Friday, August 21, 2009

ELCA Churchwide Assembly--Friday

Because I'm very weary after a long day, this blog posting will be brief. The days in assembly start so early and run so late that it's difficult to get much blogging time in--and it isn't really possible or proper to do blogging straight from the assembly floor if one is a voting member.

Suffice it to say that the big story of the day was the consideration of the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies, dealing with the question of rostering gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships.

The first business item in this sequence of actions involved a reordering of the four recommendations that had been proposed by the Task Force on Human Sexuality Studies. What was formerly Resolution #3 was renumbered to be Resolution #1--as a sort of "prelude" to all that follows.

The (slightly amended) resolution reads this way: RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any resolutions regarding ministry policies, the ELCA commits itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all. The vote on this resolution was 771 Yes and 230 No.

Next we moved to the former Resolution #1 now renumbered as Resolution #2: RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships. After considerable discussion this resolution was also approved but by a slimmer margin: 619, Yes and 402, No.

Then we moved on to former Resolution #2 now renumbered as Resolution #3: RESOLVED that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship s to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

I was able to get to a microphone and speak to this resolution (standing at a red microphone, i.e. opposed to the resolution). Here's the text of my speech:

"Because I live in the Red River Valley of the north, I pay attention to how the wind is blowing….and I have a sense for how the wind is blowing through this assembly hall.

"So my thoughts have already started to turn to what comes after today….and how we who haven’t sought these changes in our ministry policies will now live into God’s future, along with you who have poured your hearts and souls into seeking these changes.

"Some will say that if we adopt this and the resolutions yet to follow it will mark our maturing as a church….but I hope for so much more maturity from us…..and I trust that you do, too.
* I hope for the day when we will have wrestled with the scriptures so tenaciously that we finally, somehow hear them speaking to us with a more unified voice on these matters—when we’ll arrive at the deep biblical consensus that we lack at this time.
* I hunger for the day when relationships--already apparently strained by the actions we seem poised to take--will be healed between us and some of our beloved ethnic communities, ecumenical companions and global partner churches.
* I long for the day when we can’t imagine speaking the radical welcome of the gospel without always —in the same breath--speaking the transforming power of the gospel.
* I pine for the day when this church will be so obsessed with and mobilized for God’s mission-- making Jesus known in a world dying for good news—that, if possible, we’ll avoid like the plague other divisive issues that distract us from God’s mission.

"When that day comes we will be far closer to the deep, wide maturity that will be God’s gift to us."

The vote margin on this resolution was the closest of the day: 559, Yes and 451, No.

Finally the assembly considered Resolution #4 which is essentially an "implementation" resolution. I was pleased that my colleague Bishop Kurt Kusserow's amendment to this resolution was passed: "RESOLVED that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction that this church should not call or roster people in a publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationship..." I believe that inclusion of this amendment in Resolution #4 will be helpful to members and congregations in the Northwestern Minnesota Synod who will have trouble accepting the Assembly's actions on the ministry policies. The final vote on Resolution #4 as amended was 650, Yes and 328, No. Note that this resolution received nearly 100 more "yes" votes than Resolution #3 received.


  1. Bishop Wohlrabe,

    With great sadness I am leaving the ELCA, and quite possibly Lutheranism all together. Last week I proudly declared I was a Lutheran. This week I am ashamed.

    I am a teacher in Moorhead. If a student demonstrates to me that he doesn't know that two plus two equals four, I would also question that student's ability to know what two plus three equals. This time it isn't the student that's fundamentally wrong, but the teachers. That the church has demonstrated to me to not understand something that is so clearly a sin (and now even condones it), I now have no choice but to question the church's other teachings past and future. This is no longer the proper environment in which to grow in Christ.

    The tornado was a sign. The upside-down Lutheran cross it caused was a manifestation that could not have been more clear. Yet, while praying "every hour" for guidance the assembly chose to discount the message (like something from the Old Testament) God sent (God still speaks, we've forgotten how to listen). I have been betrayed. The church's message has now defaulted.

    The prior stance the church had was near ideal. Yet, the church has bowed to popular culture. The supporters of the change created an environment where the opposition was handicapped. The supporters just had to present their argument as being one of "love." Where does that leave the opposition but to appear to be mean spirited? How can you be against love? The Enemy is crafty. I need my leaders to preach the message, the true and complete message, whether it is convenient or not.

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  3. Bp Larry,

    As you, your staff, and the clergy of NWMN help my pew-mates wrestle with the decisions of the week, I will lift you up in prayer.

    See you at the cross,
    Randy Schatz

  4. The following was posted on the Forum blog today and I agree: "For those who say the Bible is outdated, that the Old Testament does not apply to Christians and therefore verses from Leviticus are not applicable to the question of homosexuality saddens me. But where did we receive the Ten Commandments? Answer from the Old Testament. Where do we find the prophecy of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? Answer from the Old Testament. Each Sunday, the Old Testament versus are read in our church services along with the Gospel and the New Testament verses. To say to me that the Old Testament is not part of God's word, is sacrilege and grieves my heart. Please those of you who question God’s word about women laying with women and men laying with men, please read carefully Romans Chapter One found in the New Testament, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. , , , 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, . . . 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet . . . 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
    31Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” How could the ELCA delegates discount these verses in such a shameful vote as to allow practicing homosexuals priviledge of being ordained clergy in Christian churches, holding themselves in high esteem among its members? How could they?" The NWMN Synod evidently feels safe with the attached amendment that excludes it from being required to hire gays, but do not allow yourself this out. Pandora's Box has been opened and the ALCU will be on top of you in a nanosecond! The devil is laughing in hell this day.

  5. I don't know if using gay in the pulpit is good or bad - what I do know is that some gay people are probably much better preachers than some of the others who talk forever and really don't say anything. I don't think that we as christians have the right to judge - read some of the bazaar stories of the bible - many of the biblical characters were not saints by any means. My only concern with all of this is the fact that young people will be looking up to them for guidance and I just don't know if I am comfortable with that - gays have a tendency to flaunt the fact that they are gay and have "gotten by with it" - I do wish that they would just allow themselves to be John Q Public and "try to fit" into the environment that they are in.

    I pray people will be open to this and not condemn the church in itself for all of this goings on - it is true - the devil is having a field day with all of this - anything to split the Christian world apart.

  6. WOW... I had no idea that you all feal so threatend by me and my family. We are NOT out broadcasting to all our homosexuality. we are very proud of our Family, our children are well adjusted young people who contribute to our communities and schools. we pay our taxes and live just like any family. yet to you... no matter what we do we will always be "SECOND CLASS". How shallow and sad for you.

  7. I WANT you in my church. I would be happy to be right next to you, holding your hand, praising God each and every Sunday.

    For me, and I would venture a guess and say for the majority of the opponents, it isn't about homosexuality at all. The issue is the church saying that what God says no longer matters. His word is the whole point of church in the first place, without it we'd just be a club that has to sit in pews for an hour each week.

  8. Bishop Wohlrabe, I am concerned with your taking such a strong stance against these statements, that the synod you lead will be more against the gay and lesbian people. I respect your opinions, faith and convictions, but wonder if you ought to be a little less public with them. I respect Bishop Rindy when he wasn't comfortable sharing how he voted. I am concerned about those gay and lesbian people called to ministry might have a more difficult time in your synod because of your leadership. How will you support those individuals and congregations who differ from you, who believe God has called them,as I am sure you do, or those congregaions wishing to call a gay or lesbian pastor? I am remaining anonymous because I may be one of those individuals who one day may be sitting before you seeking to answer the call God has given me.

  9. I just posted a copy of the letter that I sent out to all the pastors and rostered lay leaders of our synod this past Saturday. For those of you whose posts express concern about my stance, I encourage you to read especially the paragraph toward the end that reads: "Let us all ask God to walk with our church as we ponder and live into the implications of these actions of our Churchwide Assembly. Although, like many of you, I was not in favor of changing our ministry policies, I am willing to abide by the decisions of the Churchwide Assembly and to continue to lead our synod forward into God’s future. God is with us, and God will see us through this chapter in our life together."

    Persons who know me well can testify to the way I treat all persons with kindness and respect.

  10. To all concerned about this issue:
    Please realize that Bishop Wohlrabe and his staff, along with other bishops and staffs, need our prayers at this time in the life of the church. This is not the time to criticize our bishop or others for how they view the issues. The bishop and his staff are already dealing with the divisions that these decisions have already caused in congregations in our synod. The ELCA was divided over these issues before the assembly, just as our synod was. We remain divided almost a week later.
    Ultimately, it will not just be up to Bishop Wohlrabe as to how these decisions are implemented. It will also be up to the Synod Council, the Candidacy Committee, call committees, congregational councils, congregations, and individuals. I pray that people and congregations will take some time to wait and see what happens, and not rush to decisions. We all need to listen to what God is saying to us through the Holy Spirit before acting.