From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
ELCA Bishops Hear Concerns, Surplus News From Presiding Bishop
Fri, 11 Mar 2005 16:27:57 -0600
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 11, 2005
ELCA Bishops Hear Concerns, Surplus News From Presiding Bishop
DALLAS (ELCA) -- While expressing gratitude for leaders in the church
who prepared the report and recommendations on homosexuality released Jan.
13, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) raised some concerns about the recommendations in his report to the
ELCA Conference of Bishops.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson also told the conference that the ELCA
churchwide organization finished the 2004 fiscal year with a net surplus.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church,
consisting of the 65 ELCA synod bishops, ELCA secretary and ELCA presiding
bishop. It met here March 3-7. A key part of the conference's work at
this meeting was developing a response to the report for the church, as
the ELCA prepares to discuss homosexuality issues at the 2005 Churchwide
Assembly in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 8-14.
The report, the result of three years' work by a task force, included
three recommendations for the assembly to consider when it is expected to
answer two key questions on homosexuality: Should the church bless
same-gender relationships? Should the church allow people in such
relationships to serve as professional lay and ordained ministers?
The task force recommended that the ELCA:
+ concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the
midst of disagreements.
+ continue to respect the pastoral guidance of a 1993 statement of
the ELCA Conference of Bishops opposing the blessing of homosexual
relationships but remaining open to pastors wanting to provide pastoral
care for gay and lesbian Lutherans.
+ continue under current standards that expect unmarried ministers to
abstain from sexual relations, defining marriage as being between a man
and a woman; but, respecting the consciences of those who find these
standards in conflict with the mission of the church, the ELCA may choose
to refrain from disciplining gay and lesbian ministers in committed
relationships and from disciplining those who call or approve partnered
gay or lesbian people for ministry.
In his report, Hanson offered his first public comments on the task
force report and recommendations. Hanson said:
+ Two "hermeneutics" or paradigms are at work among the members of
the ELCA that make agreement difficult on scriptural and theological
matters. The Rev. Craig L. Nessan, academic dean and professor of
contextual theology, Wartburg Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in
Dubuque, Iowa, writes that there is a "traditional approach" and a
"contextual approach" in interpreting Scripture, both of which are valid
and irreconcilable, Hanson told the bishops. Similarly, Dr. Marcus J.
Borg, Department of Philosophy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, writes
that there are two irreconcilable "paradigms" in which Christians differ
in their understandings of the Christian tradition and their
interpretation of Scripture, creeds and the confessions, he said. Hanson
said he's heard people with different understandings of Scripture and
theology seeking to find a place for their views in the sexuality
"Do we expect a resolution to provide a bridge between two extremes?"
Hanson asked the bishops. "We Lutherans have come to say that when
something is 'paradoxical' that we're going to live in the paradox at the
foot of the cross and not force ourselves to decide it with a vote."
+ Hanson said he has "increasing concerns" about Recommendation 1,
which calls on the ELCA to concentrate on finding ways to live together
faithfully in the midst of disagreements. The recommendation seems to be
causing some confusion for some, and the conversation seems to be about
much more than the task force intended, he said. For example, Hanson said
some have "perceived" that what is at stake is the unity of the "Church
catholic," not just the ELCA.
"I have great concerns about a church body voting on the unity of the
Church," he said. "The unity of the Church is God's gift to us. We are
not to create the unity of the Church. Wouldn't it be better to remind
ourselves of the unity we are given but not to ask us to vote on the unity
of the Church?"
Hanson also said he hopes no one will leave the ELCA over decisions
on homosexuality. He reminded the bishops that if some members do leave
"we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. There's where I think Craig
Nessan is helpful in trying to say, 'let's not go the secular route of
schism but let's look at the continuum of the way we relate,'" he said in
an interview with the ELCA News Service.
Finally, Hanson said he is concerned that a vote on church unity
could become a "church-defining, church-dividing" issue, and a
conversation about that should take place in the "context of the Lutheran
World Federation (LWF)." The LWF is a global communion of 138 member
churches in 77 countries, representing 66 million Christians worldwide.
Hanson -- who is also LWF president -- suggested concepts used in
ecumenical discussions such as "reconciled diversity" and "differentiated
consensus" might be helpful in such discussions.
+ Hanson said he has heard many concerns about Recommendation 3, which
suggests that for reasons of conscience the ELCA may choose to refrain
from disciplining gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships and
from disciplining those who call or approve partnered gay or lesbian
people for ministry. "For many people [this] is not only confusing but
seems to lack integrity because it is read as at least a change in
practice if not in policy," he said in an interview.
As an alternative Hanson said it may be helpful to "test" some
language that could provide for a special roster, ordination to a specific
place or synodically authorized ministry to allow people who are gay and
lesbian and in committed relationships to serve as professional church
leaders. The presiding bishop suggested the possibility of a six-year
If the church wanted to test such a system, it would require a
"significant standing down" from people who are gay and lesbian, many of
whom view such a system as "second class" and unjust, he said. People who
view Scripture traditionally would also have to stand down to allow
"space," he said.
Presiding Bishop Addresses Budget Surplus, Jerusalem Hospital Situation
Hanson said the ELCA churchwide organization finished the 2004 fiscal
year with a $4.5 million net surplus. Hanson credited the Conference of
Bishops for "making tough decisions" and the churchwide staff for
significant underspending in creating the surplus. He said he will likely
have a specific proposal for use of the funds for the ELCA Church Council
to consider when it meets in Chicago next month.
The conference heard details of a proposed ELCA strategy on the
Middle East, tentatively called "Hope in the Holy Land: Pray, Tell, Act
for Peace With Justice." In 2004 the ELCA Church Council asked the ELCA
Division for Church in Society and ELCA Division for Global Mission to
develop the strategy.
One component of the proposal addresses concern for Augusta
Victoria Hospital, an LWF-operated hospital on the Mount of Olives in East
Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians. The hospital has been involved in a
longstanding tax case brought by the State of Israel that could require it
to pay an employer's tax. The cost of such a tax may force the hospital
to curtail operations.
"It's time to turn up the heat," Hanson told the bishops, saying
Lutherans need to press the U.S. government to intervene with Israel on
the hospital's behalf. He proposed sending an "e-letter" to professional
church leaders asking them to write to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, and members of Congress to "exert pressure" on the State of Israel.
"This is clearly a humanitarian issue," he said.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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