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Messages - James_Gale

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Charles --

I generally agree with your response.  

There abosolutely are people who look at the provisions that I have cited and argue that same-sex blessings are permissible under them.  In part for the reasons I set out above, I think that they have the far weaker position.

For better or worse, the ELCA does not have a an effective judicial function that could weigh these positions.  By this I mean that it does not have an effective mechanism for both the interpretation and enforcement of ELCA policy.  

ELCA rules do of course create a process for the imposition of "discipline."  However, this in itself is not an effective judicial function.  For one thing, many are reluctant to seek discipline.  It is a very blunt instrument, and not one that tends to create a civil atmosphere for reasoned discussion and resolution of disputes.    In addition, much of the "disciplinary" process is secret, and therefore does not create a good body of precedent.

An effective judicial function would provide an open forum within which practices and policies could be challenged.  For example, some person or persons could challenge a resolution like that passed in the MNYS.  The practice of blessing same-sex unions also could be challenged outside the context of a "disciplinary" proceeding.  Specifically, an orthodox congregation/conference/etc. could seek an order prohibiting a synod/congregation/pastor from performing same-sex blessings.  A tribunal could issue its opinion without "disciplining" anyone.  A tribunal would consider facts and ELCA rules, and render opinions that would be published and provide clear guidance.  Such opinions would have to be binding in order for the judicial function to be effective.

Creation of a judicial function like this has disadvantages.  It likely would result in litigiousness.  This arguably would poison the atmosphere within the ELCA.  

But over time, the existence of a judicial function also would provide clarity.  We all would know with precision what ELCA policy is and what it is not.  Those who do not like policy as applied by the "judiciary" then would be free to seek to change that policy through the ELCA's legisaltive bodies.  And by making it possible to seek "judicial" intervention without seeking to "discipline" someone, perhaps the ELCA could avoid poisoning the atmosphere too much.

I do not hold out hope that the ELCA will create an effective judicial function.  But I do believe that it on balance would be a useful mechanism for helping us to live together as a church body.

Brian --

You say that there is no "rule" about ELCA pastors officiating at same sex unions.  Simply stated, I believe that you are wrong.

Under Section 20.21.01 of the ELCA Constitution/By-Laws, an ordained minister "shall be subject to discipline" in 4 circumstances that arguably would apply to the blessing of same sex unions.

Specifically, by presiding over such a blessing, an ordained pastor is (a) "preaching and teaching in conflict with the faith confessed by [the ELCA]"; (b) is engaged in "conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office"; (c) is willfully disregarding and violating the "functions and standards established by [the ELCA] for the Office of Word and Sacrament" and (d) is "willfully disregarding the provisions of the constitution [and] bylaws" of the ELCA.

Officiating over a blessing of a same-sex union would run afoul of these 4 prohibitions because of at least 2 different ELCA policies.  

First, in approving Recommendation 2, the CWA last year affirmed as ELCA policy the guidance provided by the Conference of Bishops in 1993:

"We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry."

And second, the ELCA has made clear in Vision and Expectations that:

"The ordained minister is to be an example of holy living . . . .  The qualities of such a life include the following: . . . . Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

Thus, the CWA has made clear that same-sex blessings are not to be a part of "this church's ministry."  And the Church Council has made clear that "holy living" requires those who "are homosexual in their self-understanding" to abstain from sex.  (I know that Vision and Expectations applies only to the ordained.  However, its definition of "Holy Living" certainly would be the same for us lowly lay folk.)

When an ordained minister presides over a same-sex blessing, he or she therefore is preaching and teaching in conflict with the faith confessed by the ELCA (which is defined in part by the 2 policies I cited), is engaged in conduct that is incompatible with the character of the ministerial office (by performing an act that is not to be part of the ELCA's ministry), is performing a function specifically excluded from the functions of the Office of Word and Sacrament (by the CWA), and is willfully disregarding the ELCA constitution (by ignoring the policies approved by the CWA and Church Council in the exercise of their authority under the constitution).

I am well aware that the CWA rejected amendments to Recommendation 2 that would have stated in even more direct terms the prohibition on same-sex blessings.  However, the failure of these amendments does not change the fact that the teaching of the 1993 Bishops' statement is clear.

I also am aware that Recommendation 2 included a statement that the ELCA would "trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care for all to whom they minister."  However, this general statement of the obligation of all pastors and congregations "to provide faithful pastoral care" does not in any way detract from the specific disapproval of same-sex blessings as part of the ELCA's ministry.

Thus, I do believe that there is a strong basis for seeking discipline against pastors who preside at same-sex blessings.

Rob --

I agree with your comment that Biblical support for the second alternative is lacking.  But as we all know, some argue otherwise, applying contextual analysis to Scripture.

Peter --

It strikes me that a church body could chart a middle ground approach regarding persons in same-gender sexual relationships.  The reasoning would go something like this:

1.  It is true that God's Law either (i) renders same-gender sexual relationships inherently sinful or (ii) permits/sanctions such relationships as proper and lawful manifestations of love between two people much like marriage.

2.  Christian people of good faith disagree as to the substance of God's Law on this point.

3.  This disagreement is not trivial.  But neither does it shatter the unity we share regarding the essence of our faith as expressed in Scripture, the Creeds and the Confessions.

4.  Thus, we choose to remain in communion with one another despite our difference in belief and practice on this issue.

5.  We will all learn the truth regarding this issue on Judgment Day, when all of us will have to depend upon the grace of Our Lord for salvation.  Some of us specifically will have sinned with respect to the issue of homosexuality.  We all pray that God might forgive us and one another on that day all of our sins, including the sin of not being able to discern more clearly God's Law.

All this said, I have some doubt as to whether any church body today is capable of holding to a middle ground like this.  While the situation might be different some years from now, I think that there are too many people on both "sides" of the sexuality debate who feel far too strongly to let the issue rest until they either have "won" and conquered or "lost" and left.  And if the fight has been long and hard, the institutional church body left behind will be weakened no matter which side has won.  

(Incidentally, the middle ground I describe here is not my view.  I fit more or less in what we describe here as the orthodox camp.  So if you all ask me to defend a straddle as the right approach, I won't.)

First, local option is not the official policy under ELCA governing documents, but it already is a de facto reality in the ELCA.  

My hunch is that over the next very few years, the ELCA, acting through synod and churchwide bodies, will change ELCA governing documents to comport with what already is the practice (local option, that is).  After that, it is very possible, but by no means a certainty, that the ELCA will revise its governing documents further to prohibit all synods and congregations from treating those in committed same-gender sexual relationships in any way different from married persons.

The MNYS and MAS resolutions, and resolutions like them, are part of the overall movement toward change.  

Second, whatever its intent, the resolution proposed by the Phoenix congregation is not well written.  Is it intended as a mere statement of opinion?  Or is it intended as a change in procedures as applied in the Grand Canyon Synod?  The second "resolved" clause is particularly problematic.  Among its problems is its use of the passive voice.  It states that "those congregations of this Grand Canyon Synod that choose to call and those that choose not to call otherwise-qualified persons in a same-gender partnership shall be seen as being faithful to the Word of God."  By whom are congregations "to be seen as being faithful to the Word of God"?  If only by those voting on the resolution, perhaps this is a mere statement of opinion.  If, however, the resolution is intended to bind the synod's council, committees and officers, it likely would effect a change to disciplinary and rostering practices.  The Church Council in the MNYS matter made clear that synods cannot make such changes.

Is the lack of clarity inadvertent, or a clever tactic?  I have no idea.

Either way, if the resolution passes, it is another step along what I believe to be a very wrong path.

Incidentally, "local option" likely will exist on most issues (from sexuality to lay presidency and beyond) so long as the ELCA is structured as it is.  Why?  The ELCA's governing documents do not create any effective judicial authority to interpret and enforce church policy.  Thus, those within the ELCA are more or less free to adopt their own interpretations of ELCA rules, or to ignore them altogether.

Of course, an effective judicial authority is not necessarily a positive.  In my view, some in the LCMS have used such an authority to destructive ends.

Synod Assembly season is upon us.  As many of you may have noticed, the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly passed at least two resolutions relating to the ongoing sexuality debates. and

One of these supports the approach that MNYS arguably tried to implement in its resolution last fall.  However, perhaps taking the ELCA Church Council's resolution into account, the MAS resolution does not purport to implement any procedural changes.  Instead, it simply offers "guidance" to the synod's bishop, council and committees.  Thus, it is a statement of opinion, and as such, it does not run afoul of the Church Council's decision.

That said, if Bishop Johnson, the MAS Church Council and the relevant MAS committees act in a manner consistent with this guidance, they likely would be in violation of ELCA policy.  

But as best I can tell, many synods have been ignoring Vision and Expectations for years.  These synods likely will keep doing what they have been doing until they succeed in changing the rules to meet what they already are doing.

And I suspect that it's only a matter of a few years until they succeed.

Mark --

The Church Council most assuredly did not rule that "that synods may not think about what might advance the mission and ministry of the church in certain formal actions that are a part of those covenants."  Quite the contrary.  It made clear that synods can deliberate and express their opinions.  It thanked the MNYS for doing these things.  And presumably the expressions of opinion by synods will be part of an ongoing discussion that could well lead to a change in policy by the ELCA.

It also did not say that "following the letter of governing documents is deemed more important than including considerations of what furthers mission and ministry in putting them into actual practice."  Mission and ministry are what matter, after all.  The governing documents exist to serve our mission and not the other way around.

But never forget the role that the governing documents play.  They are the embodiment of the covenant under which we have bound ourselves together as a particular part of Chirst's Church.  All who are part of the covenant certainly are free to work for its revision.  However, if some groups within the ELCA feel free to breach these documents, even for what they believe to be compelling reasons, the covenant is fractured.

This is not small thing, because once one group decides to make its own rules, other groups are likely to follow suit.  If this happens, and maybe it already is, it will be very heard to hold the ELCA together.

And Tom --

If we do not take our governing documents seriously, then the ELCA stands no chance of being a cohesive church body dedicated to teaching and preaching the Gospel as it is conveyed to us in Scripture and our Confessions.    

Mark --

First, you may have formal minutes from the Church Council meeting that say something different from what Secretary Almen stated in his report, which I've cited.  However, if that report is accurate, I think that you are misconstruing the Council's action.  For one thing, the report states expressly that the Church Council adopted "the following resolution and document."  p. 9.  Thus, the document itself was approved by the Church Council.  In addition, the bold language of the resolution states that the longer document constitutes "the guidance" of the Church Council on the MNYS resolution.  Thus, the "document" is incorporated by reference into the resolution.  And however one views the document on the merits, it quite clearly is the formal opinion of the Church Council on this matter.

I will not repeat all I said above about the effect of the Church Council's opinion, except to say that the Council made reasonably clear that no synod may implement the practices described in the MNYS resolution.  They may only express an opinion that these practices should be adopted at the churchwide level by the ELCA.

Having said all of this, one reasonably could ask whether all the energy that people spend on these resolutions and opinions makes much difference.  After all, synods and congregations frequently and quite openly act in contravention to ELCA policies.  While synods may not implement the practices advocated by the MNYS resolution, that does not mean that they cannot.  And indeed, some synods have used such practices for many years.  On what some might view as the other end of some spectrum, some congregations permit lay people to preside at Holy Communion without obtaining the required approval of their bishop.  Some congregations call as pastors persons not rostered by the ELCA.  And so it goes.

What does such defiance about the covenants that are intended to define our life together as a church say about the health and cohesion of the ELCA?    Something to ponder.

Richard --

You may well be right regarding Goodsoil's plans.  Indeed, the press release arguably supports the notion.

But if you are right, Goodsoil has built its strategy on deception.  

Goodsoil argues in its press release that the MNYS resolution in effect would amend ELCA policy as that policy is applied in MNYS.  The Church Council ruled unambiguously that if the resolution is read this way, it is invalid.  Period.  

It could be valid, if at all, only if regarded as nothing more than a statement of what ELCA policy should be, and not as an attempt to change any synod's application of that policy.

It strikes me that integrity demands that all involved refrain at synod assemblies from trying to amend the way in which a synod applies Vision and Expectations.  In light of the Church Council's ruling, synod bishops should rule out of order any motion that, like the MNYS resolution, could be read as an attempt to enact such an "amendment."  

If persons want synods to adopt "sense" resolutions, they should use language that makes very clear that this is their intent.  Such motions clearly would be in order, and could serve as the basis for vigorous debate.

Even in the midst of our very real disagreements, all involved should have enough respect for the ELCA and one another to proceed honestly and opnely.  Nobody should resort to trickery or to misrepresentation about the Church Council's ruling.

Measured against this hope, your suspicions about Goodsoil's intent, particularly taken together with its press release, leave me pessimistic.


Mark --

It looks to me like the Church Council approved the entire analysis.  The minutes say that the Church Council approved the "following resolution and document." at p. 9.  The language I quoted is from this approved "document."

If I am reading this incorrectly, I would love to see the language making that clear.  I am always willing, if not always happily so, to admit errors in my argument and analysis.  And I particularly would like to know it if the Church Council did not act as decisively as the document I quoted suggests.

Richard and Charles --

You both are ignoring the effect of the word "must" in the last sentence of the Church Council decision.

Specifically, the Church Council concluded that:

"Parts of the [MNYS] resolution appear to seek to establish a candidacy and rostering pattern that would ignore statements in 'Vision and Expectations' and in 'Defintions and Guidelines for Discipline.'"  If the resolution is read in this way; that is, if it "understood as adding to the constitutional description and policies related to the discipline process -- or a vacating of some of those applicable policies -- then it must be judged as not in concurrence with the governing documents of this church." at pp. 13-14.  

Under what circumstances might/may the resolution not run afoul of the ELCA's governing documents?  According to the Church Council, "f the resolution is understood as expressing only the opinion of those who voted in favor of it and is understood as not binding."  Id.  

According to Goodsoil, the MNYS resolution is not a mere statement of opinion.  It was to have a real and binding effect on the discipline process in the MNYS:  "The resolution stated in sum that the MYNS would not disqualify a candidate for ministry in a committed same-gender relationship solely on the basis of the relationship. The MYNS said in the resolution that it would put that fact in the context of what was best for the mission of the synod and the church before rendering judgment."  If Goodsoil's interpretation of the resolution is right, the Church Council ruled that the resolution "must" be viewed as being in violation of ELCA governing documents.

No mays, mights or may nots about it.

The Goodsoil people either did not read the Church Council decision or they are choosing to misrepresent it.

And don't take my word for it.  Read it yourself.  (I included a link to it earlier in this thread.)

The Church Council found that the MNYS resolution as written includes internal inconsistencies.  On the one hand, it purports not to make any changes to established ELCA pratice.  If it is read in this way, it could be nothing more than a sense of the synod resolution and is probably not contrary to ELCA governing documents.

On the other hand, the MNYS resolution seems to revise MNYS practice in a way that is not consistent with ELCA policies.  And indeed, Goodsoil seems to accept this interpretation of the resolution.  (Goodsoil:  "The resolution stated in sum that the MYNS would not disqualify a candidate for ministry in a committed same-gender relationship solely on the basis of the relationship. The MYNS said in the resolution that it would put that fact in the context of what was best for the mission of the synod and the church before rendering judgment.")  However, if this reading of the resolution is correct, the Church Council made verey clear that the resolution is invalid.

Thus, as I said, Goodsoil either did not read the Church Council decision or they are intentionally misrepresenting it.

Charles --

My views certainly trend toward the orthodox side of issues normally discussed here, and I receive Mark's comments very well.  

Let's try to bring some clarity to the issues that are running through this thread.

First, Mark is absolutely right that the CWA took no positive action when it rejected Recommendation 3 from the Sexuality Task Force.  It did not, by this vote or otherwise, restrict the Church Council's power to revise either Vision and Expectations or Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.  These two documents are creatures of the Church Council, which retains full power to change (or repeal) them.  See and  

As Mark points out, there may be a "political reality" that restrains the Church Council from revising Vision and Expectations at this time.  (In my view, in light of the CWA vote on Recommendation 3 and the fact that upcoming CWAs will be taking up the sexuality issue again, the Church Council should recognize such a "political reality" and refrain from any action now changing Vision and Expectations.)

Second, the Church Council's decision was much less tentative or ambiguous than the lead article in this thread suggests.  True enough, the resolution finds that the MNYS resolution is "probably not" in compliance with ELCA governing documents.  Why did the resolution hedge rather than ruling in absolute terms?  "There are inherently conflicting statements" in the MNYS resolution.  On the one hand, the resolution purports not to change ELCA policy.  And to the extent that these statements are accurate, the MNYS action is in the nature of a "sense" of the synod resolution.  Such a resolution has no effect on practice and therefore would not be contrary to ELCA governing documents.  However, other parts of the MNYS resolution do appear to contemplate a revision of ELCA disciplinary standards and practices in the MNYS.  To the extent that this was intended, the Church Council makes clear without any ambiguity that the MNYS resolution is not in concurrence with ELCA governance documents. at pp. 9-14.

(I have to run now, and don't have time to proofread or edit.  Please forgive any typos, etc.)

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