An Appeal to the ELCA in 2009
By John Hannah
I have been asked as a member and pastor of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) to address the sexuality proposals that will come before the ELCA Churchwide Assembly (CWA) this summer. I make no claim to speak officially for the LCMS, although I am certain that I speak for many other LCMS pastors and members.
I will further disclose that I was one of those 55% who voted for fellowship with The American Lutheran Church (ALC) in 1969. I am one of many who were deeply disappointed when the LCMS (by a close vote) discontinued full communion with the ALC, one of the ELCA predecessors. We had fervently hoped that ALC and LCMS full communion would be the beginning of full Lutheran unity in America.
In 1973 we witnessed the unraveling of Lutheran unity because Missouri began raising false standards for fellowship, by very close votes. First it was only the insistence upon a singular biblical hermeneutic. Other false standards followed; for example, a highly restrictive standard for admission to the altar.
It is with a sincere interest in Lutheran unity that I address the sexuality question now.
I and many others currently in the LCMS disclaim the false standards of fellowship and orthodoxy frequently raised by the LCMS, both officially and unofficially. We do not believe them to be scripturally and confessionally necessary for the unity of the church. These well known false standards certainly do not justify the continued, sinful division of the American Lutheran family. It is with a sincere interest in Lutheran unity that I address the sexuality question now.
I appeal to the voting delegates of the ELCA not to abandon your public position on sexual morality that has been the Church’s understanding for 2000 years. That moral position remains the shared understanding of sexuality for the vast majority of Christians to this day. Most likely it is the position of most Lutherans in the world today, including most members of the ELCA.
Any vote by the CWA to change the official position on sexual morality is not likely to change the minds of ELCA members. These people will continue to be informed by the simple, straightforward Genesis account of creation and Luther’s concise explanation of the Sixth Commandment.
A vote to change will simply cause the world to think that the ELCA has placed itself outside the mainstream of Christianity.
A vote to change will simply cause the world to think that the ELCA has placed itself outside the mainstream of Christianity. A vote to change will most certainly deepen the division between us as Lutherans in the United States.
Our sad experience in Missouri over the past 40 years suggests another disadvantage to assuming a new position by only a close vote on the matter. Since our vote in New Orleans in 1973 we of the LCMS have suffered continued and serious internal fracturing. I speak from first-hand experience of church wide decisions on foundational questions, made abruptly, with only a slight majority of the vote.
We in the LCMS have lived with the outcome of such carelessness for 35 years. It has not been a happy experience for us at all. It is something I would not wish upon any church body, certainly not a body of Lutheran sisters and brothers.
I urge you to resist the proponents of change even as they threaten to wear you down. Years ago our proponents of change clamored for dramatic change claiming that they were only preserving the Bible. Your proponents claim that their dramatic proposal is necessary to preserve the Gospel of a loving God.
In the end, we in the LCMS did not know how to counter their claim, but now we wish we had continued the resistance. As the more radical and energetic proponents deepened their choke hold on the LCMS they have been moved off the stage but it has been a long, most difficult time. Much of the malaise remains to this day.
You will likely find the same experience if you acquiesce now to the insistence that this is only to preserve the Gospel of an accepting God. Now is the time to ask, “What is next?” Is this not a new fundamentalism in different form that will creep into all other aspects of the church’s life?
I do not wish the ELCA adversity. I still pray for fuller Lutheran unity and for a greater day when the ELCA and the LCMS can find healing from our sinful divisions.