The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Issues range from sexuality to leadership

Synod assemblies in June acted on a wide range of issues, including sexuality, the Middle East conflict, leadership and authority concerns, and health care.

Focus on sexuality

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod affirmed the ELCA sexuality study process. The Allegheny Synod encouraged ELCA members to engage in a careful, thoughtful study of issues related to sexuality and the church. The Metropolitan Washington, D.C.; Upper Susquehanna; and Minneapolis Area synods urged their congregations to pray about the issues and engage in faith-based conversation with people of differing opinions, even when those discussions are difficult.

The Southern Ohio Synod also urged prayer, study and formation of a task force around issues relevant to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and the church, "seeking new ways to hear one another and come together with a spirit of grace and peace, with the goal of making the church a welcoming place for all."

At the Oregon Synod assembly, voting members participated in table discussions about the preliminary work of the human sexuality task force. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod resolved to provide workshops for members to study "the issues surrounding the interpretation of the Bible on the issue of homosexuality and the church." Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Ralph Jones told voting members that the synod hoped to have a late summer or fall forum on sexuality for rostered leaders, as well as events in every conference.

Three synods took actions related to the Reconciling in Christ movement, a program of Lutherans Concerned/North America that encourages welcoming gay and lesbian people in ELCA congregations. Minneapolis Area voting members reaffirmed their commitment to be a Reconciling in Christ synod. The Northwest Washington Synod asked congregations to consider joining the movement. The Delaware-Maryland Synod voted to remove the designation, stating that it had "resulted in division."

The Northeastern Iowa Synod petitioned the ELCA to fully disclose to congregations the process of the sexuality study, the committee's ideological makeup and avenues to contact the group with concerns.

Middle East conflict

The Upper Susque-hanna; Delaware-Maryland; Metro-politan Washington, D.C.; and New England synods passed resolutions of prayer and support for work toward peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Several synods passed resolutions intended to build understanding among different faiths. Metropolitan Washington, D.C., encouraged ELCA members and congregations to study the origins of the conflict in the Middle East, guard against ethnic and religious profiling, and reach out in fellowship to members of neighboring mosques and synagogues in search of mutual understanding.

And the New England Synod repudiated "the recent upsurge of anti-Semitism around the world" and recognized the Israelis' "legitimate concern for their country's security." The resolution affirmed to Jewish partners that "our empathy toward the Palestinian community does not imply enmity toward Israel but presents a challenge to help shape a better and coexistent future." The synod asked the ELCA to communicate a similar message to the Jewish community.

The Delaware-Maryland Synod asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to support the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land and its call for a religiously sanctioned cease-fire, to help rebuild Palestine's economic and social infrastructure, and to work with U.S. Christians, Jews and Muslims to "create an atmosphere where present and future generations will coexist in peace with mutual respect and trust."

Three synods supported Lutheran organizations in Palestine. The New England Synod urged ELCA members to ask U.S. elected officials to pressure the Israeli government not to repeal the tax-exempt status of the Lutheran World Federation's Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem and to stop demands for payment of back taxes. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod resolved to increase support for Lutheran schools in Palestine and to send a delegation to churches and schools there. And the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin collected more than $10,000 for the Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah.

Leadership, authority issues

The Northwestern Minnesota Synod asked the ELCA Church Council to establish a "panel of theological review" comprised of teaching theologians, clergy and lay leaders. The resolution says the panel would "review and recommend changes in our governing documents or actions which will assist in assuring conformity with the Scriptures and confessions of this church."

The Indiana-Kentucky Synod defeated a resolution to accept the Bible as "written without error (inerrant)" and "the first and most important resource in the ELCA's decisions on policies and social issue statements."

The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked the ELCA to modify the nomination process for presiding bishop so an ecclesiastical "first" ballot would be taken at synod assemblies before the Churchwide Assembly. Candidate backgrounds, biographies and answers to questions on church issues would be given to congregations prior to the Churchwide Assembly.

The Minneapolis Area Synod supported facilitating exception to the rule that bishops be installed within the historic episcopate, and asked for a clarification of the Episcopal Church's understanding of the Called to Common Mission full communion agreement.

The Arkansas/Oklahoma Synod called for the ELCA to conduct a study of pastoral call processes, develop a churchwide handbook on the process, and provide checklists with standard expectations, information on disclosure of confidential information in personnel actions, and "flexibility for congregations to address their specific needs." In a second resolution, the synod asked the Church Council to consider amending the Model Constitution for Congregations of the ELCA to allow congregations to govern themselves not only as a "congregation council," but in other ways, such as elected officers and small teams.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod also asked the Church Council to modify the model constitution, as well as Procedures for Dealing with Allegations of Physical or Mental Incapacity of a Pastor to provide "fairness and due process" to clergy defending themselves against "allegations that could cause him or her to be removed from their pastorate."

Health-care concerns

The Virginia, Greater Milwaukee and Southwestern Washington synods urged members to study the first draft of the ELCA social statement on health care.

The Southwestern Washington and Southeastern Iowa synods respectively, encouraged congregations to advocate for those without health care, and asked the ELCA to advocate for Medicare reimbursement for affordable medical care. The Greater Milwaukee Synod asked congregations to establish health and healing ministries.

In a resolution focused on the health of ELCA clergy, Greater Milwaukee voted to develop a synodwide plan for care of pastors and other rostered leaders and their families. Similarly, the Southeastern Synod directed congregations to include a sabbatical leave provision in all letters of call to rostered personnel and directed all rostered personnel to take a sabbatical.

Concerned about "situations of inequity in retirement," the New England Synod urged the Church Council to authorize a study of compensation for rostered personnel and give top priority to a Board of Pensions study on pension equity.

And Delaware-Maryland asked the Church Council for an independent study of the ELCA Board of Pensions' health-care coverage and an assessment of health-care premiums based upon congregation income rather than a pastor's defined compensation.

Clergy sex abuse

Four assemblies passed resolutions related to clergy sexual abuse in the wake of recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Northeastern Iowa asked the Church Council for "a season of reflection, repentance, prayer and rededication to appropriate boundaries in all clergy/parishioner relationships." Upper Susquehanna added to its clergy sexual misconduct policy a pledge of support and prayer for its bishop as a conflict mediator. The Metropolitan New York Synod asked the ELCA and its Conference of Bishops to evaluate the 1992 ELCA Strategy for Responding to Sexual Abuse in the Church in terms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children. And the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod directed its bishop to convey prayers for the sexual abuse crisis to local Catholic dioceses.


The Northern Illinois, Southeastern and Central/Southern Illinois synods supported the work of the ELCA Blue Ribbon Task Force on Evangelism.

The Nebraska Synod encouraged congregations and individuals to work for greater evangelism, develop prayer ministries and participate in the ELCA Prayer Network.

The Metropolitan New York Synod approved a plan that emphasizes congregational renewal, new ministries to welcome immigrants, serving people's needs including a ministry at ground zero, and strengthening the synod's public presence.

Looking toward multicultural outreach, the Northern Illinois Synod committed its congregations and councils to establishing an "anti-racist identity," and the Virginia Synod supported a strategy for bilingual ministry with Latino people.

Advocacy for the poor

Several synods supported a living wage, more affordable housing and advocacy for the poor.

The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod endorsed Call to Renewal's Covenant to Overcome Poverty and agreed to work toward a living wage, affordable housing and health care for all Texans. The North Carolina Synod asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to encourage all ELCA congregations to support a living wage.

The Northwest Washington Synod supported congregation and community efforts to seek solutions to homelessness and affordable housing shortages. The Southwestern Washington Synod asked congregations to study ELCA and other resources about poverty and to advocate "for the least of these in our midst" to the U.S. government during its re-evaluation of the welfare program.


Patty A.

Patty A.

Posted at 3:22 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/2/2010

RE:  Synod Assemblies and Clergy Sexual Abuse.  Approximately 25 years ago, before the issue was dealt with openly, I became the victim of a church's pastor.  I was told to leave that church, when I had done nothing wrong.  The people of the congregation didn't want to hear that their beloved pastor was acting this way toward a woman of the parish.    I was put "on trial" by several women in the congregation.  One woman, now deceased, even had the gall to ask me if I saw myself as a "sex symbol".  Since both the pastor and I were the same age and both single, I thought nothing of his attentions to me at the time.  As the years continued, and I had moved away, his "stalking" of me continued until I finally had to obtain a private phone number, and became thankful for the invention of Caller ID.  Fortunately, the bishop of the synod saw that this man was mentally ill and he was removed from the ministry.  Although years have passed, and to my knowledge, this man is no longer living in my area, I still am leary when I see someone who even looks like him.  And yes, I sought personal counseling and an attorney at the time.  Thankfully, that times have changed in the past 25 years! 

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in or Subscribe to comment.

text size:

this page: email | print

February issue


Embracing diversity