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Theological Advisory Board

—letter to Bishop Hanson

News: July 26, 2005

[Editor's note: Dr. James Nestingen sent the following letter on behalf of WordAlone's Theological Advisory Board to Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Mark Hanson earlier this summer over concerns that ordination candidates are covertly and overtly being turned away when they ask for exceptions to mandatory ordination by a bishop. The Theological Advisory Board is waiting for a reply.]

July 1, 2005

  • Rev. Mark S. Hanson
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • 8765 West Higgins Road
  • Chicago, IL 60631-4197

Dear Bishop Hanson:

In November of 2002 the Theological Advisory Board of the WordAlone Network forwarded to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America the “Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church.” Since then, the situation has been aggravated and the following issues have been called to our attention. Students in the process of applying for the ordination exception allowed for in ELCA Bylaw 7.31.17 reported disturbing problems in that process. For example,

  • Students seeking ordination by another pastor are offered ordination by a bishop allegedly not in the historic episcopate.
  • Students are offered ordination only from a member of the synod staff.
  • Students are required to go through an arduous procedure sometimes involving the whole synod council; this borders on intimidation.
  • Students that undergo the process are subjected to a unilateral procedure in which decisions made by the bishop cannot be appealed.
  • Students are subjected to irrelevant and demeaning questions by bishops or synod councils.
  • Students are asked by bishops to substantiate their requests on Confessional grounds. Their answers, however, are rejected on supposedly theological grounds. Nevertheless, faculty members at ELCA seminaries have found the students’ reasoning sound.
  • The questions of synodical officials suggest that the exception is a threat to the unity of the church; by implication, then, any student seeking it threatens the unity of the church. The bylaw, however, implicitly recognizes – as do the Lutheran confessions - that church unity is guaranteed by the preached word and administered sacrament alone.
  • Students are subject to lengthy delays in being ordained. These delays often aggravate their financial situations.

These instances suggest that a pattern is developing whereby the exception clause would be rendered almost meaningless. This developing pattern stands in stark contrast to the affirmative answer given by an ELCA bishop to the Lutheran World Federation when asked whether the ELCA takes the exception clause seriously. The bishop’s answer bordered on deception.

By treating the process of application for exceptional ordination in this way, the bishops have turned the exceptions by-law, which they themselves proposed for the unity of the church, into a divisive and exclusionary procedure.

This situation impels us to ask whether the ELCA will give formal assurances that it will uphold the will of the churchwide assembly as expressed in the adopted constitutional bylaw. Further, will the ELCA communicate these assurances to all bishops, synod councils and candidacy committees?

We anticipate a response at your earliest convenience.


For the Theological Advisory Board

  • Dr. James A. Nestingen, Chair
    • cc:
    • Synodical bishops
    • Synod vice presidents
    • Rev. Stanley N. Olson, Division for Ministry
    • Synod candidacy committee chairs
    • Prof. Dr. Joachim Track, Chairperson of the Theological Committee of the Lutheran World Federation

    Theological Advisory Board members:

    • Dr. James C. Bangsund, Usa River, Tanzania
    • Dr. Dennis D. Bielfeldt, Brookings, South Dakota
    • Dr. James Burtness, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Ingolf U. Dalferth, Zürich, Switzerland
    • Dr. Gerhard Forde, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. George W. Forell, Iowa City, Iowa
    • Dr. Mary Jane Haemig, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Hans J. Hillerbrand, Durham, North Carolina
    • Dr. Jack Dean Kingsbury, Glen Allen, Virginia
    • Dr. Gerhard Krodel, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
    • Dr. Gottfried Krodel, Valparaiso, Indiana
    • Dr. James Nestingen, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Steven D. Paulson, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Hans Schwartz, Regensburg, Germany
    • Dr. Notger Slenczka, Mainz, Germany
    • Dr. Walter Sundberg, St. Paul, Minnesota
    • Dr. Martin Synnes, Oslo, Norway
    • Dr. Dorothea Wendebourg, Berlin, Germany
    • Dr. Vitor Westhelle, Chicago, Illinois