By John R. Brooks
BALTIMORE — Leaders of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) agreed to do all they could do to continue their longtime cooperative work together in areas of “cooperation in externals,” despite decisions made by voting members of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on human sexuality.
The LCMS and the ELCA do not have altar and pulpit fellowship with each other because of doctrinal disagreements.
Meeting as the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC) Sept. 28-29, the leaders spent most of their time in discussion about the future of the two churches’ present work together. Joining them were leaders of three shared ministries: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Lutheran Services in America, which provides a variety of human services through social ministry organizations; and Lutheran World Relief, an international relief and development agency, all based here.
At the center of the discussion were ELCA assembly actions. Voting members of the assembly in August adopted a social statement on human sexuality and a series of proposals to change ELCA ministry policies, including a change to make it possible for Lutherans in lifelong, publicly accountable, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers.
LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick said the decision was incompatible with the Word of God, and does not agree with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian teaching about what Scripture says about human sexuality. He also repeated words from his address to the ELCA assembly that the actions of the ELCA would “negatively affect the relationships between our two churches,” and that the current division between the LCMS and ELCA “threatens to become a chasm.”
Setting the stage for the discussion on cooperative ministries was Ralston B. Deffenbaugh, former president, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. He reviewed the history of Lutherans’ response to global human need, and said the capacity of Lutherans to respond is considerable. “The world is crying out to Lutherans to continue this response,” he said.
The church leaders also met in groups to discuss the ministries. Most agreed that despite differences over human sexuality, the churches should continue working together as much as possible, when it can be done without compromise. “I have a great concern for the ongoing ministries in which we do have a joint interest — and there are many of those,” Kieschnick said to the ELCA leaders, including Dr. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
Kieschnick shared correspondence he has written to LCMS leaders, advising them that the LCMS president and vice presidents will continue to monitor the relationship with the ELCA. He offered suggestions to LCMS district presidents about how to respond when working with the ELCA in joint ministries when matters arise concerning the decisions of the ELCA assembly.
Kieschnick told the ELCA leaders that “we do have a real concern as the LCMS for doing everything we possibly can to deliver ministry” to people in need. “We don’t take this lightly. We believe that working together with other partners can enhance the ministry that’s delivered to the recipients,” he said. Cooperative ministry relationships with the ELCA will certainly be a topic to be discussed at the 2010 LCMS convention in Houston, Kieschnick added.
Hanson expressed gratitude to Kieschnick for his comments. “What you have said is very clear [and] honest,” the presiding bishop said. He said Kieschnick’s remarks would be “well-received” when Hanson reports to the ELCA Conference of Bishops, meeting Oct. 1-6 in Chicago.
Others echoed the comments of the two church leaders. The mission of the cooperative ministries is bigger than both church bodies, said Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA executive for administration. “We’ve made a commitment to serve ‘the least of these’ and a commitment to work with people at the margins. Now is not the time to walk away from the mission we’ve been given,” she said.
LCMS Secretary Raymond L. Hartwig said it may be difficult to work together in some cases, “but it doesn’t mean the other 90 percent are not possible.” He asked leaders of cooperative ministries here to help while the churches “sort this out.”
“We believe, teach, and confess some things that bind us together, such as our common understanding of Baptism,” said Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, director of church relations for the Synod. He expressed the hope that the churches could pledge to each other “to do in good conscience what we can do with integrity and in faithfulness to our respective doctrinal positions.”
The leaders also reported key information about their church bodies:
- Hanson said ELCA leaders continue to have conversations with global and ecumenical partner churches regarding the assembly’s actions on human sexuality.
- The LWF Council will meet next month in Geneva, and it will elect a new general secretary, Hanson said. The current general secretary, Dr. Ishmael Noko, plans to leave office next year.
- Nafzger said that the International Lutheran Council, which met in August in Seoul, South Korea, unanimously adopted a statement on same-gender relationships and the church. The statement says Scriptures testify “that the lifelong committed union of one man and one woman is the place the Lord intends for human sexuality to be lived out,” and it says the ILC believes the practice of homosexuality violates the will of God. He also reported that Rev. David L. Mahsman has been asked by the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), a joint project of the LCMS and its partner church in Germany, the Selbstaendige Evangelish Lutherische Kirche (Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), to serve as its managing director. The ILSW will seek to work together with other Christians in Wittenberg, including the ELCA Wittenberg Center, whenever possible,” Nafzger said.
- Hartwig said that the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance will recommend changes to the constitution, voting representation, elimination of program boards and formation of two advisory commissions, and moving to a four-year cycle for national conventions versus the current three.
- The number of pastoral vacancies in LCMS congregations is down about 100 from the previous year, said First Vice President William R. Diekelman. Presently about 300 congregations are in the call process and another 300 are about to begin the process. Fan into Flame, the $100 million campaign for missions, has raised $51 million. The rate of giving this year has already exceeded last year’s levels, he said.
- Both churches reported income declines for 2009 and struggles to meet budget goals, mostly due to current economic conditions in the United States.
Attending for the ELCA were Bullock; Hanson; Secretary David D. Swartling; Dr. Donald McCoid, executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations; Carlos Pe–a, ELCA vice president; and Rev. E. Roy Riley, bishop, ELCA New Jersey Synod.
Attending on behalf of the LCMS were Diekelman; Hartwig; Kieschnick; Nafzger; Chief Administrative Officer Ronald Schultz; and Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
Also present were Deffenbaugh; Anne Wilson, vice president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Dr. John Nunes, president of Lutheran World Relief; and Jill Schumann, president of Lutheran Services in America.
John R. Brooks is director of the ELCA News Service in Chicago.
Posted Oct. 6, 2009