Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Confession for Remaining Traditionalists in the ELCA

I have been very critical of the services conducted in San Francisco and in St. Paul for the reception of those previously ordained by the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The center of my criticism has been on changes made in the liturgies (outside of the Rite of Reception itself) that remove all language such as "Lord" and "King", changes the wording of the Eucharistic dialog (the sursum corda) and Eucharistic prayer, offers "alternative" wordings for the Lord's Prayer in order to address the prayer to "our Mother", and the questionable use of some hymns. One of the liturgical elements that has upset me the most has been the wording of the confession that has come at the beginning of these services.

I have (and do) accuse these confessions as being written to confess the sins of others, rather than the sins of those gathered in those worship settings. In particular, I have written elsewhere that these confessions are more in the way of accusations against those such as myself, those who reject the 2009 CWA decisions and who continue to uphold the traditional Christian interpretation that same-gender sexual acts are sinful even when they are restricted to monogamous relationships. I am particularly concerned with the words of the confession used at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco, the site of the first such service that was held by the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA.

But I am also able to give self-critique. I am indeed guilty of sin, and have need for confession. Through the long course of these matters being debated and disputed in the ELCA, I have at times spoken and written immoderately; and I have also learned much from others, including those whose views I oppose.

It is in that spirit that I offer this, a rite of confession for those of us remaining traditionalists, those of us still in the ELCA who continue to oppose last year's churchwide assembly decisions and the implementation of them that is occuring now. This is a sincere effort on my part to begin a process of being honest about my own sins, failures, and transgressions committed, especially against those who have been and still are a persecuted group in our society: those whose sexual orientation is other than clearly heterosexual. I owe a debt to the writers of the confession used at St. Mark's, as I have taken their framework and words and re-worked them. So here I offer my contribution to the ongoing debate in this churchbody:

A Confession for Remaining Traditionalists.

Pause for reflection and confession.

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friends in Christ, as we gather, we seek to speak the truth of the difficulties we have witnessed in our church.
Our church of the reformation has been too long captive to bias and misinformation.
We have not remembered the life giving words of our own Confessions.

We have not respected the gift of sexuality, nor the joy, delight and vulnerability sexual intimacy creates between husband and wife.

We have not honored faithful and loving promises, marriages, and the gift and responsibility of children.

We have not reached out to those struggling with their sexual orientation with the life-giving assurance that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We have not acted quickly enough for some who have died and have not made it to this day.

We have not accorded all families with the dignity and respect they deserve.
We have not spoken up.

We have betrayed fellow members of the body of Christ because of cultural prejudice.
We have misused Scripture as a tool that we could manipulate and emend at will.
We have forced celibacy upon some, without supporting all in their vocation to faithful chastity whether single or married.
We have too often condemned the sinfulness of homosexual acts while remaining silent on the sinfulness of heterosexual acts: intercourse outside of the marriage bond; conception of children outside of marriage and the abandonment of such children by one or both parents, especially by abortion; and multiple divorces and remarriages.
We have ignored violent words and acts committed against our brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

We have encouraged silence and complicity.

We have promoted invisibility and dishonesty.

We have hardened our hearts with bitterness and despair.

Our actions have destroyed faith and have led people away from the gospel's call to repentence as the kingdom of God draws near.

(A bell is rung. A shofar is blown. Silence is kept.)

(Absolution is proclaimed in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Water is poured into the font.)

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

Do not fear, for I am with you; I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,... Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Through Christ, God has indeed done a new thing and is continually doing a new thing through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Shower us with your Holy Spirit. Renew our lives, and our life as your people, with your forgiveness, grace and love.


(This was the rite of confession and absolution used at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco, in the service of Reception to the ELCA Roster, found here: I post it here in order to give credit to the source of my own work.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Warning from the East

This is a sobering presentation from the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Moscow Patriarchate . He was speaking in Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowen Williams, the primate of the Church of England and leader of the Anglican Communion. The occasion was the Nicean Club, which has been dedicated to furthering relations between the Anglican Church and the Eastern Orthodox. For him to say what he said on such an occasion took courage, but I believe it also came from a desire to call the leaders of the Church of England to a full awareness of the dangers of this time for the Church. Indeed, this is the kind of warning that speaks to all of us, including those of us in the ELCA. Our divisions are not some localized anomalie. All of Christianity is involved in this growing division amongst us. Read the Metropolitan's words, and pray over their meaning and warning for all of us.
(And yes, I have read his words regarding the ordination of women. I encourage us to read them also. Can we, can I defend the decision to ordain women from Scripture? And if I were asked to forgo my own ordination and wait for the consensus of the whole Church to decide that this was the time to introduce the ordination of women, to truly act as a member of an interrelated body rather than as an autonomous independent unit acting alone, would I be willing to wait in service to those other members of the Body of Christ? It is a question worth pondering, and answering honestly.)


At the time of the Council of Nicaea, the Church was united in East and West. But at the present time, there is a multitude of communities each of which claims to be a church even though approaches to doctrinal, ecclesiological and ethical issues among them often differ radically.

Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to speak of ‘Christianity’ as a unified scale of spiritual and moral values, universally adopted by all Christians. It is more appropriate, rather, to speak of ‘Christianities’, that is, different versions of Christianity espoused by diverse communities.

All current versions of Christianity can be very conditionally divided into two major groups – traditional and liberal. The abyss that exists today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the ‘traditionalists’ from the ‘liberals’. Some Christian leaders, for example, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way of building a Christian family: there are other models and the Church should become appropriately ‘inclusive’ to recognize alternative behavioural standards and give them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value; that it can be terminated in a mother’s womb or that one can terminate one’s life at will. Christian ‘traditionalists’ are being asked to reconsider their views under the slogan of keeping abreast with modernity.

. . . Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture. . .

What can these churches say to their faithful and to secular society? What kind of light do they shine upon the world (cf. Mt. 5:14)? What is their ‘salt’? I am afraid the words of Christ can be applied to them: If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (Mt. 5:13).

We are aware of the arguments used by proponents of the above-mentioned liberal innovations. Tradition is no authority for them. They believe that to make the words of Holy Scripture applicable to modernity they have to be ‘actualized’, that is, reviewed and interpreted in an appropriate, ‘modern’ spirit. Holy Tradition is understood as an opportunity for the Church to be continually reformed and renewed and to think critically.

The Orthodox, however, have a different understanding of Holy Tradition. It is aptly expressed in the words of Vladimir Lossky: ‘Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church – the life giving to every member of the Body of Christ the ability to hear, accept and know the Truth in its inherent shining, not in the natural light of human reason’.

Read the entire piece here:

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Gift of Being Found

1 Timothy 1:12-17 & Luke 15:1-10

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Who here sees themselves as being one of “the lost?” Who sees themselves as being one of the found? Who sees themselves as the one who goes looking for what is lost, the good shepherd or the woman with the lamp and the broom, searching for the lost sheep and the lost coin? And who sees themselves as among those who stay where they are supposed to, who never go wandering and never look to greener pastures for excitement?

It is not unusual, when hearing these parables of Jesus, to try to place ourselves somewhere in them, to find our own fit, our role in those stories. But perhaps the question that really needs to be asked is this: who sees themselves as being the one who repents, in fact whose repentance is so great that the angels themselves rejoice wildly over us and our repentance?

Hmmmm.. . .not sure we want to claim that honor. For to be one that the angels rejoice over, means claiming the name of “sinner.” To repent usually means having done something wrong, something one needs to repent of. Straying sheep and coins that roll under the furniture aren’t usually thought of as having done something wrong. Repentance, however, more than implies that: it actually requires it.

Do I want the angels in heaven to rejoice over me? Yes, of course -- but as long as my repentance is on my terms. Can’t it be something I control, something I measure out in reasonable doses? Under those kind of terms, repentance needn’t be such a big deal. It sounds more like the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that has as its first stanza these lines:

I had a little sorrow born of a little sin.

I found a room all dark with gloom and locked us all within.

And “little sorrow, weep!” said I.

“And little sin, lay down to die,

and I upon the floor will lie

and think how bad I’ve been!”

If all repentance has to be is my dredging up some nice guilty feelings, perhaps some remorse, for my little, manageable sins, well, I can do that every once in a while. After all, isn’t that enough? Why would God need more than that?

But what if I am lost? What if all of us nice people sitting here on a Sunday morning, what if our real condition is that, each of us, is really, truly, hopelessly lost?

Paul was lost. Listen again to the words he uses to describe himself to Timothy: “even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” Paul doesn’t know he is lost, of course. He is certain that he is about the Lord’s work, as he terrorizes his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. A man of violence: followers of Jesus fear him, with good reason; he has authority to haul them away in chains; he is shown at the scene of the murder of Stephen, and consenting to his death by mob violence. That is what is really happening in the 7th chapter of Acts. Paul is a perfect example of what the author Christopher Hitchens describes in his book, “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”, where Hitchens insists that religions are dangerous as the prime instigator of horrible and deadly violence all in the name of God. Paul thinks he is doing good.

Paul doesn’t know he is lost until Jesus shows up in front of him. Jesus comes and seeks him, and carries him home again, which is a place Paul doesn’t even realize he has left until he is brought to the realization of how far away he had wandered. Paul couldn’t have gotten back by himself; if Jesus hadn’t shown up, looking for him, Paul never would have repented of his blasphemy and violence because he never would have realized that he was committing blasphemy and violence! Repentance isn’t something Paul decides to do; it is something Jesus confronts him with, as he opens Paul’s eyes to see how far away from God Paul had actually gone.

How frightening it is to realize how far we can get away from God without even knowing it! In fact, even as we make our plans for how to reach others who we identify as lost, we ourselves might be going farther and farther away from God. How can we know? What can possibly come along to help us?

It is only that Jesus, the good shepherd, comes out looking for us, to find us in our ignorance and well-meaning destructive ways and bring us to a sense of reality, and bring us back home. In doing so, Jesus brings us to the knowledge that we must repent; our lives depend on it, to keep going in our own way is to go in the way of certain death. But that repentance comes from God, as the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of life in Jesus’ name and “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us” so that repenting comes as joy and relief, not shame.

And having received the gift of being found, and knowing the welcome of God in being carried into repentance and new life, like Paul we then are eager to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to find others who are lost, just like us, that they might be brought home, and know the joy of welcome, just as we have known it for ourselves.

Is that what church is supposed to be like: seeking and being sought, being welcomed in joy and in turn welcoming others in joy? Knowing that we are what God has been looking for, and that his face lights up when he finds us? And that God’s joy is reflected in our faces, whenever we see his other children, and turn the light on to guide them home? Can’t you hear the cries of the angels now, as they rejoice for you, and me, and for the world we are sent into?