“This is not a one-agenda church!” declared National Bishop Raymond Schultz in his opening remarks to the 394 delegates and 168 visitors registered for the 11th biennial National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) in Winnipeg. With that statement, he put the assembly on notice that the National Church Council (NCC) motion on same-sex blessings was but one of numerous other mission initiatives within the convention theme, In Mission for Others: A People Called.
Unlike the previous 2005 ELCIC proposal which allowed for a local congregational option across synodical lines, the recent motion would transfer the entire matter of same-gendered blessings into the hands of the five synodical (geographical areas like dioceses) bodies, giving them the jurisdictional right to determine the appropriateness of blessings in the context of their own respective territories.
There was, however, a significant segment of the convention which reacted as if the ELCIC was a “one-agenda church.” This conservative segment not only nominated its own candidate for national bishop, but offered an entire slate of “anti-same-sex blessings” candidates for almost all vacant national positions, including NCC.
Bishop Schultz’s announcement that the blessings motion failed by a vote of 200 to 181 was greeted by the delegates in a moment of stunned silence. On the other hand, all the incumbents recommended to national positions by the ELCIC nominations committee were re-elected.
The vote for a new national bishop went to six ballots before Susan Johnson, assistant Eastern Synod bishop (since 1994), emerged victorious over a more conservative candidate by a total of 206 to 172 (see related story, this page).
In light of yet another clear division within the ELCIC, the Eastern Synod will debate what subsequent action it will take at its next convention in 2008. It was, after all, the 2006 Eastern Synod Assembly which not only approved same-sex blessings on its territory, but also the ordination of homosexuals (both with a majority vote of 73 per cent) and which therefore necessitated that NCC bring the same-sex blessings motion to the floor of this year’s convention.
The fact of the matter is that the church’s “conservative and definitive” view must and will change, as history has often demonstrated, whether the issue is blacks or slavery, of women or women’s ordination. A biased, uninformed and selective scriptural literalism is an abject basis upon which to argue for condemnation of anything, including same-sex blessings. It’s not biblical authority that is at stake here, but an interpretation of holy writ, which gives credence to doctrinal positions and double standards fuelled by intolerance, discrimination and prejudice – not to mention fear which is at the heart of all homophobia.
What is desperately needed is a reforming church whose mature self-understanding fosters a fresh, sensitive and insightful moral assessment, without being blinded by its own convoluted history of homosexual vilification and repression; whose gay and lesbian members – lay and clergy – can finally come out, lead open, honest and vulnerable lives because the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth demands that God’s grace be witnessed at work in them and in the lives they touch; and whose love of another is seen as a latitude for genuine redemptive love, and not simply as sex.
Rev. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications. He was a delegate at the recent ELCIC National Convention.