Author Topic: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 2006)  (Read 50009 times)

Richard Johnson

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An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 2006)
« on: April 18, 2006, 12:19:08 PM »
An ambiguously tentative “probably not”
by Kenneth Kimball
May 2006 Forum Letter
Copyright 2006 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.

The church council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted Response of the Church Council to the Request of the Metropolitan New York Synod (MNYS) April 2. If you don’t remember, the New York synod last October effectively declared independence from ELCA disciplinary standards regarding openly gay pastors in openly gay relationships. At the same time, they thoughtfully went ahead and requested “clarification” on their resolution from the church council, seeking to know whether the “guidance” they had offered to the bishop and synod officials at their special assembly was “in concurrence with the governing documents of the ELCA.” Forum Letter covered that special assembly in the December 2005 issue, “Defying Orlando: The ABCs of the New York Synod” (FL:12:34).

Tentative ambiguity

The answer in the church council’s Response is a tentative “probably not” — “probably not” meaning the MNYS resolution “may be read” as being in conflict with the ELCA’s constitution, disciplinary standards, by-laws, and all that.

The ambiguity of “may be read” was regarded as problematic by some members of the council. “May be read,” it was pointed out, also allows the possibility of “may not be read.” Efforts to include stronger language, however, were repeatedly defeated.

The result is a Response that is strictly a constitutional opinion, albeit one largely written by what passes for the ELCA’s supreme court, the Office of the Secretary, and thereafter adopted by the church council.

Might or should or must

The Response is notable more for what it does not do than for what it does. It does not, first, legitimate the MNYS’s attempt to overturn the outcome of the 2005 ELCA churchwide assembly on the issue of easing disciplinary rules for gay pastors. Second, it does not censure the MNYS, nor, third, does it require the MNYS to revoke any of the actions taken at its special assembly (not even the MNYS resolution’s favorable citation of a non-existent bylaw).

The council’s Response does appear to draw a line in the sand — reaffirming the constitutional boundaries of the ELCA. But it leaves unsaid what sort of action, if any, the church council or presiding bishop might or should or must take if MNYS (or any other synod, for that matter) continues to cross that line.

Early in the council’s discussion, a handful of (let’s call them) “idealist revisionists” made an attempt to approve the MNYS action, effectively overturning the outcome of the 2005 churchwide assembly. They introduced a substitute Response that would have placed the church council on record as “not” reading the MNYS resolution in conflict with the ELCA’s governing documents. The rest of the church council generally understood this as an attempt to circumvent the churchwide assembly. For the church council to take such an action would be constitutionally questionable and damaging and not likely to set well, so it was said aloud, “with the folks in the pews.”

Practical revisionists

Arrayed against the substitute were (shorthand, again) a “practical revisionist” majority, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.

While personally sympathetic to the cause represented by the MNYS actions, the “practical revisionists” parted ways with the “idealists” only over methods and means. They accepted the necessity of working within a constitutional system requiring a longer time frame.

“I read the New York resolution as trying to do what Resolution #3 offered and was rejected by the churchwide assembly,” Bp. Hanson said. “To adopt this substitute that allows the MNYS resolution to stand is to adopt Recommendation #3. I am concerned how that will be received in this church.”

When a council member suggested saying nothing and simply take no position in regard to MNYS’s resolution, Bp. Hanson also thought this unwise. “Silence,” he told the council, “may not be helpful. Other actions may come from other synods, on both sides of this issue. This church needs a clear word of interpretation from its elected leaders. For the church council to be silent on this would be to take a position.”

In the end, while quite a number of council members made clear their sympathies were with MNYS, they nonetheless said that the constitutional process and order must be respected. The church council cannot override or change the outcome of a churchwide assembly. A prevailing council majority, consisting of a handful of traditionalists together with a much larger number of “practical revisionists,” coalesced around the question: “How to honor the actions of the churchwide assembly while continuing dialogue (and preserving unity) within the church?”

So, the substitute Response was roundly and soundly defeated on a voice vote, with only two or three voices in its favor and with a loud and definite majority of the council saying “No.”

Technically telling

At the same time, while reluctant to supersede the actions of the churchwide assembly, the church council was clearly disinclined to endorse the actions of the assembly, particularly in regard to the defeat of Resolution #3.

This was illustrated by the council’s decision to note the 2005 churchwide assembly decisions by a single parenthetical reference.

This is technical but telling. The sole reference to the churchwide assembly action was moved from near the beginning, where it was originally, all the way to the end. The 2005 churchwide assembly decisions on the three sexuality resolutions from Orlando were detached from “applicable policies related to rostered ministry and candidacy” and attached to something about “continuing dialogue on mission and ministry issues within the life of this church” near the conclusion of Response.

The point to make is, the decisions of the 2005 Orlando assembly are by no means regarded by the ELCA church council as the last word on the subject. The revisionist majority on the council — whether “practical” or “idealist” — regard the disciplinary policies of the ELCA as having only impermanent status, requiring only an uncertain lip service. It is a subtle distinction to be sure, but one that says a great deal about where we are in the ELCA.

Ken Kimball <pastrken@acegroup.cc> is pastor of Old East Paint and Old West Paint Creek Lutheran Churches of rural Waterville, IA. He serves on the steering committee of Lutheran Coalition For Reform (CORE). This is his first contribution to Forum Letter.

Copyright 2006 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.

« Last Edit: August 02, 2006, 02:57:31 PM by Richard Johnson »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

G.Edward

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2006, 11:09:54 AM »
Quoting the Bp. Hanson quote in the prior post, "This church needs a clear word of interpretation from its elected leaders. For the church council to be silent on this would be to take a position."  Are we to take their silence and dithering as evidence of their true intentions coupled with a deficiency of courage?

Here, here!  How pleasant and good it is when brothers live together in unity, to quote the psalmist.  When will we get that clear word that is the basis of honest unity?  How much longer will we study and talk?  Isn't much of leadership about making hard choices?  I wouldn't want my oncologist to suggest more tests and conversation if I had been diagnosed with cancer.

In the parish, I'm finding I don't really have the luxury of vacilation, unless I want to watch most folks walk out the door.  They demand a clear word, and I do my best to deliver that clear word, or foster conversation that reveals it, or lead service where it is experienced.  To the people I serve I am incarnate, not an anonymous expert or distant official.  

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2006, 03:15:24 PM »
Quote
In the parish, I'm finding I don't really have the luxury of vacilation, unless I want to watch most folks walk out the door.  They demand a clear word, and I do my best to deliver that clear word, or foster conversation that reveals it, or lead service where it is experienced.  To the people I serve I am incarnate, not an anonymous expert or distant official.  

What's the clear word you offer concerning SUV vs. Hybrids? Red meat vs. white meat vs. vegetarian diet?

I think that the clear word we are to proclaim from God is that sinners are justified by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Brian Stoffregen
"The church ... had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Charles_Austin

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2006, 03:45:25 PM »
Brian asks Gregory Davidson:

What's the clear word you offer concerning SUV vs. Hybrids? Red meat vs. white meat vs. vegetarian diet?  

I add:
Drinking alcoholic beverages vs. abstinence? Working on Sunday vs. strict Sabbath? Military service vs. conscientious objection? Divorce vs. remaining in an abusive relationship? Dancing? Dating a Roman Catholic? Joining the Masons? The church, or at least large segments of it, has claimed "clear words" - using scripture as a basis - on these things in the past.

It seems to me that when the church builds up too long a list of "clear words," the realities of life, confidence in the informed Christian conscience (God doesn't only give "clear words' to clergy), and pastoral care suffers.


Charles_Austin

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2006, 03:50:56 PM »
Re the report on the ELCA Church Council action:

I am very disappointed in the report by Pastor Kimball. It is simply not up to the usual standards of Forum Letter.

What was actually said during the discussion? No council member other than the Presiding Bishop is quoted. Why? What was the vote count on various amendments or proposals? How many constitute a "handful" and what defines "idealist revisionists"?  Where are the split lines geographically?  

It is said that "quite a number" of council members were sympathetic to the MNY Synod initiative. How many? Who moved the reference to the Orlando assembly to the end of the Church Council document and why? Was the tenor of the discussion disputatious, congenial, or bitter? How long did they talk about this? Over how many days? What did people say after the action was finished? Who was satisfied? Who was not satisfied?

Pastor Kimball writes:  "At the same time, while reluctant to supersede the actions of the churchwide assembly, the church council was clearly disinclined to endorse the actions of the assembly." What was said to make him reach this conclusion, especially since the ELCA Church Council doesn't have to "endorse" the actions of the Assembly; the Assembly actions stand on their own. As a matter of fact, the Church Council cannot NOT endorse the actions of the assembly; it has no authority to do so.

Pastor Kimball may be right in every sentence of his report; but he does not provide information proving that he is right in his conclusions. And, since he is identified as on the steering committee of a group with a particular agenda on these topics, eyebrows must be raised and the was-it-really-that-way brain cells activated.




« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 03:56:47 PM by Charles_Austin »

peter_speckhard

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2006, 03:58:51 PM »
Adiaphora require no clear words. The question is whether homosexual behavior is prohibited by Scripture. In comparing that question with these other examples of debates over adiaphora, Charles and Brian give a clear and unambiguous answer to that question-- sexual morality is adiaphora. If the fact that clear words have been wrong in the past means that we ought not have clear words anymore, we ought to get rid of words altogether rather than merely embracing hesitance, tentativeness, and equivocation.

Charles_Austin

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2006, 07:46:33 PM »
Peter writes:
Charles and Brian give a clear and unambiguous answer to that question-- sexual morality is adiaphora.

I respond:

I strongly deny the allegation. However,  it could be argued that scripture neither commands one to marry nor forbids it, except for the times when it favors celibacy.

Peter is right: The question is whether homosexual behavior is prohibited by Scripture. I was just trying to point out that - on those other issues - large segments of the church have held that there is a "clear word" from scripture.

G.Edward

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2006, 08:51:42 PM »
Quote

What's the clear word you offer concerning SUV vs. Hybrids? Red meat vs. white meat vs. vegetarian diet?

I think that the clear word we are to proclaim from God is that sinners are justified by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Brian Stoffregen


Let me begin by LOL, assuming you wrote what you wrote to get me going.  In reply:

I offer the clear word that I stand as a sinner in the midst of all the other sinners who gather to worship a gracious and forgiving God who loves us more than any of us can really ever understand and who calls us ever closer in trust/faith and into places and ways of serving others we never would have imagined on our own.

As a pastor, I don't offer advice to politicians or parishioners about how they should vote or think (as a citizen I do exercise that right) or tell people what kind of car they ought to drive or food they ought to eat, though I do take the teaching office seriously and seek to make opportunities where we can get to know each other better, learn about life issues of mutual concern, and consider them in light of the bible, the confessions, and the witness of nearly two thousand years of Christian thought.

G.Edward

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2006, 09:00:10 PM »
Quote
Brian asks Gregory Davidson:

What's the clear word you offer concerning SUV vs. Hybrids? Red meat vs. white meat vs. vegetarian diet?  

I add:
Drinking alcoholic beverages vs. abstinence? Working on Sunday vs. strict Sabbath? Military service vs. conscientious objection? Divorce vs. remaining in an abusive relationship? Dancing? Dating a Roman Catholic? Joining the Masons? The church, or at least large segments of it, has claimed "clear words" - using scripture as a basis - on these things in the past.

It seems to me that when the church builds up too long a list of "clear words," the realities of life, confidence in the informed Christian conscience (God doesn't only give "clear words' to clergy), and pastoral care suffers.


Gregory replies to Charles:

Read my last post to Brian.  

To that post I add that for me this isn't about lists, but about leaders leading.

I'm not sure why you equate "clear word" with "permissions and prohibitions."

If you are driving your car and I am your passenger, we might have a very different outcome if I tell you turn left at the next light then if I say turn left whenever you feel like it.

With one statement I help us move toward a destination.  With the other we wander aimlessly until we run out of gas.

There are only so many studies we can do and dialogues we can have as a church before we run out of gas and end up in the rust heap of history.

Perhaps that's what God has in mind for us.

Tom_Shelley

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2006, 09:16:56 PM »
Quote

Perhaps that's what God has in mind for us.


Perhap's that's what's in store for us if we have no mind for God.

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2006, 10:37:45 PM »
Quote
If you are driving your car and I am your passenger, we might have a very different outcome if I tell you turn left at the next light then if I say turn left whenever you feel like it.

With one statement I help us move toward a destination.  With the other we wander aimlessly until we run out of gas.


Not necessarily, we may both have the same destination in mind, but you want to go the way you are familiar with and I want to go the way I'm familiar. Or, you may want to take the most direct route, and I want to take a more scenic route. Your way may be shorter, but I think my way is faster, even though it is longer.

Among other things, the CWA set a goal of living together with our diversity. How do we reach that goal? There has been a synod resolution asking for a relaxing of the discipline. There are others asking for a tightening and greater uniformity in our discipline.

Assuming that there is a desire to continuing living together, what routes are available to us? Which ones might be acceptable to a majority of the people? I think that's how our Presiding Bishop is leading us. (I recently heard Hanson and the previous presiding bishops talk about this at the Hein-Fry Lectures.)

Brian Stoffregen
"The church ... had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Charles_Austin

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2006, 02:33:23 AM »
Brian writes:
Assuming that there is a desire to continuing living together, what routes are available to us? Which ones might be acceptable to a majority of the people? I think that's how our Presiding Bishop is leading us.

I note:
That is a critical question. Do we desire to continue living together and proclaiming the gospel together with our various "diversities"? I would hope that is the goal.

Gary Hatcher

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2006, 04:09:47 AM »
Quote
Which ones might be acceptable to a majority of the people? I think that's how our Presiding Bishop is leading us. (I recently heard Hanson and the previous presiding bishops talk about this at the Hein-Fry Lectures.)

Just because it is acceptable to a majority of people does not necessarily make it the theologically sound or biblically faithful thing to do.
Gary Hatcher STS,
Pastor St. Paul & First Lutheran Churches
Garnavillo & McGregor, IA

Durkin_Park

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2006, 08:41:38 AM »
Charles notes:
"That is a critical question. Do we desire to continue living together and proclaiming the gospel together with our various "diversities"? I would hope that is the goal."

Response:
Problem is...the folks who proclaim homosexual behavior as acceptable before the eyes of God do not proclaim the Gospel, but a lie.  So no, that's not the goal.  Tolerance of sin  within the church is never the goal.  Repentence and Forgiveness is the goal.  

You see, this difference is not a diversity within the body like celibecy and marriage, both pleasing to God.  This is the difference between truth from God revealed in Scripture and a lie from the Devil.  

Come on, grow up, God gives us different gifts and God-given diversity within the unity He creates.  Not the other way around.  (John Tietjen kind of put the cart before the horse on that one.  He is the one I can trace this phrase back to in his book on Lutheran unity, but perhaps it goes further)

Unity in diversity is the most ridiculous catch phrase around.  We're united in not being the same,  we're united because of our differences, we're united in not being really united, we're united in our relativisism.  Bull.  It's just an easy way out of an outside authority determining what's right and wrong, instead of you getting to follow your own sinful desires.  Or maybe at best it was once a way to say we don't all have to be carbon-copys of a "perfect Chritian."  But at the heart of it, an easy out from the transformative power of the Gospel and The Holy Spirit that leads us into righteousness and doesn't leave us in the mud.

How about God-given diversity in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  That's beautiful, because it promises us that we will not be led into death any longer.  But, that we will be led upon the path of life.  And that God guides and warns us away from behaviors, thoughts, and lifestyles that lead us away from from Him, and are against His will.  The same Scriptures that proclaim God's will in Christ, proclaim the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and God's will that we stay away from such behavior.  

Charles, some diversity is God-given, and some is only seemingly diverse.  Sexual diversity outside of celibecy and marriage is just the same old path of sin, death, and pain, repackaged in many and various bright colors with the same rotten gift inside-death.  "In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old through the prophets."  It is true and beautiful that God has spoken in many ways, but He always speaks the same message of life.  

True diversity is God-given.  
Sin is boring.  
Love God and live in Christ.  
Don't let lies live in the church.
All they do is kill.

Durkin Park


John Theiss

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Re: An Ambiguously Tentative Probably Not (May 200
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2006, 09:59:07 AM »
Quote from: Durkin_Park   

You see, this difference is not a diversity [b
within[/b] the body like celibecy and marriage, both pleasing to God.  This is the difference between truth from God revealed in Scripture and a lie from the Devil.  

This is the point I have tried to make with Brian and Charles several times in other places.  Those who believe that God's Word forbids any sexual activity outside of that withing marriage between a man and a woman cannot simply agree to disagree, because they do not and cannot see this difference as diveristy but as sin, and no one who wishes to be Christian can bless what they believe God has called sinful.