The ELCA’s Liberal Direction? Ha!

Editor's Note, Aug 2009: Given the outcomes of the ELCA's 2009 Churchwide Assembly, this post is clearly a little dated.  In the coming weeks I will revisit this blogpost and examine the ELCA's location on the liberal/moderate/conservative spectrum, and what that means for the mission of the church.

Thanks, Chris

Original post from April, 2006, follows below:

Warning: Rant Ahead.

The Philadelphia Inquirer today published an article about a former Lutheran pastor who was recently ordained in the Roman Catholic church (Married Lutheran Minister Becomes a Catholic Priest, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15).  "His criticisms of his former denomination led him to convert," says the article's subtitle. From the article:

He was an outspoken critic of what he describes as the liberal direction of his denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and challenged the group on issues of abortion, inclusive language, gay ordination and gay marriage (emphasis mine).

I'm not sure that I have a problem with this priest, Father Leonard Klein, who now serves in Wilmington, DE.  It is probably the reporting that bothers me.  Whereas I imagine that this well-educated pastor-turned-priest is familiar with the arguments that I make below, this article takes at face value a simplistic characterization of the ELCA's position on various issues – and that's too bad.  The ELCA is a far more nuanced and moderate denomination than a simiple liberal-conservative characterization would suggest.  Let's look at those four issues.

  • Abortion: The ELCA is very conflicted on this issue (as are most lay catholics and Americans – perhaps we're just honest enough to admit it?), but its social statement on abortion makes clear that we are generally opposed to abortion, while recognizing that there may be limited, legitimate reasons to have an abortion (ie, incest, rape, the health of the mother, etc. etc.).  The statement ain't perfect, but it is far more conservative, nuanced and deferential to life than most people give it credit for.
  • Inclusive Language: Having worshiped using liturgies from the Renewing Worship project, along with liturgies from the Lutheran Book of Worship and With One Voice, I am amazed that anyone can argue that the ELCA is significantly altering the language we use to describe God or God's people.  In fact, many of the changes that are more inclusive (ie, that reduce the male-dominated language) come from largely ignored elements of the Christian tradition itself, and/or are simply more descriptive of who is worshipping and who is worshiped!  Surely there were some instances where proposed language represented a new liturgical perspective (often as an alternate text!), but remember that Renewing Worship was a body of trial materials, not the finished product nor a policy statement of the ELCA!  On a whole the hymns, liturgies and texts of our Lutheran worship are thoroughly traditional.
  • Gay Ordination: Gay ordination is against the policies of the ELCA.  The denomination talked about it and voted it down – soundly.  Not sure what the problem is here (unless, of course, we're not even allowed to talk about difficult issues!).
  • Gay Marriage: Gay marriage is against the policies of the ELCA and the laws of most states in which ELCA congregations exist.  The denomination talked about it and voted it down – soundly.  Again, I'm not sure what the problem is here.

I'm sorry for this rant.  I just don't like it when my church gets misrepresented in the newspaper, even if it is on page B4 in the Saturday edition on a holiday weekend.  This is yet another example of the popular media's inability to report fairly and honestly on matters of religion.  Argh. 

I don't deny that the ELCA may have "liberal" characteristics as compared with the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, or the Southern Baptist Convention.  But its structure, social statements, theology, and worship tradition are significantly deferential to the Church's grand traditions, especially in comparison with the mainstream and radical liberal social/political establishment. 

A liberal vs. conservative, Red vs. Blue comparison is cheap and easy – but our God, our faith, our church, our tradition is not.  Give it a break, please.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

6 thoughts on “The ELCA’s Liberal Direction? Ha!

  1. I am with you up to the point of the RW provisional liturgies. We used them too, and I am apprehensive about some of the changes. I think they butchered some hymns, hiding a PC agenda behind the guise of “Theological Correction.” Plus I think the musical settings are moving us away from intonation and more toward “singing” in the melodic sense of the word, something that is a challenge for many of us who preside. Add to that any blessing that sounds trinitarian but uses terms other than Father, Son and Holy Spirit and my discomfort increases.
    Knowing that RW provided provisional liturgies, we decided that we would NOT by the new ELW until we actually have a copy in hand. I can’t imagine buying those books and not knowing what the final result is. Our W&M team and council are not committed to using it yet.
    I think the other stuff you point out is spot on. I personally think it was interesting that the Roman convert to the ELCA was buried in the article. Notice how that never makes news?!?!?!

  2. I am glad to see your summary of the situation. I’ve run into a number of people who have been made quite suspicious of “their” ELCA because of what their pastors have said or what they read, yet their info is not very detailed. A church near us left the ELCA without knowing where they are headed.

  3. I remember when a friend of mine thought we were an evil gay centered church. I sent him to the ELCA website about sexuality. He was impressed that we didn’t just cover issues of “gay sex” but also how “normal” people should behave sexually. I still wondered what he expected from our statements on sexuality… how to pick up altar boys?

  4. Thank you for your comments. The ELCA has its problems, but the focus on sexuality is indicative of the societal obession with it. I think many who have left are looking for a faith that is perfect. Only God is perfect.

  5. The ELCA has abandoned God’s Word in favor of the affirming words of the culture.
    They are arrogant and have NO feelings towards those that disagreed with them, but steamrolled them for the purpose of their agenda.
    They will pay a heavy price for their prideful assertions and for denying the clear teaching of scripture and over two thousand years of Christian tradition.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: