Monday, June 15, 2009

My Report from Synod Assembly

The Southeast Iowa Synod Assembly (about 150 churches in the ELCA) was held June 12 and 13 in Waverly at Wartburg College.

Most people at our church wouldn’t know or care about the meeting. After all, it doesn’t really affect us, right? What trouble could a bunch of pastors, lay delegates and a bishop get up too?

For a more complete answer to that question, talk to Dwain and Dorothy Swanson, our lay delegates from Zion. They will be presenting their report in a forum this Sunday, June 21, at 9:15 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Zion. Knowing the Swanson’s well and having experienced what they experienced this past weekend, I’d title their presentation: “Why Dwain and Dorothy Will Never Go to Another Synod Assembly Ever Again.”

Yes, it was that bad. One issue dominated, as it has for the last nine years. Human Sexuality. Here’s the BIG QUESTION in my mind: Can conduct forbidden by Scripture (in this case, sex between people of the same gender whether “married” or not) be blessed by the Church? The answer, according to the Assembly, is yes, by 2/3 to 1/3 of delegates.

Now it’s true that the Proposed Sexuality Study and the changes it will necessitate in who can be a pastor and whether or not pastors can perform same sex unions will not be voted on by the Churchwide Assembly until August. But our experience at this Assembly along with the Twitter and Facebook feeds from other Synods who were meeting at the same time, all seem to indicate that the Study and the changes it will bring to the ELCA will pass.

Let’s be clear: I don’t really care about the issue per se. This isn’t about gay people and I’m not opposed to the Study because I don’t like gay people. I love them. I love them so much I want them to know Jesus and his healing. This is really about whether or not the Church should say, “To heck with the Bible! To heck with the word of God and 7,000 years of consistent teaching on this issue! We don’t care if the Bible calls it sin or not. We just want people to feel affirmed and be happy.”

So let’s just change the issue. Let’s say it’s alcoholism. The Bible says it’s wrong to get drunk. No dispute from anyone that alcoholism is a sin that breaks up families and ruins lives. Should the Church, for the sake of wanting the alcoholic to feel affirmed and happy, say, “To heck with the Bible! We just want you to feel affirmed and happy! Drink all you want!”

Or what about adultery? (That’s having sex with someone who isn’t your husband or wife). The Bible is not down with it. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “But this is different! If I had met him/her first, I never would’ve married my husband/wife. I believe God brought this person into my life and he/she is my true love.” Should we say, “Gee, now that you brought God into it and you feel he did this to you, golly, maybe what you’re doing isn’t a sin at all. In fact, maybe it’s his will. Never mind about the body count that will result spiritually and emotionally from your betrayed spouse and kids. Let’s have a ceremony and bless this thing, because now you’ve found out who you really are supposed to be with and we want you to feel affirmed and happy.”?

The point here isn’t about sex or sexual orientation. It’s about the Bible. Either the Bible is the Word of God and you should submit to it’s teachings or it isn’t. In the ELCA we say, er, used to say, that the “Bible is the norming norm for all matters of faith and life.” We used to call it the “final authority.” I guess that just went out the window. We just un-sinned sin. Having done that, what need do we have of a savior? Gosh, if God made people sinners I guess that’s his problem and not ours. So who needs Jesus anyway? He was a great teacher, but that whole dying on the cross thing? Overkill. Who needs that?

For a decade we’ve been fighting this fight. Everything that can be said has been said. We’ve listened and listened and listened. We’ve prayed. We’ve sought unity and reconciliation. We’ve repented, we’ve been challenged to examine our hearts again and again. We’ve done everything but be obedient to what the Bible teaches. It still boils down to whether or not we’re going to submit to Scripture as God’s words or not. If some congregations decide they will submit and others won’t, well, what is the point of that denomination?

More later. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

To see a response to the proposed ELCA Social Statement that mirrors my own thoughts, see:

To see the Proposed ELCA Social Statement on Sexuality, see:

To see what the proposed ELCA Social Statement means in practice, see:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What I Believe About the Church

1. I believe the local church is the hope of the world.
No one has the “words that give life”, the Gospel of life, the truth about Jesus, except us.
2. I believe the church is sustainable.
When we’re doing it right, there is enough to help the widows and orphans.
When we’re doing it right, people give to the church because it’s obviously of critical importance to them.
When we’re doing it right, there are enough people helping out that you can say “no” without feeling guilty.
3. I believe the church has a priceless treasure from God (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) stored in clay jars (us).
4. I believe the church is dynamic and not static.
Jesus himself equipped us to take his message to the world and while the message doesn’t change, the generations do and so does the way we present the message.
5. I believe the church is a warship and not a cruise ship.
Our struggle is spiritual and the forces of evil are arrayed against us.
Our job is not to make people feel happy and served but to make disciples who will in turn make disciples and so on until everything submits to Christ as Lord.
6. I believe the church is a mission outpost and not a family chapel.
We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ in a world that is hostile to him and therefore to us and not simply to carry on our own family traditions and cultural and ethnic practices.
7. I believe that God made every church to glorify him by being unique.
We are all part of one body but as a part we have different giftings and different functions.