Friday, September 18, 2009

Schroedinger's (Lutheran) Cat

Unsurprisingly, there are some Lutherans -- many Lutherans -- unhappy with the prospect of gay pastors abandoning lives of "celibacy" (by which we mean, as often as not, tortured promiscuity) for those of lifelong commitment to a single partner.  And, also unsurprisingly, some of them are looking for institutional ways to show their disapproval.

What is a little surprising is that they are trying to do this in a way that both does and does not involve leaving their denomination.  Per Beliefnet:

[A] conservative network of clergy and lay Lutherans plans to gather and hatch plans to "reconfigure" Lutheranism in North America. [Editor's note:  "planning to hatch plans," eh?  These people are better organized than most church groups.]

The leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) are not encouraging fellow believers to bolt from the ELCA for a more conservative denomination, but neither do they want to remain part of one that has "fallen into heresy," they say.

Thus, CORE is laying plans for a "free-standing synod" that would include current members of the ELCA along with others that have exited, or plan to exit, from the denomination. ...

The free-standing synod, should the idea be accepted, would hire and train its own clergy, redirect donations from ELCA headquarters to CORE, plant churches and support missionaries, [WordAlone honcho Mark] Chavez said. Some members will disassociate from their local (geographic) synods and stop participating in the ELCA's biennial assemblies. But others who are part of conservative synods that are not expected to hire gay and lesbian clergy may choose to remain part of the ELCA, he added.

Pedantic note:  The word "synod," in US Lutheran use, has two distinct means, both of them explicitly juridical.  Prior to 1918, it referred to independent church bodies (what other people might call separate denominations), with different standards of faith and practice.  Today, the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods preserve this usage.  In 1918, the ULCA  came into existence as a federation of such synods.  This began the process, completed in the LCA and continued in the ELCA, of creating a second meaning for the word synod -- a regional judicatory.  Essentially, a diocese.  (In both the LCA and ELCA, there has been one sole exception, a non-geographic synod uniting the Slovak churches -- not for theological reasons, but for practical, and largely linguistic, ones.)

So what does CORE have in mind, exactly?  It isn't entirely clear from this article.  But only two choices present themselves:  (1) to create a new church body, which they claim they don't want to do; or (2) to create a non-geographic body within the ELCA's formal structure, united by a common objection to the ELCA's policy and somehow magically including  groups which are not part of the ELCA.  This seems to defeat the purpose of remaining in the ELCA, doesn't it?

(As an historical matter, it seems to us that this latter choice would really be something closer to what 19th century Lutherans called "a free conference," and intended as a forum for discussion among  members of different synods, but lacking the power to commit anybody's actual synod to any definite action.  [The LCMS generally asked for these in order to avoid any serious discussion of synodical unification.]  But of course to be truly "free," in the sense it was used in those days, the discussion would need to include people from other parts of the Lutheran world, such as Lutherans Concerned -- a move which, again, defeats the announced purpose of the plan.)

So CORE says they want to be in the ELCA and not be in the ELCA, and imagines that somehow this can be achieved within the ELCA's own polity.  Theirs is a strange, Schroedinger's-cat vision of ecclesiastical geometry.  (You remember -- the cat was both alive and dead at the same time.  Oh, quantum physics, how you task us!)  But it is one which has become familiar over the past quarter-century.  

Early on, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ started talking this way, and WordAlone stole the idea and has gone further with it.  They use phrases like "loyal opposition," and insist that they exist within the mother church, while rejecting that church's policies and independently establishing fellowship with churches it does not recognize.  The idea, we strongly suspect, is to weaken the structures of the ELCA -- undermining its ability to manage either its own internal discipline or its external ecumenical relationships.

"We are loyal to our church, even though we hate it and seek to destroy it."  This is classic Scandinavian passive aggression, like the dog that jumps up to lick your face while peeing on your pants.  And it creates a semantic mess, in which people work hard to sound as though they are saying something else.

But what amuses us most about this dark comedy of ill-defined terms and expressions that mean their own opposite, is another quotation in the Beliefnet article:

"There are lots of congregations that are going to leave, lots of traditionalist congregations that are going to stay, and lots that have already left," said Ryan Schwarz of Washington, a member of CORE's steering committee. "We want to create a churchly structure that gathers all those categories."

Churchly?  They really think it is "churchly" to stop supporting the seminaries and missionaries of your own church?  We suppose that's what you should expect from people who can't tell when the cat is dead.


Anonymous said...

Nicely put. web

Diane said...