An open letter regarding the withholding or diverting of giving to congregations of the ELCA as a way of expressing dissatisfaction.
The decision by the ELCA churchwide assembly to open the clergy roster to those who are in a committed, publicly accountable same sex relationship has for some church members been cause to celebrate, and for others it has been upsetting. In passing these decisions, the ELCA has made allowances for those who disagree, but some members have found these allowances insufficient. A group (of mostly pastors I believe) who met in Indianapolis in late September is now calling on those who disagree with these decisions to withhold their giving to their congregations, unless the congregations discontinue paying their benevolence assessment to synod. Whatever their purpose in suggesting this action, the effect of it is to threaten the church's most vulnerable ministries, and those who depend on them will be hurt.
When we give as Christians, we are giving of ourselves – our time and our financial resources – out of a sense that everything we have and everything we are is given to us from God. So we give back to God what is already God’s so that the love of Christ can be proclaimed through the ministry of the church. The money I give to my congregation pays for the ministry of the whole church: for the hospital visits, the food pantry, the worship services, the bread and wine of communion, the Sunday school, confirmation. Besides funding our local ministry, a portion is sent to the synod as benevolence. This benevolence pays for Lutheran Social Services’ work of feeding and helping those in need; it pays for synod staff such as the new outreach coordinator who is now working directly with the Wartburg Parish; it provides resources to keep struggling congregations open and serving their communities in places where the need is great but resources are few – such as Trinity Lutheran Church in Kankakee; it pays for the First Call continuing education program for new pastors. A portion is also sent on to the ELCA, where it pays for churchwide youth events, disaster response, new congregational start-ups, campus ministry, Lutheran World Relief, and on and on. The money I give to my congregation each week does all of this! And this is possible only because my congregation is a partner with both the Central/Southern Illinois Synod and the ELCA. To stop giving is to imperil these ministries and risk hurting the most vulnerable programs and people.
It has been suggested that people and congregations who are unhappy with church-wide decisions can channel their giving to those programs that they approve of and thereby have more money to contribute to those programs. But Christian giving is not like donating to charity or an arts organization, where it is appropriate to single out only those programs that appeal to us. Christian giving is Stewardship. It is involving ourselves in the whole ministry of Christ. And this includes working together to resolve disagreements as we continue our larger ministry. Look at the variety and scope of the ministries which are supported by congregational giving and benevolence. There is no way to reach out in that many directions except through the congregation.
To those of you who have been diverting your giving or have stopped it altogether: I would respectfully and humbly ask that you prayerfully reconsider this move. Please prayerfully reconsider your calling to support the ministry of Christ through your home congregation. We must all continue to respect each other's perspective on this critical issue and maintain an open heart as we move forward in exploring the sincere disagreement within our church. But the ministry of the church must not be suspended as we engage in this discussion, and it cannot continue, either on the local or broader level, without continued support from you, its members. I respect that you disagree with this decision, but I would also respectfully suggest that this is not the most effective way of registering that dissatisfaction, for what you are doing is hurting the ministry of the church and those who depend on these ministries on the local, synod, and national level. For my part, I am proud to be a pastor of the ELCA, proud to be a member of an ELCA congregation and honored to be able to give to my congregation so that my money is utilized in so many varied, important and wonderful ministries.
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