ELCA: How Did We Come to This? by Robert Benne

During last week’s biennial Church Wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the church affirmed major policy recommendations to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions (which practice will soon inflate to same-sex marriage) and the rostering of gay and lesbian pastors in partnered relationships. Earlier in the week it also passed by one vote-out of over a thousand total votes cast-a Social Statement on Sexuality that admitted there was no consensus on the moral evaluation of homosexual conduct, and offered no compelling biblical or theological reasons to support the policies it later in fact adopted.

The Statement was firm and bold on issues that everyone agreed upon-the moral condemnation of promiscuity, pornography, sexual exploitation, etc.-but indecisive and vague about contested issues-co-habitation, premarital sex, the importance of the nuclear family, and, of course, homosexual conduct. Right before the vote on the Social Statement a totally unexpected tornado hit the Minneapolis Conference Center where we were meeting as well as the huge Central Lutheran Church next door, knocking the cross off one of its towers. Orthodox voting members saw the work of God in the tornado’s cross-toppling effects and in the vote that passed with a .666 majority. Revisionists noted that the sun came out after the vote. In response the orthodox quipped that the sun comes out almost every day but rogue tornados are pretty rare.

Those in the orthodox camp warned the assembly not to vote on binding church doctrine, especially if it had no convincing biblical or theological arguments to overturn the moral consensus of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church held throughout the ages and by 99% of the world’s Christians. Such action would identify the ELCA with a rapidly declining liberal Protestantism while departing from orthodox teaching and practice. Strong arguments against the Social Statement and policy recommendations were made by pastors and laypersons-bishops were for the most part silent-to no avail. The church left the Great Tradition of moral teaching to identify with the United Church of Christ and the Episcopalians.

How did this come to be? On the one hand, the fact that the largest American Lutheran church body had become the first confessional church to accept homosexual conduct was a traumatic shock to many. There was much anger and anguish. On the other hand, the decision was not at all unexpected by those of us who have fought against the underlying currents operating in the church from its very inception. The fight has been long yet predictable. Liberal Protestantism was the ELCA’s destination. Indeed, its presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson-is fast becoming the charismatic leader of liberal Protestantism.

“There is nothing but the Social Gospel,” shouted a voting member at the assembly. But that is certainly not Lutheran doctrine. The various programs of social change taken to heart by the church are human works in God’s left-hand reign, having to do with the Law, not the Gospel. Rather, the real Gospel is clear: the grace of God in Jesus Christ is offered to repentant sinners condemned by the Law and then called to amendment of life by the Spirit. Liberating efforts in the realm of social and political change are possibly effects of the Gospel, but certainly not the Gospel itself.

But the ELCA has accepted the Social Gospel as its working theology even though its constitution has a marvelous statement of the classic Gospel. The liberating movements fueled by militant feminism, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-heterosexism, anti-imperialism, and now ecologism have been moved to the center while the classic Gospel and its missional imperatives have been pushed to the periphery. The policies issuing from these liberationist themes are non-negotiable in the ELCA, which is compelling evidence that they are at the center. No one can dislodge the ELCA’s commitment to purge all masculine language about God from its speech and worship, to demur on the biblically normative status of the nuclear family, to refuse to put limits on abortion in its internal policies or to advocate publicly for pro-life policies, to press for left-wing public domestic and foreign policy, to replace evangelism abroad with dialog, to commit to “full inclusion” of gays and lesbians at the expense of church unity, and to buy in fully to the movement against global warming. Though it is dogmatic on these issues it is confused about something as important as the assessment of homosexual conduct. Yet, it acts anyway because of the pressure exerted by those who want to liberate church and society from heterosexism. (cont.)

Read full article: VirtueOnline




 – Robert Benne was a voting member of the Virginia Synod at the 2009 Church Wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He is Director of the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society.


Feel free to make comments pro, or con.



10 Responses

  1. God and his will are somewhat inscrutable to us and we don’t want to nail down every type of weather to God’s exact meaning.

    Yet, this weather and turned over cross at the convention are really somewhat eerie. If I were leaning the liberal way, I think I would be thinking things over.

    I’ve only once come into a situation where I felt the wind was God’s deliberate doing for that exact moment in time. We were at the Drumheller passion play (only ever been to that one particular passion play.) It is held in in a natural amphitheater in the badlands. The play of course went on for the whole afternoon and the weather was perfectly fine. But during the crucifixion, this wind came up that tore around the natural ampitheatre. That was something else.

    The timing is just too precise. Something like the finely tuned universe. The physical constants are just too exactly correct. One should not dismiss it out of hand.

  2. Brigitte,

    Whether it was God, or not. The picture is surely one of a broken church brought about by violent winds of “change”.

    The damage will remain long after the steeple is repaired.

  3. Really? A tornado knocked the cross of the church? I am not easily impressed, but that is really amazing! I would love to see a picture.

  4. http://gaminc.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/was-god-in-the-whirlwind/

    I found a picture. I would be FREAKED OUT, and i do not scare easy. My heart is broken for the 33% that lost such an important vote. May God have mercy.
    Did they learn nothing from the Catholic scandals that bankrupted so many diocese?

  5. Will,

    More of us lost than 33%.

    We all lost (even though many don’t know it yet).

  6. .666 majority, Tornado blows and damages the cross on the Church and interrupts at the time they were discussing and voting on this… Hmmmmm?

    Spritual warfare is alive and well in the world.

  7. Absolutely. But in focusing on a “tornado” and dubious superstition (.666) I think y’all missed it. I am no less comforted to be a Christian or a Lutheran today, than any day. “Orthodox”, or “Paradox”?

  8. If the orthodox were looking for signs, that would be one thing. That these signs were so conspicuously well timed and obvious is another matter. I agree the liberals should think again, but they won’t. Notice that they didn’t “see” these as signs?

    Thank God for those of you who still go by what the Word of God says plainly. And I appreciate the “No thanks!” to the Social Gospel.

  9. Where does the .666 majority come from? I heard the vote was 619-402. How does that compute?

    Just curious.

  10. That should have read ” a 66.6% majority.”

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