It appears that the pastor of a local NALC congregation is methodically going through the membership roster of our own ELCA congregation and calling people up to offer them membership. Virtually every member to whom we have spoken reports this; some have been reduced to tears by this guy's persistence. Apparently, he keeps calling until you yell at him.
This is a shocking breach of pastoral ethics. While we ourselves are committed, by our subscription to the Smalcald Articles, to the view that the office of the papacy is anti-christ, we do not for that reason cold call Roman Catholics and attempt to lead them away from their church. While we have grave doubts about the Wesleyan doctrine of perfection, we do not keep a dog-eared copy of the Methodist church's membership directory on our desk, taking the occasional break from our recitation of the Daily Office to call some strangers and explain why Lutheranism is a better choice. (And don't get us started on all those Baptists who insist on denying the means of grace to people just because of their age and intellectual limitations.)
Why not, you may ask. After all, if we really believe that what we offer is a better theological option, why don't we just work the phones, pound on doors, move whatever mountains are necessary to drag the sheep from the jaws of the wolf? Why, in other words, don't we build our flock by rustling from others? Hey, it works great for the Jehovah's Witnesses.
There are two reasons. The first is that that we all need to live together. American society has a deep commitment to religious pluralism. This requires, on the part of the different religious communities, a corresponding commitment to mutual toleration and public respect. We may disagree, deeply and viscerally, but we attempt to do so in the most civil way possible. This means, among other things, resisting the temptation to meddle in the internal affairs of another church or faith community.
The second reason is that "mission" is not about reaching the happily churched. It is about reaching those who have not heard the Gospel, or who do not believe it, or who have heard and believe but have no community in which to celebrate its gift. To reduce this noble calling to common poaching is, if not outright sacrilege, a personal embarrassment for any minister with a lick of pride.
It seems that our neighbor lacks both toleration for others and pride in his own vocation. This does not bode well for the community.
While we have certainly heard reports of this sort of thing (as well as even more unethical behavior) by representatives of the NALC, we had not known how much credence to give them. After all, we thought, most of the pastors who formed the NALC were ordained in the ELCA. They went to the same seminaries, and were formed by the same standards of theological and professional ethics. They were our friends and colleagues. Surely, we imagined, they have not taken to cold-calling the members of other congregations, much less to spreading transparent lies about their own former church body.
Apparently, and to both our sorrow and our anger, we were mistaken.