The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Conference of Bishops
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world and Lord of the universe, through whom alone we receive forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation!
At the regular meeting of the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation in Baltimore September 28-29, decisions made by the recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly were discussed at length. Toward the end of our meeting, Bishop Hanson indicated his desire to receive a summary of my comments regarding the LCMS response to these developments. That is the purpose of this letter.
In all likelihood many of you were in the convention hall in Minneapolis August 22 when I brought greetings from the congregations and people of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Perhaps you recall these words that I spoke to your Assembly:
"I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God's revealed and infallible Word."
In the days following the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a number of LCMS District Presidents contacted me with questions about how the Assembly decisions might affect their own administration, particularly with respect to inter-Lutheran agencies within their Districts. In response, I sent a memo to the LCMS Council of Presidents reviewing some of the past LCMS convention actions regarding joint ELCA and LCMS ministry endeavors and offering to them my counsel. I provided to Bishop Hanson and Rev. Don McCoid a courtesy copy of that September 10 memo.
In particular, the 2001 LCMS convention resolved, among other things, to ask the LCMS Praesidium (President and Vice Presidents) to evaluate our cooperative working arrangements with the ELCA and to make any recommendations regarding these arrangements to the 2004 convention. The 2004 and 2007 LCMS conventions took similar actions. The report of the Praesidium to both the 2004 and 2007 LCMS conventions recommended no change in working relationships between the LCMS and the ELCA. The Praesidium will again submit a report to the 2010 LCMS convention regarding this matter.
This brief background may be helpful for your understanding of what I wrote to the Council of Presidents on September 10, 2009, stating in part:
"Obviously, no LCMS convention action in response to the actions of this year's ELCA Churchwide Assembly has yet been taken. In accord with the 2004 convention resolution referenced above, the Praesidium will continue in its monitoring role, confident of the Synod members' further pledge in that resolution to 'commit ourselves as members of the Synod to walk together in supporting the leadership of the President in consultation with the Praesidium of Synod regarding this relationship between conventions.'
"Therefore, following consultation with and concurrence from all five Vice Presidents of the Synod, I'm sharing with you this memo. Pending further action by the Synod in convention, as you approach and engage in joint work with members of the ELCA (such as a social ministry organization, school, campus ministry, chaplaincy, etc.), when matters related to the action of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly arise, please consider and heed the following counsel:
1. Evangelically, yet unequivocally, bear witness to the truth of Holy Scripture regarding homosexual behavior.
2. Indicate, as I did in my remarks to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, that the action of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly threatens to deepen the division between our church bodies.
3. Communicate that any action taken by the group or organization in which you are participating that is contrary to the position of the LCMS will be taken seriously and will be cause for evaluation of continued LCMS participation in that group or organization.
4. Maintain ministry practices that are in accord with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and are consistent with the position of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.
5. Seek ecclesiastical supervision from the president of the Synod for questions that may arise in case-by-case situations.
"These matters are very serious and need to be handled carefully and evangelically, always endeavoring to speak the truth in love. In the process of so doing, we remain committed to 'reach out in love and support' to the 'many of our brothers and sisters of the ELCA [who] remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.' "
We in the LCMS have a genuine concern for the people whose lives are impacted, both temporally and eternally, by the cooperative ministry of the many inter-Lutheran agencies that currently exist. I'm certain you share that concern. For many years we have worked cooperatively with the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Services in America, and numerous other agencies. It is our desire to be able to continue to provide Christ-centered ministry through such agencies, always doing so in faithfulness to the doctrinal positions of our church.
Bishop Hanson and Conference of Bishops, I share this letter with you to confirm what I have already stated, namely, that this is a very serious matter, one that we cannot ignore. To the greatest extent possible, it would be a blessing to our ongoing cooperative relationships if the actions taken at the ELCA Assembly were not implemented, nor given influence, in the context of inter-Lutheran ministries involving the LCMS and the ELCA, so that these relationships would be neither damaged nor destroyed. Out of deep concern for the people who receive ministry from such organizations and for the continuation of those ministries, I share with you this letter and pray that it will be received in the spirit of fraternal, collegial dialogue with which it is sent.
May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
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