Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ELCA 2009 Churchwide Assembly –Day 1 in the Books

Wednesday I'm driving up to Minneapolis for a couple of days to observe the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. That's my church body's decision making gathering that happens every three years. I was a voting member back in 1993 when it was in Kansas City and our big decision was whether or not to adopt a 3 fold (Bishop-Pastor-Deacon) ministry structure. The most frustrating part of that was that I could not get anyone to give me a straight answer to either of two questions -a) just what is the difference between an Associate in Ministry (lay ministers we have now) and a deacon, and what difference it would changing our structure make? Since then lots of people have given me answers but they've all been different and contradicted each other so I'm still not sorry I voted against it.

Of course the big decision laying over voting members this year in Minneapolis is whether or not to recognize same sex marriage and to allow ordained pastors who are in life-long monogamous same sex relationships. Oh and there's a sexuality social statement that basically says, "We don't know for sure about this" (And don't get me wrong, I happen to think that is a fine stance to take on most issues)

I'm looking forward to going up, getting a little time away and meeting folks I have gotten to know through the internet. But really, I could stay home and watch it on live feed like I did for the first plenary session last night. It was really fun to watch it and read commentary and tweet my own commentary on Twitter. Gotta love modern technology.

Last night what would normally be a routine rather boring discussion of rules became quite important for setting the stage for Friday's vote on the ministry recommendations. According to the rules that we have used for every other meeting, social statements require a so-called "Super Majority" of 2/3. Policy recommendations require only a simple majority. This is the way it has always been. This is not a plot to take over the world by a simple majority. The motion to ordain women did not take place through a simple majority. The rule is so important that it would require a 2/3 majority to change it.

So the motion was to change the rules and require a super majority to pass any of the policy recommendations to recognize same sex marriage or to ordain pastors who are in same sex relationships.

When I first heard about this, honestly I thought it was a good idea. I was thinking along the terms of my bishop. The bishops recommended the Church Council implement this rule change, because according to what my bishop said, anything this divisive would just go over better if it was passed overwhelmingly. My bishop is a very reasonable man, who is bishop in a conservative synod and is trying to keep us all together. He's not trying to manipulate the rules to get his way.

Unfortunately it has become clear to me that most people advocating this super majority rule change are more in the latter category. One of my tweets was "So if the recommendations pass with a super-majority you who oppose them will be okay and willing to go along with the will of the church?" One person said yes. One said he'd know then that he should leave the church. And someone else said something about thwarting the hopes and dreams of the church with dishonesty. Huh?

As I was watching the discussion go on way too long I was beginning to regret my decision to actually be there when the vote takes place on the policy recommendations. I forgot how much it annoys me how some people just feel like they HAVE to go to the mike even though they are not saying anything either new or profound. The arguments about the need for a super majority so that we could speak with "one voice" and have unity just did not ring true with me.

This is going to be a divisive decision, regardless of how it goes or how it is passed. A super majority is not going to make the losing side happy. And I'm tired of hearing all this angst about the "angry people in the pews" who are going to take their marbles and go home if we decide to recognize God's call to gay people in committed relationships. (Actually we are not even voting to do that – we are voting to be willing to abide in the same church with those who do and those who don't) What about the people who have left already because of the way we do things now? What about all the congregations who have been excluded from full participation in the ELCA because they like their gay non-celibate pastor very much and are quietly without any whining just going about the work of God, many of them even sending financial support to the mission of the ELCA? Are they less important?

Anyway the super majority motion lost. I have a feeling their will be more procedural attempts to get in the way of the vote on the policy recommendations. I also have a feeling the assembly will not have any of it.


  1. Even though I know we are on different sides of this issue I appreciated our discussion last night on Twitter. If the policy changes pass I will not be one those who "take their marbles and go home", but rather continue to serve in Christ's church. For me...when I consider that less than .1% of the ELCA membership is making a discion like this for the rest of the church I get a little nervous that only 50% + 1 is needed for a change. Does a super maority make that much more of a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Do I have a better idea...not right now. All I know is that no matter what happens, people are going to be angry thus the ELCA will have a lot of work to do. I just hope we can focus on the Gospel and mission for once.

    God bless you as you attend the cwa. I look forward to more insight from you.

  2. I am reminded of when the Church of England voted to ordain women - I was, back then, still a member, and we had a woman deacon.... I couldn't stay up in the garden at Church House while waiting for the count, it was just too emotionally draining. I came home - and both my daughter (then aged about 12) and I burst into floods of tears when the news came through. And our then deacon's subsequent ordination was a tremendous affirmation of my own ministry as a local preacher.

  3. I was listening to a political discussion last week where the political scientist stated that when a super majority needed, the minority actually rules, ie 33% + 1 can determine what is passed.

  4. Or: if people are really listening to the call of God in any issue, would God speak to all the people with the same info? So the vote would be unanimous, except for those people who don't pray very well. Just a snarky thought.

  5. Thanks for the description. I've been on vacation, and not following the lead-up or initial events. As usual, you and I think alike on the subject. I'm planning to steal a chunk of your post for my blog, if you don't mind.

  6. Oh I'm always flattered to be quoted by the likes of you, Father...not sure I said anything that great...though.