Author Topic: Canada's Lutherans Step Back (Sept. 2005)  (Read 990 times)

Richard Johnson

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Canada's Lutherans Step Back (Sept. 2005)
« on: August 18, 2005, 04:03:24 PM »
Canada’s Lutherans Step Back by Richard O. Johnson
Forum Letter September 2005  Copyright 2005 ALPB

Pr. Bradley Everett, in a recent issue of Forum Letter, described the breakneck speed with which a recommendation to allow local option in blessing same-sex unions arrived before the national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (O, Canada! FL:34:7). Along with it, there was a proposal to craft and adopt an official liturgy for such blessings. It was too fast, however, for Canadian Lutherans. The proposal failed to receive even a simple majority at the Winnipeg convention.

Pro-blessing advocates were optimistic. The convention opened on the same day the Canadian government approved legislation making Canada the fourth nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Some were hoping that the changed legal situation would convince the church to allow same-sex blessing, at least at the discretion of local congregations. And, as Pr. Everett reported, the national church council had presented the recommendation, and the process by which that came about seemed entirely and deliberately weighted in the direction of change.

Denying youth

But the first straw in the wind was a procedural question. Ray Schultz, the ELCIC national bishop, asked the convention to allow members of the youth convention to have vote, as well as voice. Under the Canadian rules of procedure (Bourinot’s Rules of Order, not Robert’s) this could be done by unanimous consent. A handful of conservatives, perhaps sensing that the youth votes would likely be a boon for the revisionists, objected, and the request was thereby denied.

(Now that takes courage, raising red cards “against” the youth and all, knowing that even one objection would stop the train!)

The convention later rather oddly apologized to the youth for that action, and it did agree to ask the National Church Council to consider a constitutional provision that would allow for some youth representation.

Then the question arose as to whether the recommendation on same-sex blessings would require a two-third’s vote. In a procedure that will seem remarkable to our U.S. readers, it was ruled that the convention could indeed require a twothird’s vote on the recommendation — but it would require a two-third’s vote to require it. (Well, we suppose there is some logic there, somewhere. Maybe it has something to do with that Bourinot’s thing they use up there.) More remarkably, the convention proceeded to do exactly that.

Scary language

Then, after some “Listening Circles” — sort of a free-form opportunity to talk about the “issues” and gain “new perspectives” — and some initial parliamentary wrangling, the convention settled in to spend a good block of time in debate. By one account, some sixty delegates were heard on the question, a tremendous number given the small size of Canadian Lutheran conventions. In the end, the vote — taken by written ballot — produced 183 in favor, 220 against, five abstentions.

The convention then approved overwhelmingly a motion “that our church’s leaders, congregations and pastors seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4:3), rejecting all words and actions hostile to gays and lesbians in our churches and communities, and taking steps to create a more welcoming place in this church for gays, lesbians, and their families.”

Nice touch, though the specific language is a little scary, since “words and actions hostile to gays” can be, and sometimes is, interpreted broadly enough to condemn anyone who, for example, reads aloud from the Book of Leviticus.

[Continued on next post]
« Last Edit: August 18, 2005, 04:06:15 PM by roj »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Richard Johnson

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Re: Canada's Lutherans Step Back (Sept. 2005)
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2005, 04:05:33 PM »
[continued from previous post]

Big questions

The convention also re-elected Bp. Schultz, on the third ballot. (This was prior to the sexuality discussion). There wasn’t much chance he would not be re-elected, and he was chosen over two pastors who were more closely identified with, or at least sympathetic to, the traditional teachings of the church on sexuality. The convention’s action, while in one respect rather decisive, leaves some big questions, both for the Canadians and for other Lutherans who are wrestling with these matters. For the Canadians, one wonders what the changed legal situation might mean. The recommendation was cast in terms of “same-sex blessings.” Some pastor will no doubt argue, “Well, that’s not what I’m doing — I’m just performing a marriage, according to the laws of the Dominion. I don’t need a specially crafted liturgy, nor do I need permission.” It could happen; probably will, in fact, and sooner rather than later.

Winnipeg discouragement

By the time this article appears, the ELCA’s churchwide assembly will be history, and our readers will already know what happened. It remains to be seen whether the Canadian action will play into the politics at Orlando (we’ll let you know what we think in our assembly coverage in the next issue.) The dynamics are certainly different. The ELCA has had a lot more time for people to get used to the idea of change, and a lot more years of exposure to the arguments for revisionist views. And of course the question before the ELCA is ordination, and only incidentally same-sex marriage, so the dynamics are very different. But what happened in Winnipeg has to be discouraging to revisionists, come what may in the ELCA.

The ELCIC’s action demonstrates that, even in a culture that seems to be shifting far more rapidly in its legal situation than is the U.S., approval of the revisionist agenda is hardly a foregone conclusion. There are plenty of people prepared to defend the traditional teaching of the church, no matter what the government (or ardent church officials) may say or do. That has to be heartening to those who oppose the revisionists on these matters.

The ELCIC’s vote, considered together with the new legal situation in Canada, should also prompt U.S. Christians to be thinking carefully about how to respond here when the question becomes one of marriage, rather than simply blessing of homosexual relationships.

Distinguishing vocation

Some U.S. jurisdictions already allow, or are on the verge of permitting, same-sex marriage. Will the ELCA surrender to the societal pressure, and let the law define marriage for us? Will the end result be a formal distinction between “performing a marriage” (a civic responsibility delegated by the state) and “blessing a marriage” (which is the church’s vocation)?

Those of us who support the traditional teaching of the church on sexuality would do well to look beyond Orlando and begin to consider some of these larger questions.

by Richard O. Johnson, associate editor

Copyright 2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

[There’s a good bit more in “Forum Letter” than what gets posted here. The September issue includes “A Stunning Manifesto of Banality” by editor Russ Saltzman (a review of Daniel Maguire’s “A Moral Creed for All Christian”; “Moving Beyond Church Growth” by Pr. Dan Biles; the ever-popular “Omnium Gatherum” section with notes an subjects as diverse as “The Lutheran Handbook,” a congregation offering $5 to Easter Day visitors, the role of the hyphen in LCMS, and much, much more. And, with the Forum Package, you also get the quarterly theological journal “Lutheran Forum,” for some serious reflection on issues facing the church today. The most recent issue contains the papers from Lenoir-Rhyne College’s 2004 Aquinas and Luther Conference, whose theme was “Aquinas and Luther on Marriage and Sex.” For subscription information, go to www.alpb.org.]
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS