Sunday, August 23, 2009

article for September Messenger (newsletter) - summary of ELCA CWA 2009 actions

Because there were a number of very important actions taken at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2009, I thought it would be best to share those with a very informal report to you.

A few items make me especially proud to be an ELCA Lutheran, but they will not make headlines: funding for the HIV/AIDS strategy, the launch of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, and full communion with the United Methodist Church. Also, changes to the ELCA constitution that call for fuller representation of youth in congregational, synod, and churchwide expressions and initiation of the process to have a Social Statement on Justice for Women to be presented at the 2015 Churchwide Assembly.

The items that are more likely to appear on the news are the social statement and the vote on Ministry Policy recommendations, both presented from the Task Force that has been working for 8 years on creating these carefully crafted documents. Input from individuals and congregations was included, through several rounds of drafts and inquiries throughout the ELCA. This is the first social statement that has affirmed gay and lesbian Lutherans with support and acceptance. It does so with a lot of careful language reminding us that the church is not of concensus on this issue, that people of faith do come to differing conclusions on the issue of lifelong, mongamous, same-gender relationships. But it leaves a very wide berth for congregations such as Ebenezer to provide pastoral ministry to lifelong, mongamous, same-gender relationships as we see fit. See below for an important paragraph from the document:

"Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect in relationships and for guidance that seeks the good of each individual and of the community. Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect."

Resolutions 1-4 regarding changes in ministry policies were proposed by the task force to be dealt with in a successive approach, where 2 would only be voted on after 1 was passed, and so on (the "stairstep" approach). Since Robert's Rules does not allow for such an approach, we had to vote on whether to agree to the stairstep or take them separately. We voted to consider them separately (with Goodsoil's wholehearted support), and we also voted to re-order them. All of these could pass with a simple majority because they were policy changes, not constitutional changes or social statements (which both require 2/3rds vote). [As a point of reference, ordaining women garnered only 57% of the vote at a 1970 assembly.]

Resolution 1 (formerly #3): RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any
resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all. Passed YES-771; NO-230

Resolution 2 (formerly #1): RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to
finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Passed YES-619; NO-402

Resolution 3 (formerly #2) did the same as Resolution 2, but for rostered leaders within this church. Passed YES-559; NO-451

Resolution 4 basically made provision to put all ministry-related, candidacy-related documents into line with Resolutions 1-3. Passed YES-667; NO-307. One "resolved" was added, which doesn't change the substance, but definitely made those in opposition feel more comfortable: "RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationship."

What does this mean?
1) Does it mean that the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministry roster would seek to exist? While they will definitely have some work to sort through what this means for them, and there is hope that their numbers will dwindle as pastors join the ELCA roster, I do not believe that ELM will be able to disappear completely (and surely not right now).

2) Does this mean pastors removed from the roster can be re-instated? Probably, but again, there are a lot of processes and procedures to figure out before any large-scale re-instatements can occur. It is likely that someone starting the candidacy process now or in seminary currently will be able to be more honest beginning this very minute than they would have been before. But the ELCA Church Council and Vocation and Education unit have a lot of hard work ahead of them before large-scale changes can be implemented.

3) Does this mean that congregations will be forced to accept gay/lesbian pastors in committed relationships? No. But it means that congregations that choose to do so will not face discipline or pressure from their synods or churchwide. There is still question about how to deal with it when a synod bishop is opposed, but one of his/her congregations wants to call such a pastor. Hard to know how that will play out. But it leaves a lot of freedom for those of us who do choose to be open to all rostered leaders to do so (especially with the support of our bishop).

4) Does this mean that we're in less hot water with the synod over our constitutional changes? Probably! Again, this all has to get lived out and sorted out together in community, but this does put us much more in line with full ELCA policy. Ebenezer's leaders will have to do more talking about the specifics of what this means for Ebenezer, but Bishop Miller was encouraged by the way this policy change could help keep us and the synod connected.

5) What else you need to know: Within the ELCA, there is a lot of pain over this decision by those opposed to policy change. You know their arguments; you know why they are opposed. But you may not know the depth of the pain that they are feeling over this decision. It does not negate the celebration of the rest of us, but we must temper that celebration with the realization that this could be a tough time for the ELCA, as we try to remain united amidst very stark divisions. I echo the prayers of many of my GLBTQ brothers and sisters, who begged us to pray for those who were so disheartened by this vote. We know what it's like to feel disenfranchised, unaccepted by our church, and in the minority, so our hearts feel their pain.

I want to close with Bishop Hanson's words, spoken immediately after the vote was announced. There was crying - from those on both sides of the issue - disbelief that it had finally happened for some, and sorrow for a church that feels like it's slipping away for others. Bishop Hanson led with incredible grace and he is a unifying power in the ELCA. He quoted three different Bible passages - one for those who were opposed, one for those who were in favor, and one for those who feel caught in the middle, unsure of what this means for them, their congregations, and their synods. This quote follows those pastoral scriptural passages.

"That passage gives invitation and expectation that those deeply disappointed today will have in this church the expectation and the freedom to continue to admonish and to teach. And so, too, those that have experienced reconciliation today, you are called to humility. You are called to clothe yourselves with love. But we're all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, remembering again and again that we are called in the one body. I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life together. But what is absolutely important for me is that that's a conversation we have together.

"I ended my oral report with these words: "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross -- where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.

"Let us pray. O God, gracious and holy, mysterious and merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross and there we kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that you would give the life of your Son so that we might have life in his name. Send your spirit this night, the spirit of the Risen Christ that has been breathed into us. May it calm us. May your Spirit unite us. May it continue to gather us. In Jesus' name, Amen."

pastoral summary from Bishop Hanson (ELCA presiding bishop)

August 22, 2009

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

I write to you from the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis with official information about the actions of this assembly related to human sexuality. I am grateful for the manner in which this church has engaged in this conversation. The way this assembly has discussed these questions is a continuation of the way this church has deliberated: with deep and heartfelt respect for each other, engaging with Scripture, listening to the faith stories and experiences of one another, and through worship and prayer seeking the discernment of the Spirit.

In my response to the voting members on Friday, August 21, I made this request: we need one another. We need time. We need the voices of those who lament and those who rejoice over these actions, for together we have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and engage in God’s mission for the life of the world.

The assembly adopted 676-338 -- precisely two-thirds of those voting -- “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the ELCA’s 10th social statement, with minor editorial amendments. It also adopted a series of implementing resolutions with amendments. This theological and teaching document builds on the key Lutheran principles of justification by grace and Christian freedom to serve the neighbor. It emphasizes that central to our vocation, in relation to human sexuality, is the building and protection of trust in relationships. It therefore affirms that we are called to be trustworthy in our human sexuality and to build social institutions and practices where trust and trustworthy relationships can thrive. The social statement addresses marriage, same-gender relationships, families, protecting children, friendships, commitment, social responsibility and moral discernment. Regarding same-gender committed relationships, the social statement says that this church is not in agreement and recognizes the different perspectives which are present among us.

Our assembly also adopted resolutions proposed by the Church Council based on those contained in a “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies.” The actions direct that changes be made to churchwide policy documents to make it possible for those in committed same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. There were amendments to two of the proposals. The assembly adopted the resolutions in the following order, beginning with a strong statement about how we will live together in the face of our disagreements:

Resolution 3: “RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all." (Adopted 771-230 as amended)

Resolution 1: “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.” (Adopted 619-402)

Resolution 2: “RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.” (Adopted 559-451)

Resolution 4: This resolution called upon members to respect the bound consciences of those with whom they disagree; declared intent to allow structured flexibility in decision-making about candidacy and the call process; eliminated the prohibition of rostered service by members in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships; recognized and committed to respect the conviction of members who believe that the ELCA should not call or roster people in committed same-gender relationships; called for development of accountability guidelines; directed that amendments to ministry policy documents be drafted and approved; and stated that this church continue to trust congregations, bishops, synods and others responsible for determining who should be called into public ministry. (Adopted 667-307 as amended)

I invite you into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversation about what all of this means for our life in mission together. What is absolutely important for me is that we have this conversation together.

We meet one another finally -- not in our agreements or our disagreements -- but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.

In Christ,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
ELCA Presiding Bishop

Comments of Bishop Hanson to the assembly at the conclusion of the decisions on human sexuality are at on the Web.

pastoral letter from Bishop Miller

Bishop Miller asked us to share this with our congregations.
-Pastor Powell

-----Original Message-----
From: Wayne N. Miller
Sent: Sat, Aug 22, 2009 1:28 pm
Subject: Pastoral Letter in Response to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV).

Grace, mercy, and peace from God, and Christ Jesus our Lord. I am writing this from the Minneapolis Convention Center where the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made decisions about our life together.

In addition to passing the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, Funding of the HIV and AIDS Strategy, and Full Communion with The United Methodist Church, the assembly passed the Social Statement: "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" (as amended), and Ministry Policies Resolutions (1 and 4 as amended).

For many in our congregations, the issues surrounding human sexuality are of particular significance.

  1. As I indicated, we have adopted a new Social Statement entitled "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" by a two-thirds majority.

  1. Based on this statement, the assembly subsequently adopted several policy recommendations that create a possibility for our church to develop policies that will allow congregations to bless same-gender relationships, and to call openly gay and lesbian pastors who are in publicly accountable life-long monogamous relationships.

These decisions may evoke strong emotional responses. It is my hope that we can create a holy space where, as a synod, we can engage in faithful, thoughtful, respectful, and meaningful conversations about what these decisions mean for us together as we continue to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our conversations on this matter will continue through the coming weeks and months, but I would like to offer several initial observations that might be helpful:

  1. The actions of the assembly create options and opportunities - they do not demand change on a congregational level. If your congregation is already open and affirming toward people with a homosexual self-understanding, these decisions provide denominational support for your open and welcoming position.

  1. If your congregation maintains a more established understanding about attitudes and teachings concerning human sexuality, nothing in these decisions requires any congregation to change its current practice or even its current teaching about human sexuality.

  1. These decisions do not create new policies - they merely authorize the churchwide office to create policy changes. These changes will take time. The synod office will be providing an outline in a few days that will describe what our practice will be as we wait for the official policies to be developed.

  1. The synod office will be working with conference deans to offer conversation forums where members of congregations can ask questions and raise concerns about these changes with me and the synod staff.

  1. I am asking our congregations and parishioners to give time for conversation and reflection before making any moves that might change your relationship with the ELCA. Know that we are going to work hard to leave room for differences of local practice based on the notion of bound conscience.

I am sure many of you have been following the proceedings, and I am grateful for the staff of the Lutheran Center for providing such thorough coverage. As a reminder, information is available online at One of the blessings of our democracy is freedom of the press. I trust, however, that we will not let the media define what these decisions mean for us as a church.

I would like to close, in light of our decision to enter into Full Communion with The United Methodist Church, with the first verse of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymn #631):

Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heav'n, to earth come down!

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

all thy faithful mercies crown.

Jesus, thou art all compassion,

pure unbounded love thou art;

visit us with thy salvation,

enter every trembling heart.

As we gather for and participate in worship this Sunday, let us pray for the Church, listen to the Word, and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, that proclaims that God is for us in Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

Wayne N. Miller

(This is also available for download as a PDF at the synod's Web site

Saturday, August 22, 2009

more work to do

Although several historic votes have taken place in the ELCA at the Churchwide Assembly in the last few days, we still have a number of items to vote on Saturday and Sunday here in Minneapolis.

+whether to call for a social statement on “Justice for Women” (gender justice)
+whether to vote to include a larger number/percentage of youth in our official legislative bodies (churchwide assembly and ELCA church council)
+whether to overrule the Memorials committee and ask for a social statement on Human Disability (the Memorials committee had asked Church in Society to do an official “message” not a full “social statement”)
+whether to pass the Memorials committee recommendation on Israel/Palestine or to substitute one of the suggestions passed at synod assemblies (in my opinion, the Memorials committee recommendation is sufficient)
+whether to pass the 2010-2011 budget (expect those unhappy with policy change to make a huge stink here, and possibly seek to thwart its passage – I hope I’m wrong)
+the presiding bishop has indicated a desire to share in conversation about how to remain united in the midst of disagreements, but I don’t know what form that will take

So please keep us in prayer. The assembly ends on Sunday early afternoon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

how this changes things

I've had a few questions from people in congregations that would not support blessing of same-sex unions and would not call a pastor in a committed relationship. Here is the info you all need:

I don't have the wording in front of me, but another "resolved" was added to Resolution 4 that seemed to make it more clear that there is room for dissenting opinion in the church. I think it was pretty clear throughout, but it seemed to make a couple people feel like they were being heard, so no harm done.

Basically, passing resolution 3 & 4 mean nothing unless you can't stand to be in the same church body with a congregation like Ebenezer (who would bless same sex unions and call a pastor in a committed relationship). Congergations that disagree will not be forced to accept such actions; there's no pressure or coercion from your synod or discipline for not accepting a gay or lesbian pastor in a committed realtionship in your congregation. There are questions about what happens if you have a congregation that would be willing to call a gay/lesbian pastor in a committed relationship, but a bishop that doesn't support it. More fleshing out to be done by Council of Bishops and ELCA Church Council.

How to live this out fully has yet to be spun out, but we'll live into it a little at a time. Stan Olson's job (exec dir in Vocation & education) just tripled.Those on the prevailing side are trying really hard to respect the fact that this is not actually an unequivocal "win".

"the vote"

I should probably do more reflections on the entire day, but voting on resolutions 3 & 4 (new numbering) were the most momentous, so I'll just speak to those.

Resolution 3 spoke about allowing gay and lesbian pastors in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous relationships. It did not mandate acceptance, but allowed acceptance. There were definitely attempts to change the substance or speak about how this would kill the church - both by schism and by people just leaving their congregations. There was a warning that our salvation might be in jeopardy if we voted in favor of that resolution. But at the end, there was a vote in favor of (I think - this is from memory) 55%. I kind of figured that if we voted in favor of 3, we would definitely vote in favor of 4, but it definitely wasn't a "slam dunk". One voting member from the Florida-Bahamas synod walked out after the vote was announced on Resolution 3.

Resolution 4 had a number of amendments. One of the amendments - the only one that actually passed - added language which didn't change the substance at all, but did allow those who had voted in favor to see themselves named and included more fully. I voted against it, but I understand why it would make them feel more clear about being the dissenting opinion (and new minority).

Bishop Hanson led this church assembly with grace and style. Seriously, I've said some not so charitable things about him at times, but he was amazing. He reminded us not to respond in any way (like the people who shouted "no" when the results were displayed and the people who clapped when the social statement passed). When Resolution 4 was passed, he took a moment to address the assembly in a remarkably pastoral way. He read three different scripture passages - which roughly corresponded to those who rallied against this change, those who rallied for this change (incluidng gay and lesbian people who have been disenfranchised for many years), and those who were somewhere "in the middle". He was pastoral, while not implying in any way that this move was a mistake. Tears were streaming down my cheeks through his entire time talking.

The moment was overwhelming - I kept envisioning people I knew and how this affected them - members of my congregation who felt a call to ministry and would've had to decide whether to serve a church that discriminated against them, friends who had left the ministry (or seminary) and come out, gay/lesbian seminarians I know, and so many more. Heck, I even joked with Bishop Miller that this probably means Ebenezer is off his plate as far as constitution trouble goes! He agreed that was probably the good news fall out of this assembly!

it's been very interesting to watch those who are used to be in the majority and used to being on top experience disenfranchisement and exclusion. Not that I think that's how they're being treated, but for the first time, they have to deal with what it feels like not to be heard, not to be in the majority, not to feel represented (as gay and lesbian Christians have for numerous years!). I think that's why those of us who were in favor of policy change are still so conflicted. We know what it feels like to be excluded, to be disenfranchised. For us to think that we contributed to someone feeling that way makes us feel terrible. A few of us were having trouble moving up to the Goodsoil room because we weren't ready for a huge celebration yet.

I am really celebrating this day - and I seriously did not think it would come in 2009. But I am also facing two more days of assembly in an atmosphere that is highly emotionally charged and somewhat sorrowful. We still need your prayers.

Friday morning

First thing this morning, we address a resolution on Israel/Palestine. The resolution itself is no trouble, but amendments have already begun to hit the floor which could be much more troubling. The first amendment we'll deal with uses the word "balanced" (code word for - we need to hear from Israel as well - in my opinion, the entire rest of the resolution makes it clear that we want to hear from "both sides" so this is unnecessary). The conversation yesterday was confused by the fact that some speakers were arguing the memorial that came to the Assembly, not the recommendation that we were supposed to be voting on from the Memorials Committee.

I believe after that we'll be dealing with the resolutions on ministry policies. The four resolutions are being dealt with separately, not in a stair-step fashion. We wanted this to be done, so that we could debate the merits of each without having all debate cut off if resolution 1 passes. This is not a slam-dunk at all. There are very widely divergent opinions. But it does seem that there is much closer to a 50% split than ever before, and it only has to be adopted by a simple majority. So if a few people are out of the room during the vote, it could change things immensely. No bathroom breaks for me this morning!

Resolution 1 (as currently numbered - which may change) basically says that we as a church body can accept that same-sex blessing ceremonies could be acceptable. (it says nothing about congregations having to do them.)

Resolution 2 talks about accepting rostered pastors in publicly accountable, lilfelong, same-gender, monogamous relationships. (this also does not mean that congregations have to accept such pastors.)

Resolution 3 talks about being united in one church with all of us respecting the bound consciences of one another. This may be moved to position 1. The people against policy change have been very disturbed by the "bound consciences" language because they think it means that you're looking to your conscience as your guide, not scripture and the Lutheran confessions.

Resolution 4 talks about making the changes needed to allow for Resolution 2 (more or less). It does call for more action, but my opinion is that if 1-3 pass, #4 will be pretty easy to accomplish.

History could be made in the church today. Or we could be dealing with an unjust policy that is upheld. Only time will tell.

You can watch the Churchwide Assembly at - today would be a good day to do so!