Monday, September 14, 2009

Pastoral Letter - Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009 – Holy Cross Day
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ at Peace Lutheran Church,
I am writing to you to address some of the concerns that some have expressed regarding the actions taken at the ELCA national assembly in August.
The actions themselves are as follows:
1. The Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted by 2/3 of the assembly.
2. The church affirmed that in the future implementation of any changes and commitments adopted, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all. This means that nothing will be imposed on any synod or congregation that go against its understanding and will.
3. This resolution committed the church to finding ways “to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
4. The assembly was asked whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church.
5. The last resolution outlined the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. Again, this means that we are respectful of each other and differences of understanding.

A couple comments and clarifications:
1. I think it is very important to note that the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was about more than homosexuality. It covered a full range of topics – including marital fidelity, sexual abuse and sexual slavery. These are topics that the church needs to speak out about, and about which there really should not be much disagreement.
2. It is also important to be reminded that the ELCA, along with many other denominations, have been ordaining gays and lesbians to serve as pastors for years. However, the expectation was that those whose self-understanding was gay or lesbian were expected to remain celibate. This has been the policy of the ELCA up until this assembly at least since the ELCA was constituted. The only thing that will change is that now a gay or lesbian pastor may enter into a committed, monogamous relationship and still be available to serve as a pastor if approved by a synod and if properly called by a congregation.
3. The resolutions make it very clear that nothing will be imposed on congregations or synods that disagree in part or on the whole. Bishops are to use pastoral discretion and congregations will be free to choose to call or not call any pastor presented to them during the call process.
4. I do not expect there will be much change for us here in Southern Illinois. There will be no immediate affect of these actions on the congregations of Southern Illinois and I suspect this is also true for of our Synod (see the attached email from Bishop Freiheit).

Personal reflection:
I have deep respect for the feelings and convictions of people on both sides of this issue. There is a strong feeling among some that this action goes against biblical understandings of marriage and sexuality. This is not a position that can be ignored and is an important concern which I deeply respect. At the same time folks on the other side of the argument point to the fact that the biblical injunctions are not always clear and that they are few and far between (there are only 7 verses that even remotely refer to this issue, and this is out of 66 books – far fewer verses than other issues such as heterosexual adultery and poverty.)
As your new pastor I would ask only that you prayerfully keep an open mind. Please do not pre-judge this issue or rush to conclusions. There is so much, especially in the media, that paints an incorrect picture of what it means to be gay and what the decisions of the ELCA assembly will mean. For example, it is not true that gays are predominantly pedophiles or child molesters; it is not true that gays are sexually irresponsible as a group. There are some who fall into all of these categories – just as there are heterosexuals who fall into these categories. My view is that these decisions will have no impact on us here in Steeleville at all for a very long time to come.

Please resist the temptation to over-react or to respond in a unilateral way. We only hurt ourselves when we do this. Leaving the congregation or withholding and diverting contributions are simply not helpful or appropriate ways of responding to this ELCA action. The only ones who will be hurt by doing this are those who are engaged in ministry here in this parish of Peace Lutheran Church. A better way is to remain engaged in dialog with the ELCA. You can call the ELCA or attend one the forums that are being planned. Also, we all need to be open to dialog and to learning. None of us have a complete and fully “correct” understanding of this issue. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of thinking we are right and we have all the answers.

Finally, let us look to our Lord Jesus for guidance. When asked what rule or law was the most important Jesus was unambiguous: “Love the Lord your God, with all your mind and with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is what we are called to. We are called to love. We can debate and struggle with each other on various issues, we can disagree – but in the end we are to love each other and be willing to reach out of ourselves to love those who are different from us. This is our calling. It is up to God to judge – it is up to us to love. And we are called to trust: trust in the Lord to preserve and keep us and our beloved church through every storm. God has kept the church and sustained the church through all kinds of things in the last 2000 years. I believe that God will continue to keep us all in his hands; to strengthen, feed and sustain us through this and all future struggles. This is the promise of the Gospel:
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!
Pastor S. Blake Duncan+

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