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Lutheran disinformation

by Tim Huffman (Professor, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio)

June 23, 2000

This article is part of an ongoing conversation between Michael Root and Tim Huffman occurring largely on Doug LeBlanc and Deirdre Duncan's listserv in June 2000. The first piece, "Better together than apart", is by Root and was published in The Living Church on June 18, 2000. This, the second article, was written by Huffman, and published on LeBlanc/Duncan on June 23, 2000. The third piece, "Response to Tim Huffman" by Root was published on LeBlanc/Duncan on June 28, 2000. The fourth piece, "Lutheran disinformation continues", was by Huffman, and was published on LeBlanc/Duncan on July 1, 2000.

I write in response to the statement by my colleague, Michael Root, printed in your June 18 issue. It is the latest in a sustained campaign of disinformation about Called to Common Mission. Most of the campaign has been directed at the ELCA, but now Episcopalians are the target audience. It is amusing to see the people who assured the ELCA they should approve CCM because of the significant changes from the Concordat now assuring Episcopalians that there are no fundamental changes. Opponents of CCM made a conscious decision not to try to address Episcopalians as they prepare for their Denver decision, but it seems important to provide accurate information in the face of repeated attempts to mislead the ECUSA.

How broad is opposition to CCM in the ELCA? Root falsely reports that at no time has more than one-third of the church been swayed to oppose CCM. While that may be said of the rigidly managed Churchwide Assembly, results of synod assembly votes strongly suggest that nearly 50% of the ELCA opposed CCM. In the dysfunctional system of governance of the recently established ELCA, it is entirely possible for a Churchwide Assembly vote to misrepresent the opinions of the church at large. There are no checks and balances in ELCA governance, and all organs of communication and planning are in the hands of central officials. Thus there has never been any attempt to ascertain the opinion of the church on CCM, only an expensive and sometimes vicious campaign to win a vote.

Opposition might be said to fall into three categories. Episcopalians wishing to assess the breadth and depth of the more-or-less organized opposition need only access this website to come to their own conclusions. Beyond this opposition, which is growing in both numbers and resolve, Episcopalians ought to know that the ELCAs bishops unanimously approved a pastoral letter, over the strenuous objections of the presiding bishop and the secretary of the church, agreeing that exceptions need to be made to allow ordinations without bishops. This prompted Root to advise the ECUSA how it might revise CCM to protect itself from the ELCA. Although a large majority of the bishops supported CCM indeed, had they recused themselves from voting, it would have failed many are now deeply concerned about the fracture produced by CCM, and some have begged the presiding bishop and/or the Church Council to find a way to ask the ECUSA not to vote at this time, to save the ELCA. There are also reports of considerable numbers of persons employed in the churchwide offices in Chicago opposed to CCM. Thus bishops and some national and synodical staff are a second group that have reservations and that privately voice serious concerns about the deafness of the ELCAs leadership. The third group consists of pastors and lay people only now coming to an awareness of the issues. No one knows how large this group might become, only that it is growing.

The opposition is NOT increasingly regional in nature, although it does reach a critical mass in the upper Midwest. Opposition is growing from coast to coast. Its important to note, however, that the area north and west of Chicago holds half of the ELCA, and more than half of its financial giving. The dismissive comments about this part of the ELCA by national or Eastern leaders are clearly arrogant.

Episcopalians need also to know that CCM would not have passed at all if the ELCA bishops had not passed a series of understandings (the Tucson Resolution) which were attached to CCM by the ELCAs Church Council as a "binding part of the agreement, not merely an interpretation." This appeared on page one of the "Official Text" presented to the ELCA, and still appears on the ELCAs website, although it has been moved from page one to an endnote (paragraph 3). Episcopalian voters might be curious to know why this resolution has disappeared from the text forwarded to them by the secretary of the ELCA. When they do find it in their packets, they might ask whether its understandings are completely acceptable to them, since the ELCA voters understood them to be part of the documentsomething now denied by ELCA officials. ECUSA bishops seem to have their reservations, as shown by the Mind of the House Resolution of April, which includes some interpretations clearly not acceptable to most in the ELCA. Are the two churches actually voting on the same document? It would seem to be an important question.

Root falsely asserts that the ELCAs commitment to all bishops entering the historic episcopate "has not been questioned." In February of this year Christopher Epting met in Milwaukee with the only national consultation in the ELCA ever to include roughly equal numbers of advocates and opponents of CCM. Of the eighteen participants, only one could not agree to the "Common Ground Resolution," which called for the full participation in the ELCA of those who could not accept CCM for theological reasons, and proposed allowing bishops to refuse the historic episcopate or creating a non-geographical synod for pastors and congregations who could not agree to CCM. Now almost a dozen (of 65) synods have adopted resolutions affirming their synods right, and the right of prospective bishops, to refuse the historic episcopate, and more than twenty have affirmed ordination without bishops. Nor is Root correct when he says that such talk of exceptions is seen as being part of the task of the proposed Joint Commission. Neither the ELCA bishops nor the more than 20 synod actions make any such statement. This is indeed "unilateral action," and has gone far beyond "only talk." All this is happening despite the strenuous efforts of Chicago to head off such resolutions, including a lengthy letter from the ELCAs secretary telling bishops how to rule them out of order, and an expensive 10 page booklet of concocted questions and answers distributed at synod assemblies to damp down opposition. The smooth reassurances of Root and the ELCAs leadership that resistance is a minor problem are false.

There are a few items that Episcopalians need to know about Lutheran theology and practice, contrary to the unrecognizable version of Lutheran theology in CCM. Lutherans have always held the priesthood of all believers to be an implication of the Gospel. This differs significantly from Anglican views. It asserts that all Christians become priests in their baptism, and that no additional grace or charism, no sacramental power or authority is conferred by ordination. Lay people and pastors differ only in function; there is no ontological character to ordination. Thus no separate group of persons is to be called "priests." Lutherans therefore affirm and practice "lay presidency," having lay people preside at the sacraments. While presiding ordinarily is done by ordained persons, it is perfectly valid if done by lay people, and most synods do authorize lay people to preside as needed. This practice is likely to increase rather than decrease in years ahead. American Lutherans have resolutely rejected multiple ordinations, holding to a single ordination for pastors. Thus bishops are nothing special, merely pastors assigned to synodical duties. They have neither special grace nor special authority from God, merely a human and organizational responsibility. They are not necessary for the ordination of pastors to be valid, except that synods must authorize ordinations. They cease to be bishops when their term of office expires, or they are forced to resign. In 1993, the ELCA specifically rejected a proposal to ordain deacons, reaffirming the unitary office of ordained ministry. American Lutherans resolutely reject liturgical regulation, and synods strongly encourage congregations to add services using contemporary services of the congregations own devising. Lutherans all regard church structure as a human creation having neither Biblical nor divine sanction, and thus as irrelevant, SO LONG AS it does not claim for itself what belongs only to the Word of God. At that point, Lutherans are bound to resist. Until very recently, all Lutheran theologians would have resisted CCMs provisions. Following the defeat of the Concordat in Philadelphia, Anglican leaders counseled ELCA leaders not to hurry the process of reconsideration. That wise counsel was ignored, leading to a rushed document and an expensive campaign to adopt it, characterized by censorship, threats and the raw exercise of power. That such a campaign produced only a 3% bump upward in the vote on CCM is a clear warning of troubles ahead. The reluctant bridegroom is arriving at the wedding with a shotgun held by his own family. It will be an interesting honeymoon!