Saturday, August 6, 2011

A post-mortem: A delegate’s review of the July 14-17, 2011 ELCIC National convention

The decisions made at the 2011 ELCIC National convention marks a seismic and irreversible shift of ELCIC’s theological foundation. There was the re-election/election of a liberal, continually endorsed leadership. There was the endorsement of the proposal to begin the lengthy process of restructuring the ELCIC, to respond to present financial realities. However, most of the focus for the majority of the delegates at the convention was on the Social Statement on Human Sexuality, and the subsequent enabling motions to accept same gender relationships within the ELCIC.

* As observed by a number of speakers but vehemently denied by a member of the Task Force, a major but unstated goal during the past decade at national and Synodical conventions as well as within the Task Force on the Study and Statement on Human Sexuality seems to have been the advancement of the same gender agenda politically. And at the 2011 National Convention this carefully orchestrated goal was fully realized.

* During this past decade there had indeed been evidence of considerable dissent, particularly among the laity. But many of the dissenters were gradually marginalized. Through its elected and appointed positions, as well as its magazines, the ELCIC would ensure that only those voices who were supportive of the same gender agenda would receive church wide hearing.
* The Task Force attempted to persuade the delegates that the Statement was merely a "work in progress", admittedly imperfect but potentially alterable. But the introduction and adoption of the enabling motions showed their claim to be a false façade for the implementation of those decisions would result in a seismic and irreversible shift in the theology and practices of the ELCIC.

* Recognizing the profound and permanent impact of the changes, several speakers attempted to introduce a 2/3 requirement for their adoption. But those attempts failed to receive the necessary support.

* The delegates were informed by the Task Force that its members had read and considered each and every one of the submissions in response to the Study and the Statement, taking these responses into account in future revisions.

Those documents referenced a number of Scripture passages. The submissions by Solid Ground were among those who questioned the glaring absence of those Scripture passages which addressed homosexual directly (e.g. Leviticus 18:22; 20:18; Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Genesis chapters 1-2 was referenced only in the most general manner). 
The omissions were particularly troubling in light of Article II, Section 3, of the ELCIC Constitution which accords the Scriptures the ultimate authority in matters of faith and life. When a similar concern was raised on the convention floor, the members of the Task Force continued to avoid providing any explanation, leaving a distinct impression that those omissions had been deliberate. The huge disconnect between the political decision-making process and the Scriptures continued throughout the convention.

* The same gender proponents showed themselves to be extremely well organized and disciplined. They seemed to be well coached on the convention site politically.

* One of the speakers referred to the incident of the woman caught in adultery in John's Gospel (chapter 8). The speaker spoke about Jesus' comforting words of absolution, "Neither do I condemn you". However, the speaker then reminded the delegates of Jesus’ admonition which followed, "Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." (NRSV). The theme of repentance was strikingly absent in the convention deliberations.

* All agreed that God’s love is indeed universal and unconditional. The difference lies in radically differing understandings of human “love”.
The same gender proponents persistently lifted up their particular notion of human “love”, a “love” which seemed vague and theoretical and curiously condoned behaviour which is expressly condemned in the Scriptures. 
On the other hand, those opposed to the Statement and its enabling recommendations affirmed a “love” which cares enough for ourselves as well as others to hold all of us accountable to God. One could not escape sensing that the same gender proponents considered those who do not share their perspective of “love” neither loving nor compassionate.

* A same gender proponent brought up the long discredited and greatly exaggerated statistic regarding homosexuality (e.g. citing the 10% in Kinsey's Report). The proponents glibly spoke of orientation rather than behaviour, as if "orientation" was self-evident, as though "orientation" had been definitively established.

* It seems that another of the great disconnects on the convention floor was the recommendation to maintain the institutional unity of the ELCIC. Various speakers used a variety of theoretical and oblique arguments, along with many of the familiar Scriptural references, to try to persuade the delegates to set aside their differences about what supposedly were merely adiaphora matters. The delegates were asked to place the survival of the 25 year old ELCIC organization at the very centre of their concern, while at the same time disregarding the 2000 year old history of the larger Christian community (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, etc.), which resolutely adheres to the rejection of same gender relationships, anchoring their opposition on the Scriptures.

* In conclusion, contrary to the claims of some, my understanding of “love” includes a commitment to respect, protect and show compassion for all others, including those who persist in same gender relationships. My understanding of love includes the acknowledgement and acceptance of the boundaries set for us in the Scriptures, recognizing that, sinners as we all are, all of us need to confess and repent. My understanding of “love” includes a confidence in a God who even while holding us accountable for our actions and behaviour, also assures us of the possibility of forgiveness, transformation and new life.

The Rev. Dr. Peeter Vanker
July 2011