Luther Rose stained glass 2For more on the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, click here.

Regular readers of Churchmouse Campanologist know that this blog supports orthodoxy and ecumenism.  Over the past few weeks, it has looked at how the Social Gospel has become all-powerful in both the Catholic and Protestant circles, including — perhaps especially — among the hierarchy. 

Clergy at all levels are increasingly guilty of falling prey to appeasement.  The secular world wants something, so we Christians must give in.  Two thousand years of Holy Scripture are suddenly bunk!  ‘Oh, that wasn’t really Jesus talking’ or ”That stuff is so old!  It’s time to move on!’

Woe betide the Christian who disagrees.  He becomes an outcast in his own congregation and denomination.  Orthodoxy is so yesterday.  Society is where the action is. 

As we move deeper into secular appeasement, we travel further from God’s Word.  Everything becomes relative.  Hey, if you like it, do it.  Hence, we make up all sorts of excuses for illicit sexual activity: it’s ‘normal’, ‘fun’, ‘natural’.  Never mind that it causes all manner of diseases: STDs, herpes, AIDS.  So, it has to be a non-spiritual force speaking within us when we Christians start saying we want to ordain people who actively disobey God. 

Robert Benne, the Director of the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society, was a delegate at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  He recently wrote an article for VirtueOnline entitled ‘ELCA: How Did We Come to This?‘  About the Social Statement on Sexuality that the Assembly adopted, he says (emphasis mine):

The Statement was firm and bold on issues that everyone agreed upon-the moral condemnation of promiscuity, pornography, sexual exploitation, etc. – but indecisive and vague about contested issues – co-habitation, premarital sex, the importance of the nuclear family, and, of course, homosexual conduct …

The church left the Great Tradition of moral teaching to identify with the United Church of Christ and the Episcopalians

‘There is nothing but the Social Gospel,’ shouted a voting member at the assembly. But that is certainly not Lutheran doctrine

But the ELCA has accepted the Social Gospel as its working theology even though its constitution has a marvelous statement of the classic Gospel. The liberating movements fueled by militant feminism, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-heterosexism, anti-imperialism, and now ecologism have been moved to the center while the classic Gospel and its missional imperatives have been pushed to the periphery.

Benne says that the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop, Mark S Hanson, ‘is fast becoming the charismatic leader of liberal Protestantism’.  And I theorise that he wants his place in future theology texts about early 21st century Christianity in the United States.  But there’s also a bit of the ‘aging guy wanting to be seen as a hipster’ about him.  It has to be an intimation of mortality to push this rubbish in place of the Gospel, which is what I would be thinking about if I were he. 

We have such lax morals today and such a guilt complex about our heritage that the combination of these two factors cause us to roll over and play dead.  Let everyone and their special interests run over us.  Do we think as Christians that people will actually respect us for that?  

This is especially crucial in the ELCA missions which, for a denomination (Lutheranism) emanating from a nation with no empire to speak of (Germany), are very healthy indeed.  But what would you think if a stranger met you for the first time and seemed to be full of self-loathing, then contradicted what he said about something they loved.  Imagine a missionary saying he loved the Word of God then explained that the Bible was open to interpretation on fundamental teachings about life and morality.  What must the missioned-to living outside the United States think?  Especially if their own nation’s laws forbid certain activities — like same-sex relationships, for one! 

Can’t the ELCA, Episcopalians and Congregationalists (United Church of Christ) see that people in the developing world live and obey in an orthodox way?  Why is it that we Westerners have fallen away from natural law and Biblical truth?  Lucky for the those outside the West that postmodernism has passed them by.  What a blessing!  Note that the minorities in the ELCA hoped the motion on sexuality would fail.  Who’s ignoring whom now?  The progressive do-gooders.

Benne explains the flawed thinking of the ELCA, which is representative of the way many Westerners also think:

The policies issuing from these liberationist themes are non-negotiable in the ELCA, which is compelling evidence that they are at the center. No one can dislodge the ELCA’s commitment to purge all masculine language about God from its speech and worship, to demur on the biblically normative status of the nuclear family, to refuse to put limits on abortion in its internal policies or to advocate publicly for pro-life policies, to press for left-wing public domestic and foreign policy, to replace evangelism abroad with dialog, to commit to ‘full inclusion’ of gays and lesbians at the expense of church unity and to buy in fully to the movement against global warming. Though it is dogmatic on these issues it is confused about something as important as the assessment of homosexual conduct. Yet, it acts anyway because of the pressure exerted by those who want to liberate church and society from heterosexism.

Yet, the ELCA exemplifies the radical thinking that came to fruition beginning in the late 1980s when it was founded.  Benne elaborates:

The ELCA has a particular history that has compounded these problems. The mid-80s planning stage of the ELCA was dramatically affected by a group of radicals who pressed liberationist (feminist, black, multiculturalist, gay) legislative initiatives right into the center of the ELCA structures. Among them was a quota system that skews every committee, council, task force, synod assembly, and national assembly toward the ‘progressive’ side. (There are quotas for representing specific groups in all the organized activity of the church. 60% must be lay, 50% must be women, 10% must be people of color or whose language is other than English. The losers, of course, are white male pastors; our Virginia delegation to the assembly, for example, had only one male pastor among its eight elected members.) Further, the prescribed structure distanced the 65 Bishops from the decision-making of the church. The Bishops have only influence, not power. (Aware of their divisiveness, the Bishops voted 44-14 to require a two thirds majority for the enactment of the Sexuality Task Force’s policy recommendations, but were ignored by both the Church Council and the Assembly.) Theologians were given no formal, ongoing, corporate role in setting the direction of the ELCA. They, too, were kept at a distance and actually viewed as one more competing interest group..

The radicals so decisive in the defining moments of the ELCA intended to smash the authority of the influential white male theologians and bishops who had informally kept both the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America on course. The radicals wanted many voices and perspectives, especially those of the ‘marginalized’, put forward in the ongoing deliberations of the ELCA. They were so successful that now after twenty years there is no authoritative biblical or theological guidance in the church. There are only many voices. The 2009 Assembly legitmated those many voices by adapting a ‘bound-conscience’ principle in which anyone claiming a sincerely-held conviction on about any doctrine must be respected. The truth of the Word of God has been reduced to sincerely-held opinion.

Hmm!  And what happened? 

What was truly chilling about the Assembly’s debates was that the revisionists seemed to quote Jesus and the Bible as knowledgeably and persuasively as the orthodox. Passages reinforcing their respective agendas were selected and then brilliantly woven into their arguments. Both sides seemed to have the Bible on their side. The revisionists ‘contextualized’ and relativized the relevant texts. The orthodox claimed a plain sense reading of Scripture. The Lutheran Confessions were utilized effectively by both sides. There was no authoritative interpretation conveyed by any agent or agency in the church. The church was and is rudderless.

Some of the devil’s best tricks!  It’s worth reading the entire piece. 

Moral of the story: don’t let the radicals and progressives get to you. Stand up for truth. Support what’s right.  Don’t be cowed, don’t appease and don’t give in!  Keep going and, more than ever, fight the good fight.