OBSERVATIONS AND THOUGHTS REGARDING VOTING TO LEAVE THE ELCA
Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim
And the Northern Illinois Synod Council Executive Committee
1. Two congregations of the Northern Illinois Synod have taken first votes to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). One of the congregations failed to achieve the required 2/3; one achieved the 2/3 margin.
2. According to the Office of the Secretary, approximately 90 congregations across the ELCA have taken first votes to leave. Approximately 30 (1/3) of the congregations failed to reach the necessary 2/3 margin. There have been five congregations who have held their second vote in the ELCA; all five achieved the 2/3 margin. There will be many more votes in the next several months.
3. There are groups such as Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal)
and LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) that are recruiting and encouraging congregations to leave the ELCA. They also advocate withholding Mission Support.
4. Our goal as a Synod is to make sure the process of voting to leave the ELCA is fair, and that the members of the congregation have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. There has been much misinformation and false rumors circulating on the internet.
5. Our goal as a Synod is to serve and support the congregational members who wish to stay with the ELCA, no matter what their congregations choose to do. This means we will walk with them during this difficult process, regardless how their congregation votes. The Synod Council will consider the termination of the relationship with the ELCA and also the property ownership rights of each situation separately (see the ELCA Constitutional provisions 9.62.g., 9.62.h., and 9.71.d. found on the ELCA web site at www.elca.org/constitution).
6. It is important to have representatives of the Synod Council at Congregational Meetings when these votes are taking place. This shows proper respect for the partnership between Congregation, Synod, and Churchwide. Synod representatives also can answer questions about procedure.
7. When a congregation votes, whatever the final outcome, there are no winners. In the two cases in Northern Illinois, the congregations will be divided, and dear friends and families will be in conflict. This leads me to think, that perhaps, there are other ways to express displeasure with the Churchwide Assembly (CWA) decisions such as adopting a resolution that states that the congregation is opposed to the policy decisions and chooses not to implement them. The Synod office has an example of this Statement of Declaration resolution.
8. There have been some positive aspects of the CWA decisions, especially in terms of our Lord’s Great Commission to reach out to all. For example, several gay and lesbian couples have attended this year’s Mission Gatherings and Coffees with the Bishop. I believe this illustrates that some people have seen the decisions as expressions of welcome and hospitality.
9. Some of the fears that were expressed at the time of passage of the Social Statement and four Ministry Proposals have not been realized. For example, we have not been ostracized by our Full Communion Partners: United Methodist Church, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), The Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ and Moravian Church. The Roman Catholics have not stopped talking to us and neither has The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), although they are not pleased with our decision. The ELCA has not been excluded from the Lutheran World Federation, nor have our Companion Synods in Tanzania and India cut off relationships with the Northern Illinois Synod.
10. Some of the fears that were expressed at the time of passage of the Social Statement and four Ministry Proposals are indeed coming to pass.
Some congregations have chosen to withhold or redirect Mission Support, so that Churchwide has had to cut staff and programs. We have also been adversely affected by the cuts in the Northern Illinois Synod. We have about ten congregations currently withholding Mission Support.
It is important to note however, that the country’s current, challenging economic conditions are a major factor in budget shortfalls as well.
I conclude by reflecting on an image from a story I heard long ago, and it still rings true for us today.* The Lutheran Church is a big old boat. There is room for all who want to come aboard: reformers, evangelicals, traditionalists, land lovers, and all those who are cast away. Yes, the old boat creaks, lists, and leaks. And sometimes, frankly, the rising and falling can literally make one sick. But the old boat is faithful and gets her passengers to where they are supposed to go. Always has. Always will. Thanks be to God. *Adapted from: "On the Church" in J.F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green.