Thursday, November 5, 2009

An open letter regarding the withholding or diverting of giving to congregations of the ELCA as a way of expressing dissatisfaction.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I received a comment on this posting which, unfortunately, was sent anonymously. I do not post anonymous comments. However, I feel that the comment is worth a response so I quote it here, in its entirety, without editing it:

    "We (a small ELCA mission congregation) decided it best not to continue supporting generation of heretical social statements and actions we consider sinful. We took our treasure (Synod benevolence) and are giving it directly to missions, local charities and religious organizations without overhead expense. The direct contact with those in need has also inspired additional giving from the congregation to support those causes.

    Someone Who Respectfully Disagrees."

    I would like to make several comments. First, there is no reason to send these kinds of comments anonymously. We should be able to have an open dialog, and anonymous posts have the feel of a hit and run.

    2nd - I would respectfully suggest that Lutherans in particular should be very careful about throwing around the term "heretical." Who has the right to determine what is heretical and what isn't? Only those who are "right." But who is right? The Catholic church of the Middle Ages determined that Luther was a heretic and that Jan Hus and many others were. Hus was burned at the stake. Only the intercession of a reasonable prince prevented Luther from experiencing the same fate. Also the term "heretical" is usually used to address central issues of faith - like "Arianism." The issues at stake in the social statement on sexuality and in the CWA action I do not think rise to that level.

    Only God has the right to point an accusing finger and say - "sinner." It is not a sin to be born white, black, male, female, German, African, Asian, heterosexual or homosexual. And it is not a sin to act according to one's nature.

    So your small mission congregation has decided which mission projects are worthy of support and which are not. I would respectfully suggest that this is very small minded. Is the work of the ELCA Youth office filled with such overhead that you will not be using their materials or sending your youth to the next Youth event? What about the office of education? What about Lutheran world relief? And if you think you have found a mission project without overhead you are fooling yourself. What you are doing is cutting off your nose to spite your face. You are not hurting the ELCA - you are hurting yourself and the ministries which many, many depend on.

    Lastly, in Galatians Paul recounts some of the details of a very intense disagreement with Peter. This was a disagreement of vital importance because it concerned the shape of the ministry to the Gentiles. It also touched on issues of Jewish self-understanding and identity. Namely these were issues concerning circumcision and dietary laws. In the scheme of things, they were much more important than CWA. Paul condemns Peter in harsh language. And I suspect that folks on the other side felt pretty strongly about this as well. Well, which of these is the heretic? Peter or Paul? Which of them is the sinner and not a real christian?

    You might have thought that Paul would have cut off all contact with Peter and James and the Jerusalem faction. That is, after all, what the faithful Christians of Lutheran CORE seem to think is appropriate in this case facing our church. But what did Paul do? Well, when famine befalls the Christians in Jerusalem, at least some of whom seem to have been on Peter's side of this conflict, Paul spends no small amount of political capital to get churches he founded to take up a collection for their sisters and brothers in Christ in Jerusalem.

    I think there is a lesson in this. I feel that with-holding benevolence is very short-sided and misguided. And clergy who advocate for this I feel are being disingenuous and irresponsible.
    With all due respect. SBD+