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Is the ELCA on same road as the Episcopalians?

by Pastor Paul A. Andell (WordAlone board member)

January 8, 2004

photo of Pastor AndellWe were halfway to a Philadelphia cemetery when the mortician, an Episcopalian, began venting her frustration with her church. “It doesn’t have strong leadership,” she said.” “Only the ‘yes’ men get ahead in the hierarchy.”

Then this prominent businessperson, whose first son was baptized by Frank Griswold, the Episcopal presiding bishop, and who, as a layperson, doesn’t care if priests are openly gay, added, “Episcopalians don’t know what to do with the Episcopal Church.”

Always vocal about issues, she continued that she had attended the funeral of a beloved priest, held in one of the most venerable Episcopal churches in the city. She said she picked up its Christmas newsletter and read the interim priest’s message. In it he asked, “Where does an orthodox priest go from here in these days of heresy when a new religion is the order of the day?”

Immediately I felt a kinship with this man whom I have never met and who, I was sure, didn’t share my views on the historic episcopacy. I called that church, asking for him, and found myself talking with his successor. The new priest had just been transferred in from England. He was wonderfully polite and English when I shared with him the concern many have with his church. He said there was “spotty good news” about the church but concluded, “The devil is having a field day in our church.”

It’s altogether clear to me that the spiritual-political drama playing out in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has fraternity with what’s going on in the Episcopal Church. The priest serving our neighborhood Episcopal church recently told me he didn’t believe he’d remain in the priesthood. He was embarrassed and scandalized by the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, a homosexual man living in a same-sex relationship, and equally scandalized that none of his peers agreed with him.

I, too, am scandalized and embarrassed by the heresy and poor judgment seen in both churches. They are an affront to God and counterproductive to our Gospel witness. But the current stories I have shared should further inform us of the challenges confessional Lutherans face.

Over Christmas I had lunch with a colleague who visits Chicago’s ELCA headquarters frequently. He says the “tension is heavy in the hallways.” It’s no wonder, since people are at cross-purposes with each other under the same banner! Or is it?

We Lutherans are a special tribe, as Leonard Sweet said at a past WordAlone convention. We witness to theology that is based on Scripture. We decide what we can embrace, faithfully, as orthodox. It’s high time our leaders decided, too, or stepped aside.