forum in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod election process for bishop at the synod assembly at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn., on June 12. As you will see in his statement, he was not seeking to be elected to the office. Nor did he seek to make his opening statement more widely available. I asked him if we could make his statement available because he made such a clear and bold witness to the Truth. The synod assembly elected Jon Anderson to a second term as bishop.]
Coming from a line of pastors and teachers that stretches back as far as it can be traced, I confess that Lutheran theology and pastoral ministry are, for me, more of a genetic condition than a vocational choice! They capture my passion and commitment as nothing else does.
With such a strong heritage behind me, I began parish ministry with high hopes, some fear and trepidation, and a high sense of both privilege and responsibility at being called to proclaim Christ and him crucified out of the rich treasure of Lutheran theology. In the 19 years since, the ministry has proven to be more rewarding and challenging than I could ever have imagined.
But in those same 19 years, I have watched in deep anguish as the ELCA has drifted further and further away from her great Lutheran heritage, to the point that some things being taught and done within our denomination are difficult to recognize as fully Christian, much less solidly Lutheran. One of my deepest heartaches is that life in the ELCA has made me feel more and more like a stranger living in a strange land.
Because of that, almost from the start of my ministry, I have found myself—to no one’s greater surprise than my own—having to oppose the church body in which I serve. I, along with many others, have been driven to bear witness to this theological drift and to do what we can to try to reverse it. Some people have heard our witness with gratitude. There exists today a deepened awareness and justified concern for the theological and institutional health of the ELCA that would surely not exist apart from these efforts.
More often, however, we’ve been dismissed as the ELCA’s version of the boy who cried “Wolf!”—raising alarm without justification. Others suggest that our critique is the real cause of the trouble; if we would just pipe down, everything would be fine. And not a few have treated us as enemies of the Gospel, rather than defenders of it.
Given all that, you may be wondering why in heaven’s name I would be a candidate for bishop in the ELCA. Frankly, so am I—and more so than ever at this moment. When a colleague submitted my name, my first instinct was to withdraw—immediately or sooner. But each time I resolved to do so, I felt compelled instead to try to testify to this synod that there really is a wolf in the sheepfold, to witness to a theological, moral and institutional crisis afflicting the ELCA, one that remains largely masked or denied by its leaders.
So, I have been brought here by the conviction that God is leading the people of the ELCA —we who are the ELCA—to a time of decision, a time to choose whether we will remain faithful to God’s Word, no matter the cost, or keep adapting, shaving and bending the Word to meet our preferences and those of the culture around us. God is calling us to discern whether the church is an institution to be preserved for its own sake or an instrument of Christ’s mission that must exist for that purpose alone. God is calling us to learn and digest the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions for ourselves so we can discern when church leaders are acting faithfully and when they are leading us into error. I believe most people in the ELCA by far want their church to be deeply faithful to God’s Word, to the received Christian tradition and to the Lutheran confessions, but all three of those commitments are significantly eroding. The evidence is scattered and generally hidden just beneath the surface, it appears in the day-to-day working theology in the church, not her official statements, so it may not yet seem to be a crisis, but the evidence is plentiful and the disease well-advanced.
So, from my perspective, this process is not chiefly about electing a bishop and certainly not about any ambition I have to serve in that office. To be honest, if you were to elect me, I believe it would be difficult for me to serve in the current theological climate of the ELCA.
Rather, my chief goal is to testify that, whether we want to admit it or not, the truth of the Gospel as it has been handed down to us and the unique power of confessional Lutheran theology to plumb its depths are breaking down in our church body. So, no matter who is elected, the main challenge will be the same and the choice facing us is quite stark. Either the ELCA can re-commit fully to being an authentically Lutheran, Christian church or it can continue to accommodate a generic, mainline American religiosity that has ravaged every denomination that has embraced it, but what it cannot do is to continue limping along trying to do both.
For the mission of Christ to move forward among us, we must be clear and united on the core content of the faith. In the theological jungle of today, that is a daunting challenge and the obstacles to achieving it are great. But I firmly believe that, regardless of who is elected to serve as bishop of this synod, the defense of the Christian faith and renewal of Lutheran theology among us will be and must be job number one.