Lutheran vote on ‘local option’ will be difficult decision

Published June 1, 2005

We Lutherans are now in the home stretch, just weeks before our national convention in Winnipeg, July 21-24, 2005. The 400 or so delegates will vote on the recommendation of National Church Council (NCC) for the approval of same-sex blessings with a local congregational option, as outlined in the April 2005 issue of the Anglican Journal.

While many Lutherans, like Anglicans I suspect, are preconditioned to be accommodating, not wanting to cause offence, this will be a difficult decision for our church, especially for those whose minds are already made up. The complete discounting of others and their views is the biggest obstacle in this entire subject. Listening is a skill not cherished enough. The NCC recommendation does not preclude a decision by the convention; it only indicates where NCC members wish to lead this church. The delegates are free to decide whether to follow or not.

The proposal has not been without severe criticism and opposition. Some of our pastors have already resigned from the clergy roster, while a number of congregations have put their synodical bishops on notice of their intention to withdraw from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) if the blessings issue is ratified.

The fact is that the “local option” is intended to be a compromise which would allow folks on both sides of the issue to live and function together until a greater consensus can be achieved. Many ELCIC pastors and laity have prayerfully reflected on this question in light of the biblical and confessional witness, but have arrived at very different conclusions as to what constitutes a faithful response.

“There are congregations and pastors,” says Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse, “for whom this is a pressing pastoral question that will significantly impact the breadth and scope of their ministry [and waiting] will only lead to continued controversy and, no doubt, acts of ecclesiastical disobedience that will further undermine our continued fellowship.”

Reginald Bibby, Canada’s foremost expert on religious trends, says that most denominations have dissipated much energy and effort on an issue which will not be significant in the long term. Eventually, we may well do just the thing which has caused so much grief, as we did with women’s ordination over a quarter of a century ago.

A few months ago, ELCIC National Bishop Ray Schultz was in Ottawa talking to members of Parliament and policy-makers about same-gendered unions and marriage. He was left with the sense that our church is reflecting the politics of Canada in. I subsequently recalled what my academic mentor used to say: Whenever the church lags behind society in terms of justice and human rights, the church is not doing its job.

Recommending same-sex blessings involves much risk-taking for the church. Like Anglicans, we Lutherans have been taught that the institution of the church is the only one of its kind which is not in the business of self-preservation. Instead of a church of self-reflecting and self-absorbed mirrors, we need to be a church “in Mission for Others” – the theme of the convention – which means having the church windows wide open. Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.


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