February 23, 2007
Conflict in ELCIC Congregations Concerning Two Theologies
A SITUATION ANALYSIS by Dr. Lothar Schwabe
Two different theologies are facing each other in the ELCIC. These different theologies are commonly labelled as the "Traditional Lutheran Theology" and the "New Theology" or "Emerging Theology".
This situation analysis only deals with the processes at work in dealing with the different theologies. It does not address the nature of the two different theologies.
There are four conflict scenarios which result in a different impact on a congregation.
1. The pastoral leadership and the majority of their congregation are united in supporting the "New Theology".
Such a situation leads to no major conflict in a congregation. The dissenting minority will simply accept the change or leave the congregation.
2. The pastoral leadership and the majority of their congregation are united in opposing the "New Theology".
Such a situation leads to no major conflict in a congregation, The dissenting minority will simply accept the change or leave the congregation.
3. The pastoral leadership and the majority of the congregation are divided concerning the "New Theology". The pastoral leadership is opposing the "New Theology" while the majority of the congregation is supporting it.
There are no known cases in the ELCIC where the congregation supports the "New Theology" while the pastoral leadership opposes it.
4. The pastoral leadership and the majority of the congregation are divided concerning the "New Theology". The pastoral leadership is supporting the "New Theology" while the majority of the congregation is opposing it.
There are a number of such cases in the ELCIC. In this situation the pastoral leadership faces a dilemma. If the pastoral leadership openly promotes the "New Theology" the result will be a loss of trust in the pastoral leadership and a possible parting of ways.
How then will the pastoral leadership achieve its goal of moving the majority of the congregation to accept the "New Theology"? In such a situation thestrategy most commonly employed by the pastoral leadership consists of the following.
1. Find a small group of members in whom they can confide and who will support their goal to get the majority of the congregation to accept the "New Theology".
2. Initially refrain from revealing their commitment to implement the "New Theology". When questioned about their theological conviction, respond with vague answers.
3. Introduce small elements of the "New Theology" in sermons that causes the congregation to take note without causing a major negative reaction.
4. Suppress the voices of any members who insist that they still want to believe what they believed 10 years ago and 20 or 40 years ago.
5. Give visibility to those voices that support the achievement of the goal to move the congregation away from the "Traditional Lutheran Theology" and to the "New Theology" and its practical implications.
6. Prevent any information from getting into the congregation that informs about movements in the ELCIC that strongly oppose the change from the "Traditional Lutheran Theology" to the "New Theology".
7. Use the position power of the pastoral ministry and the personal trust of members in their pastors to create tolerance for the acceptance of the "New Theology".
8. Avoid and suppress any movement in the congregation that would want to discuss the theological issues out in the open.
9. Before engaging in a major drive to promote the "New Theology" wait until the National Convention has made a decision in which a majority of delegates support implementing practices that are based on the "New Theology" such as the blessing of same-sex couples or, subsequently, the ordination of practicing homosexuals as pastors.
10. Emphasize the acceptance of diversity in the church and link such acceptance to the concept of Christian love.
11. Emphasize the reality of societal changes while downplaying classical Lutheran Theology and the reference to Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions in Article II of the congregational constitution.
12. Count on the majority of members accepting the "New Theology" and its practical implications for these reasons:
a. Members know how hard it is to get a new pastor and will therefore tolerate the new trend.
b. The social ties among members and the loyalty to the congregation will override any major opposition.
c. Members are afraid of conflict in the congregation and will do anything to avoid it.
d. Count on attrition by death of older members who tend to oppose the "New Theology" and its practical implications and being replaced by young members who tend to be accepting of a liberal theology.
The hoped-for result of the strategy described above is that the loss of members and financial support will be minimized and have no major impact on the congregation.
It is my opinion that a strategy, such as the one described above, is incongruent with the Christian tradition. There is no evidence of Jesus or Paul or any of the early followers of Jesus ever employing such a strategy. It is not in the tradition of the Lutheran Church. Luther and the Reformers brought the issues out in the open and had them discussed publicly. They wrote documents to publicly declare where they stood. A free and open process has the best potential for congregational harmony and unity.
Note: The author has over 30 years of professional experience in dealing with conflict situations including congregational conflicts.