Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oregon Bishop Writes to PLTS about Homosexuality Resolution

Dear Door Devotees,
Your Blog Master has invited me to write a little something as a bishop of the ELCA relative to the "Landahl Resolution" coming out of the August 2007 Churchwide Assembly. I am glad to do so. My name is Dave Brauer-Rieke and I am bishop of the Oregon Synod.
The so called "Landahl Resolution" "encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church." ( The ever present Lutheran question is "What does this mean?"
First it is important to recognize that this resolution was embraced by our Churchwide Assembly in the context of our Church's ongoing conversation over the rostering of Gay or Lesbian pastors in mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationships. The COB (Conference of Bishops) recognizes that this is a difficult conversation for our Church. We discern together within a triangle of justice concerns, traditional moral perspectives and the fragile gift of Christian unity. (This is my language, not necessarily that of the COB as a whole.) It is understandable that individuals and groups within the Church may advocate primarily from one perspective of another. This is actually helpful in our churchwide conversation. Our charge as bishops, however, is to keep the whole triangle always before us.
The Landahl Resolution is understood as a "sense" motion, not a legislative one. This is to say that nothing in the practice or policies of the Church has been changed here, but rather that what we have is the sentiment of the Assembly that we don't want to fall off the tightrope as our conversation continues. As a bishop I hear in this resolution that our Church doesn't want to solve this issue through formal, disciplinary actions such as those involving Pastor Bradley Schmeling. Rather, we want to continue down our chosen path of mutual conversation and discernment. Furthermore, we as a Church believe we are on a track to find greater clarity on this issue at our 2009 Assembly and so we understand the Landahl Resolution to be a time limited pastoral word. It extends from now until further, more permanent, decisions are made by the 2009 Assembly.
Individual bishops will undoubtedly interpret the nuances of this resolutions differently. This is as it should be. We are all committed to oversight within our diverse synodical contexts. However, our mutual commitment as bishops is to stay within the same ballpark for the sake of good order within the Church as a whole. The Landahl Resolution is not a call to disregard the current position of the ELCA relative to our expectations of rostered leaders. It is, rather, just what it purports to be; a call for prayerful and pastoral decision making while we continue to walk together in our discernment process.
My sense is as a Church we are weary of this discussion. Yet, I am impressed by our ability to walk faithfully and patiently with one another. My hope and expectation is that we will soon reach greater clarity for ourselves in this matter.


Ben Colahan said...

"We discern together within a triangle of justice concerns, traditional moral perspectives and the fragile gift of Christian unity."

This sounds like quite the juggling act. Do you think there is ever a time when a bishop should champion one corner of the triangle at the expense of the other two?

caralynjayne said...

Great question, Ben!

Justice, traditional morals, and Christian unity are indeed a triangle of concerns.

What are our Justice concerns? Equal rights. Ending torture. World hunger. First, Second, and Third World extreme poverty. AIDS. Women's rights. Education. Clean drinking water. The environment. Multilateral disarmament. Civil societies. And of course, more.

What is our traditional moral perspective? The Lutheran I am, I must ask, which tradition? Christian? When and where? Lutheran traditions? American traditions? This "corner" of the triangle is indeed important, but seems to be the slipperiest to define. Traditional moral perspectives were each established in response to a new ethical imperative.

New ethical imperatives have the nasty habit of morphing into even newer ones. Swords became guns became machine guns became rockets became nuclear weapons, and suddenly "chivalry" among soldiers needs another day on the drawing board.

The gift of Christian unity... seems self-explanatory but I bet this will be the toughest nut to crack of them all.

While I don't think traditional moral perspectives should be trumped by the other two "corners" of our triangle, this is, for the Christian, the negotiable one. Re-examining this corner is what keeps the Church relevant, prophetic, and meaningful to real peoples' lives over 2000 years of ever-new ethical imperatives. We have nothing to fear by checking ourselves. Justice for the world and Unity of the church have everything to gain by doing so.

Dave said...

Hmmm, apparently Ben has old pictures of me. Long live Yoda!

I personally see this triangle as the legitimate arena of our conversation. Within the Conference of Bishops we are certainly all over the mat. On behalf of the Church at large we dive into the conversation with one another just as you do.

However, as we recognize that we are in the triangle with others who have called us to a certain office my job description takes on another dimension. We bishops are trying to help you facilitate your discussion as the ELCA. To champion one corner or another as a bishop is to choose one role over another. That is to say I chose a prophetic voice over a shepherding presence. Certainly that time can come, but there are many, many people who can serve the Church in a prophetic role. There are fewer of us asked by the Church to help the ELCA keep its balance along the way from a shepherding role.

My colleague Bishop Wayne Miller in the Metro Chicago Synod has just made a 'rubber hits the road' decision within the triangle. What do you think? Chicago Tribune Article

Ben Colahan said...

I'm right with you on this one, Cara. The traditional moral perspective is definitely where I feel most comfortable negotiating. It is unfortunate, however, that justice and traditional moral values often pull in opposite directions to tear apart Christian unity.

This is why I like the model of the Church that Dave is proposing. Seminarians, pastors, deacons, and others can wreck havoc advocating for their corners and the bishop play damage control trying to hold everything together--takes the pressure off of me and dumps it on Dave! Thanks, Dave.

This is pretty much what I see Bishop Wayne Miller doing. He hasn't really made a "rubber hits the road decision;" he has used the privilege that the Church gave him not to punish an action which goes against Church policy. He has allowed a pastor and congregation to advocate for the justice corner without himself endorsing their actions to the detriment of those who would feel uncomfortable having a lesbian pastor pushed upon them. Thus he has allowed two parties to maintain their corners and still upheld Christian unity. Seems to me that it fits exactly the model that you're proposing, Dave.
So can we expect to see similar actions in Oregon?