In that spirit, we note that representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently sat down with representatives of the North American Lutheran Church. The ELCA press release strikes us as ... curt. Quoting an official statement, it says:
To "clarify disagreements" is surely the first step in an ecumenical relationship with partners from whom one has been separated for centuries, or never had any prior relationship -- Rome, the AME Zion, whatever. In the case of these two bodies, we would have thought the disagreements were pretty clear. As for "local mission and ministry," we wonder how much of that consisted of "Why won't you give us those buildings" and how much of "Pay back your damn loans, mission grants, and ELCA-subsidized seminary ejumacations first."
But, difficult though the first step may have been, and rancorous though our own wretched hearts may still be, we are glad it has been taken. We take a certain muted pride in knowing that the initiative here came from the ELCA's 2011 churchwide assembly. As why should it not? We didn't kick them out, and even if life is a wee bit easier without them, we want good a relationship now, and the hope to have them back someday before Jesus comes.
(Actually, seriously, we're beginning to consider a Benedict XVI-style ordinariate thing, someday down the road. Non-geographic synods trouble us in principle, and "alternative episcopal oversight" hasn't really helped the CofE, but ... well, maybe it would be worth trying. Someday when tempers cool.)
All of which brings us to a dispiriting story we just heard. We can't share the details, but it's something like this:
A very, very conservative congregation in our synod (and a large one) has been witholding its benevolence money for years. But it has continued to do two other things: give generously to the synod's ambitious missions programs, and organize and host an annual synodical event, at its own considerable expense, as a gift to the whole community. Now, even though this parish has surely been tempted tempted by the iron pyrites of the NALC, it has not broken communion. It has even continued supporting mission work. All things considered, this shows considerable strength of character, as well as a commitment to unity.
And yet its offer of hospitality has been rejected by influential synod leaders. We're not sure why -- whether it is about the benevolence money, or simply the deep disagreement over sex and so forth. But either way, we are a little shocked. To reject a gift is ungracious under most circumstances; under these, it seems both impolitic and ... well, almost cruel. If the parish can make its tent big enough to accommodate people who disagree with its consensus, surely the synod can as well.
All of which brings us to our point. We've been pretty scathing about the leaders of the NALC, CORE and the rest of it. And -- let's be firm -- we don't think they have behaved wisely or honorably. But there are also hundreds, probably thousands, of pastors and congregations who have struggled with conscience and conviction, and decided in favor of unity over purity.
These congregations pose a particular challenge to those of us who feel that CWA 2009 was, if not wise as Chalcedon, at least doing the best thing under the circumstances. Have we done our part, whatever it may be, to honor our friends and colleagues who disagree, but have chosen to stick it out by our side anyway? Have we gone just a little bit further than we might have, to answer their love and faithfulness with our own?
The question isn't rhetorical -- since the Egg moved its production facility offshore, we really don't know what's happening back home. Maybe ELCA gatherings, from a conference Bible study up, have all turned into the Peaceable Kingdom. We hope so. But if not, it seems to us that the people who feel like they won have an obligation to the people who feel like they lost.