Thursday, October 29, 2009

Requiem for a Relationship

Our congregation voted last Sunday to leave the ELCA. 85.5% of those who voted wanted to go. It should be noted that another congregation in Waukee, IA also voted to leave on the same day and that the week prior, a church in Fontanelle, IA also voted to leave. We aren’t going alone. And I hear they are more to follow.

I was very proud of our congregation. There was no cheering, no clapping after the results of the vote were announced. We had a prayer and dismissed the meeting. People who wanted to go made an effort to comfort those they knew wanted to stay. The end was full of grace. My attention is now focused on trying to minister to those members who are disheartened by the result of the vote. Some of them will eventually leave our congregation. It’s heartbreaking. Some of them have been here for years and years and invested themselves in our ministry, in friendships and relationships.

Immediately after the vote, I kept fighting back tears. I wanted to get to my office and just ball. But people needed things and they wanted to talk. By the time I did get to my office, about 45 minutes later, I had no tears.

I have a variety of emotions. I’m pleased with the vote because I feel the congregation stood on the word of God. I’m saddened by the rending of people’s lives that will result. Quite frankly, there was no way to avoid this. Because if the vote had been different, it just would have been different people leaving and grieving. And I’m angry. Angry with the institution and establishment that brought this forward when 57% of respondents told them they were strongly opposed to the course of action that led to the current situation in the ELCA. I’m angry at the bishops and lay leaders who let the vote go forward, always keeping their opinions private, and shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We have to proceed. It’s the will of the church.” Rubbish.

We tried to avoid all of this. We played by all the rules.
Our congregation was kept informed of every action at Synod and church wide assemblies.
We did our study group and sent back our info regarding all the various sexuality studies.
We went to local conference meetings and stated our opinions and “engaged in the conversation.”
We sought to elect delegates to Synod and Churchwide Assembly. We were always defeated.
We sent out letters and e-mails to pastors, council presidents and churches, asking them to join us in our opposition.
We brought in speakers and invited local congregations.
We enlisted the help of national organizations.
We kept informing the bishop of our dissent.

But in the end, all our efforts locally and nationally failed.

We are not people filled with hate or anger although that is how we will undoubtedly be characterized. We have been called names and have suffered much from those who disagreed with us.

We are not poor losers. We did what we were supposed to do and we played by the rules. We fought the good fight. We engaged the issues. We are people who are certain that the word of God is clear about marriage and sexuality and who know that you can’t take away the requirement to repent and believe from the gospel of Christ.

We are not being chased out. We are leaving on our own. Heads held high.
We have not left historic Lutheranism. We still hold to the ideals and teachings of the Lutheran Church which has always taught about law and gospel, the centrality of Scripture in everything, and the need for daily repentance and amendment of life.

Finally, I want to congratulate our congregation for making a stand on what is and what isn’t God’s word and for having the courage to leave our denomination because of it.  It is my belief that by doing so, you stand with the likes of Jesus, Peter James John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Iraneaus, Augustine, Luther, and your Grandparents and parents.  Those who sought to elevate human reason over the word of God in this matter stand with Bishop Spong and the Jesus Seminar.

Who is the Jesus Seminar?  Exactly.  And if you know or care today who the Jesus Seminar is, know that your kids or grandkids will one day ask:  “Huh?  Who were they?  Never heard of them.”  Because everyone who has tried to change the word of God before is dead and forgotten.  Jesus is alive.  The Bible remains and his word goes out and lives are continually changed and people are healed and transformed.  All because they hear the call of Christ, “Repent and believe.”

I know that some of you who read this blog have been doing so because you have found some comfort in the arguments which have been made for leaving the ELCA. I have been overwhelmed by the positive response in e-mails and phone calls. God bless you all. If I can encourage you as you struggle with all the complex issues surrounding these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

For those of you who have been following because you are angry, please forgive me. I am only living out and speaking what I understand about Scripture. May you find peace with God.

Now it’s time now for us to start talking about the future. And what life looks like in a new world, with a clean slate. Mission is there. And we embrace the opportunity. Thanks for reading. PJ


  1. As lifelong Lutheran who's read the Bible from cover to cover, I'm disappointed that Zion Lutheran Church has made a public statement that our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters in Christ are second-class citizens.

    This is a form of misguided religious bigotry. For how many years did the church in the South use the Bible to justify slavery? For how many years has the Bible been used to justify treating women as second-class citizens?

    The post includes a laundry list of things Zion did to play by the "rules." Did anyone actually take the time to engage in respectful dialogue with LGBT Christians? It doesn't appear so.

    I don't think that the members of Zion are bad people. I don't wish ill on anyone. I just thing that the leadership and the congregation is misguided and blind to its ways.

  2. Dear Anonymous -

    When you repent of the phrase "misguided religious bigotry" and the hypocrisy of then demanding "respectful dialogue," we will start listening to you again.

  3. I am not a Lutheran, but we have Lutheran neighbors and friends in the ELCA churches. My heart goes out to all of you, and I want to say this: Standing up for truth and righteousness is so very hard. This fight was not just in the ELCA. People everywhere are watching to see what you'd do.

    What I am is a Christian. A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, Sovereign God Almighty and His teachings. He makes the rules. We don't. We may think we can, but we cannot. We may think in this modern society things change. He doesn't change. His word doesn't change. And it is level ground at the foot of the cross for sinners. That, my friends, is every human being. He created us, He gave us a manual to live by, and when we don't live by His standards, we fall as an individual, a family, a community and a nation. The good news is, He came because of His incredible love for us. He wants to set us captives free from the slavery of sin.
    May God bless you abundantly.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    If you think in terms of first-class and second-class, then the first-class is Jesus Christ, and the second-class is everyone else. Only Jesus Christ is perfect and without sin. The rest of us have sinned against God and cannot be with a holy God.

    The good news is that we can receive Jesus’ perfection and come near God through faith. It is by God’s grace. We each need to examine our own faith. That is the difference that I perceive.

    Love, Bryan

  5. There is a first-class citizen and he is Jesus Christ. All of the rest of us are second-class citizens. All of the rest of us are sinners and unable to love God with our whole heart. God is holy and we are not able to be with him in our fallen state.

    The good news is that we may receive Jesus' righteousness by faith. It is by God's grace. We all need to exam our own faith against the standard that God has given us.

  6. Please forgive me for my double entry. I am new to blogging and I did not think my first entry went through. For clarification, I was addressing the first anonymous and I agree with the second anonymous.

    I am not Lutheran. I am not a member of Zion. I am struggling with obedience like every other Christian. It is the way. My desire is to obey him and I think it is a necessary component of faith.

  7. john- your thoughts and guidance in this issue are solid. thank you.

    you identify that lutheranism is "about law and gospel, the centrality of Scripture in everything, and the need for daily repentance and amendment of life." for these reasons i remain a lutheran. as the elca has departed from these core theological platforms it is time to refocus and reform.

    as time passes what i am left with is scripture. while not always comfortable it is lessons such as we have recently experienced that force us to the core of who we are. we are a people of "the book." we are followers of jesus-the christ, lord, savior, and yes...god.

    our prime unity is found in him. it is the written revelation that we count on as the norm for life. it is extremely difficult to decide when our christian brother's and sister's action/inaction rise to the level of apostasy. it is at this point that doing mission together no longer remains viable.

    the split is tragic. not because there is no one else to do mission with but because sin has triumphed in causing people to stumble in their walk with god. the split is magnificent. not because one side is right and one side is wrong in the competitive sense but because there is evidence that the struggle for what is righteous before god is still being pursued above maintaining man-made organizations.

    what remains is the love of god. the promises and grace of god remain in full effect. the call of god remains the same--go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. and the expectation and empowerment of holy living remains in effect- be holy as i am holy.

    we will move forward both as people and as the church with the gifts of god--faith, grace, love, humility, and righteousness.

  8. 1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ESV

    Why do Christians disagree about homosexuality in the church? It comes down to unstated presumptions. Do we believe what God tells us or do we believe what man tells us?

    If we believe God, the homosexual will not inherit the kingdom of God. They will not receive salvation. This is the most important issue in a person’s life. Homosexuals are unrighteous. They are in the same category as the sexual immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers.

    If we believe man, we believe that people are homosexual in their nature and that their nature should always be that way. Man is teaching that we should not try to change them, but accept them as they are. Man has not always believed this. This belief cannot be proven scientifically and there is evidence that people can change their sexual desire. Science, medicine and education have gone beyond what can be studied with controlled observation in order to promote political and social agendas.

    There is some truth in man’s belief about homosexuality. There are some people who have this trial. There are some people who have a genetic and situational predisposition for homosexuality. By their own power they cannot change or do not want to change. We all have genetic and situational predisposition for different sins. Again, by our power, we cannot or do not want to change.

    God says that he can change us by his grace. He can change us by the power of his word and by his Spirit. This change is often in degrees and is often not complete until we are glorified and our sin nature is completely dead.

    Salvation belongs to God. He has shared with us his promises. We should not go to man for the things that belong to God. Why believe someone who sets themselves up against the word of God?

    It is unloving to deceive people that they are in the kingdom when they are not. They will go to hell. It is loving to tell the people the truth. Some will believe, repent and be saved and some will not.

  9. I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and the actions of the Church Wide Assembly went counter to that. If you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, but still feel that Zion made a mistake in the vote, then the discussion needs to be based in scripture. Show how the scriptures support sex outside of the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. I haven't seen where scriptures support a view other than this.

    If you do not believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then the discussion should probably start there. To label Zion's actions as religious bigotry does not show respect or tollerance for our beliefs either. There is a lot of evidence to prove that the Bible is God's Word and I also believe God is mighty and powerful enough to provide us His Word in such a way that it is without error. It is true, people have used the Bible to justify many bad things throught the course of history. That doesn't make the Bible wrong though, it just means people are wrong and using it wrong.

    We are all sinful people in need of a savior. Jesus Christ is that Savior. He tells us to repent from our sins and follow Him. If we deliberately and knowingly sin, there is no repentance. God loves everyone and wants all people to come to Him. As the Creator, He wrote the rules. Everyone has sins that are a bigger struggles for them than others. Whether we think it's fair or not, it's what God decided and He makes the rules.

  10. Let’s be clear: God is in control and we are definitely not. Amazing things have been happening and we will continue to try and respond faithfully to what we believe is a move of God. We also understand that having a holy ambition is a good thing. So, here are some of the things we think might happen (but only if God wants them):
    1. God wants us to recognize we are all created in His image.
    2. As Lutherans we believe we are called to be pastors.
    3. When God has created a Gay pastor, are we to turn our backs on them?

    by the way, the first paragraph is directly from your current blog.