John 3:21

John 3:21
"It is the nature of all hypocrites and false prophets to create a conscience where there is none, and to cause conscience to disappear where it does exist." Martin Luther

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Political Gaps Strain Churches


Political Gaps Strain Churches

In a society already ideologically polarized, many believers go to church in hopes of a respite from conflict. But recent surveys show similar political disparities straining the Christian community. There are huge gaps in political affiliation between clergy and laity, especially in the oldline Protestant denominations. The divide between oldline and evangelical Protestant leaders remains exceedingly wide. The much publicized evangelical left, purporting to bridge that divide with a fusion of evangelical theology and liberal politics, remains statistically insignificant.
It is little wonder that debilitating conflicts have wracked the oldline denominations, contributing to the loss of one-third of their membership over the past 45 years. Oldline church bodies typically depend upon the cooperative endeavors of clergy and lay leadership. But those two leadership groups are pointed in different directions politically and ideologically.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the best documented example. The denomination's research office recently released the results of an exhaustive survey of 3,500 PCUSA members and leaders. Presbyterians in the pews leaned one way politically: 46 percent identified themselves as Republicans, while only 31 percent were Democrats. But pastors leaned sharply in the opposite direction: 23 percent Republicans versus 50 percent Democrats. Specialized clergy, among whom are many top PCUSA officials, were even more lopsided in their partisan allegiances. Only 13 percent were Republicans, as against 65 percent Democrats.
Comparing a 2008 survey of "Clergy Voices" by Public Religion Research with 2008 polling of church members by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals similar clergy-laity gaps in other denominations. In the United Church of Christ (UCC), a stunning 77 percent of the ministers call themselves Democrats; only 51 percent of UCC members do the same. Among Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) clergy, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3:1. Yet Episcopal and ELCA members are divided almost down the middle.
The United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Churches are the only oldline denominations where pastors and members are even close to being on the same page politically. In both cases, clergy and laity show fairly even splits between Democrats and Republicans. Thus, at least politically, these two denominations are truly "mainline."
Where political diversity is an accepted fact, clergy and lay leaders will more often understand the futility of trying to impose anyone's political agenda as the mission of the church. Church unity will have to come through the teachings and work of Christ. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the United Methodists and the American Baptists are the two oldline denominations that seem most likely to hold firm in traditional Christian doctrines.
The situation is different in other oldline denominations, where overwhelmingly left-leaning clergy often imagine themselves to be "prophets" leading their people into a promised land of social justice and world peace. Clergy elites may possess the institutional power to impose this political agenda; however, by doing so they instigate a rift with their church members. To the extent that politics becomes a focus in church life, the divide grows deeper and more damaging. Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal described the situation succinctly: "Red pew, blue pulpit."
Evangelical denominations are another world: red pew, redder pulpit. Evangelical ministers are far more heavily Republican than the oldline clergy are Democratic. According to the Paul B. Henry Institute at Calvin College, Republicans outnumber Democrats by an astounding 66-4 percent among Southern Baptist pastors. In the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the margin is 64-4. In the Assemblies of God, it is 74 percent Republicans versus a mere 1 percent Democrats.
There do seem to be a significant number of independents among these evangelical clergy, but Democrats are practically non-existent. It may be that the Democratic Party's identification with the cultural left -- on issues such as abortion and homosexuality -- has become so prominent that a Democratic identification is no longer tenable for most evangelical clergy. Evangelical left figures such as the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners may make a media splash; however, they have few imitators in evangelical pulpits.
One finds Democrats in evangelical pews, but they are a distinct minority. The proportion of Democratic members ranged from 28 percent in the Assemblies of God to 37 percent among Southern Baptists. Republicans held clear majorities in all three evangelical denominations.
Thus it seems most evangelical pastors -- unlike most oldline pastors -- are preaching to congregations that lean in the same direction as them politically. But they would do well to remember that perhaps a third of those in the pews hold a different partisan loyalty. Even in a solidly conservative evangelical church, it would be unwise for the pastor to emphasize a political agenda. Church unity there, as in the oldline churches, will have to come through the teachings and work of Jesus Christ.
Alan F.H. Wisdom is Vice President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and author of the monograph "Is Marriage Worth Defending?"

Northern Illinois Synod financial cuts

February 24, 2010

Dear Leaders of the Northern Illinois Synod and Congregational Presidents, Vice Presidents, Treasurers:

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am writing to report that the Northern Illinois Synod Executive Committee recently made some difficult decisions concerning the Synod spending plan for 2010. Cuts were necessary because the Statements of Intent received from our congregations were about $400,000 short of the budget, which was approved at last year’s Synod Assembly.  In fact, anticipated Mission Support for 2010 is approximately $194,000 less than last year’s actual income.  I believe this shortfall in Mission Support is due to the challenging economic times in which we live and also because there are 15 congregations in Northern Illinois that have chosen to withhold Mission Support. 

I give God thanks for the generosity of the vast majority of our Northern Illinois Synod congregations.  For even during these difficult economic times, many individuals and congregations have sacrificed to keep their pledges at the same level as last year.  Some were even able to increase their giving.  Thank you for this encouragement and for your faithfulness in responding to God’s mission.

The cuts in our 2010 spending plan fall into four main areas:

First, we will make cuts in terms of the operation of the Synod offices.  Sandy Musch, Assistant to the Bishop, has graciously offered to reduce her work to three-quarters-time during Fiscal Year 2010.  We will not replace two part-time Conference Assistants to the Bishop.   Office hours for support staff will be reduced.  And again, as last year, all staff salaries will remain frozen.

Second, all Northern Illinois Synod Committee budgets will be reduced by 25%.  This affects important programs of the Synod such as seminary scholarships, social ministry grants to congregations and support of the companion synods and congregations in India and Tanzania .

Third, our agencies and institutions will be cut by 25%.  I have heard that some agencies and institutions are receiving direct gifts from congregations that are withholding Mission Support.  However, in this time of great need, this cut still represents a significant decrease from our Synod budget.

Fourth, even though we will continue to forward 55% of our Mission Support for Churchwide ministries, the actual amount of dollars will be less.  This saddens me because Churchwide has already been forced to make significant staff cuts, including in the Global Missions and Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Ministries units.
Finally, some of you may wonder if I am discouraged by all of this.  Well, I must admit there are days.  But, at the same time, I am prayerfully confident that the economy will improve, that congregational conflict will taper off, and we can soon concentrate more fully on the work that God has graciously given us to do.  Most importantly, at the end of the day, I look to Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith.”  And I pray that, by God’s grace, we may fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.

In Christ,

Bishop Gary Wollersheim

Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim
Northern Illinois Synod
103 W. State Street
Rockford, IL   61101
Phone: (815) 964-9934
Fax: (815) 964-2295

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gary Wollersheim's latest response

 This is is Gary Wollersheim's latest. He has a date wrong and he wasn't invited to meet with "members of Faith Lutheran Church" just our council. I think he's laying the foundation so he can cry foul if we don't follow or allow what he's implying in this letter. Well at least he spelled his name right, gotta give him credit for that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spiritual tradition runs deeper than their ties to the ELCA

At least seven congregations take steps to leave ELCA

East Lake Andes Lutheran Church is an eclectic, spiritually self-reliant congregation.
The 100 or so members from the farms and ranches near Armour and Parkston come from a variety of Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds, in addition to Lutheranism.
"It just kind of blended together into a community-type rural church," said Bill Van Gerpen, co-pastor and a Baptist.
So when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's general assembly voted in August to allow sexually active gay clergy in committed, monogamous relationships to serve as pastors, members of East Lake Andes who opposed the move explored the idea of leaving the ELCA. In the process, they've found that their own spiritual tradition runs deeper than their ties to the ELCA.
Still, leaving has come at a price.
As congregations across the state consider whether to split from the ELCA over the gay clergy issue, the situation represents more than simply a change in the church. The controversy has the potential to splinter small towns and communities where the Lutheran church has been an important part of the social fabric for decades.

"It tears at your heart in doing this," admits Dean Weber of rural Wagner, a 40-year member of the church and head of the church council when the effort to split from the ELCA began.

"Some are opposed, some are in favor, and when you have a close-knit church, that hurts.

"We hope it doesn't create deep caverns. We hope we're able to stay as a family in our church. But we know it's probably not likely."

Theirs is a journey at least seven congregations in the ELCA's South Dakota Synod have started on.

Summer Could Turn Heat Back Onto The Debate

Others, including the largest churches, with memberships of 1,000 or more, are waiting to see how events play out. The synod might respond to the general assembly's action when it meets in June. The general assembly itself could revisit the sexuality issue when it next meets in 2011, and an ELCA reform group, Lutheran CORE, could announce a split when it meets this summer, according to ELCA South Dakota Synod Bishop David Zellmer.

But in planning to leave the ELCA now, East Lake Andes' experience foreshadows many aspects of the gay clergy controversy that could affect the 123,000 South Dakota ELCA members in 249 congregations, including:
The economic effect of separation.
The mundane practicalities of how to do it legally and where to go afterward.
The personal toll on church members.

The Lutheran historical and theological tradition into which separation fits.
Economic hard times and displeasure with the general assembly already have resulted in $360,000 in reduced support from member churches to the synod, Zellmer said. He estimates that as much as $130,000 of that is directly related to the general assembly vote. Revenue will decline further if entire congregations leave.

The synod's overall budget is $2.1 million, and because it has been taking in less money, Zellmer has been forced to eliminate one staff position and cut back another.

He wants to protect the travel budget so he and other synod leaders can stay in contact with South Dakota's far-flung Lutheran congregations, and he hopes to safeguard support for seminaries.

"One piece of this for me is how we produce leaders for the future. Seminaries are important," he said.

East Lake Andes itself is wrestling with this issue.

"One of the problems we have is we have a member of the church in seminary," Weber says. "We will continue to support her in seminary, but she has to be a member of an ELCA church to be ordained."

After the general assembly vote, the East Lake Andes congregation took a straw vote. When a majority favored leaving the ELCA, it took the first formal vote to do so in January - 74 percent voted to leave.

That started a 90-day clock. During that period, Zellmer made a required visit to East Lake Andes. Since the general assembly decision, he has made three such visits to congregations that have taken initial votes to leave. He doesn't know how many more he will have to make.

At such meetings, "I make it pretty clear I am not mad at them. Then I sound like a lawyer for a while," he said.He explains the legal nuts and bolts of leaving the synod, assures church members the synod cannot take their property, asks whether disaffected congregations have considered the loss of their tax-exempt status afforded by membership in the synod and asks whether they have thought about where they will find pastors.

Finally, "I make it pretty clear I don't want them to go, and if they change their mind, I am open to a conversation."
After 90 days, congregations take a second, final vote. East Lake Andes will do so March 28. Then it will seek new affiliation with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, Weber said. There are about 15 congregations in South Dakota that already are part of LCMC or planning to join it.

The East Lake Andes church council and an additional committee researched what breaking ties with the ELCA involved, Weber said. Still, "there is a lot more to it than I ever thought when you leave a synod."

Unlike many rural churches, East Lake Andes is growing. Perhaps ironically, its ELCA heritage largely is responsible for that, Weber said. In the 1990s, the Rev. Nancy Nyland was pastor.

"She drew our congregation together. We've built on her foresight ... that turned our church in an excellent direction," he said.

Sense Of Family Tested At East Lake Andes

Great regard for the Bible characterizes church members despite their disparate religious traditions, Weber and Van Gerpen said. Many current members represent the third and fourth generations of their family at East Lake Andes, and their rural heritage unites them.

"There's that commonality of facing weather and storms, raising cattle and helping the neighbors out," Van Gerpen said. "It's just a church that works together."

For Weber, "it's a warm feeling to go into the church. It's something we look forward to when we have church services."

The tradition of a brief session of coffee and cookies after Sunday service has grown into an expansive buffet dinner because church members value each other's company, he says.
But the ELCA general assembly's action on the gay clergy issue has threatened such relationships.
"They have put our church in a position of being torn apart somewhat," Weber said.

Meanwhile, the assembly's gay clergy vote hardly resonates with younger ELCA members, Zellmer said.

"For most of them, this is not an issue."

But for congregations such as East Lake Andes, it is a line in the sand.

"We are not opposed to gay people, we have great compassion for them. ... We are opposed to having them in the pulpit," Weber said.

The willingness of ELCA congregations to contemplate leaving the synod is rooted in Lutherans' understanding of their faith, said Christopher Croghan, an assistant professor of religion at Augustana College and director of Luther House of Study. There is a realization that people are fallible. They will sin and die. God will forgive them and resurrect them. The rhythms of death and rebirth are deeply embedded in Lutheranism, he said. Something must die to be reborn.

Also, for Martin Luther, the real church consisted of people who hear the Gospel and proclaim it, Croghan said. The institutional church arose to aid that mission, "but institutions are not the church." And, when to ensure their continued existence, such institutions compromise Gospel truth, they can be readily shed, Croghan said.

"The ELCA is not the church, by Luther's definition," Croghan said.

Luther himself split from the Catholic Church, and there is a history of such division. In 20th century America, Lutheran churches tied to Norwegian, German and Slavic ethnic groups gradually combined. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod founded in 1847 joined the growing association of Lutheran denominations in 1967, and the ELCA itself was founded in 1988 when the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America merged.

The alliance was not a seamless meshing. It involved compromise on how churches should be organized and governed, and in the current controversy about gay clergy, "they're starting to dig up the old bones, you can hear that," Croghan said.
Dissatisfaction with the general assembly has been sufficiently widespread that Lutherans might re-evaluate the power granted it to make sweeping pronouncements, Zellmer said.

And in an apparent effort to soften the effect of its gay clergy action, the general assembly also adopted four wide-ranging statements. They span the belief that homosexuality is sinful, to a statement that it is less desirable than traditional marriage but should be accorded all the social and legal support of marriage. ELCA members can hold any of the four positions.
Such tolerance of ambiguity reflects spiritual maturity, Zellmer said. But he acknowledges that it hardly satisfies all Lutherans.

The bishop said he does not think the gay clergy controversy threatens the survival of the ELCA in South Dakota, but he also is sympathetic to the congregations in the process of breaking their ties with the synod.

"Part of it is we vote with our feet: 'I don't want to be part of this debate. I want to go where there is clarity,' " Zellmer said. "I get that part."

Reach reporter Peter Harriman at 575-3615.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thank You God for Clergy Leaders

As the ELCA has left widely held Lutheran doctrine and a consistent understanding of God's Word in the dust, people have needed to stand up for Jesus in bolder ways and encourage the faithful to continue to follow the historical confessional truth that we have held onto for generations. I praise clergy who stand up against their synod and reach to a future filled with hope away from the ELCA. As a clergy person myself I am not trying to pat myself on the back, I am simply sharing that clergy are in a unique place as they take a position and say themselves, "Here I stand."
Clergy most certainly will have the synod staff and Bishops against them, some will have neighboring clergy against them who say painful things to hear or are turned away from gatherings, and some congregational members may find it compelling to attack their Pastor. And during this time the clergy may wonder if he of she will still have a Call if the congregation sadly decides to remain in the ELCA. The clergy person makes a vow to uphold the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and many of us find it incongruent to continue to be able to do so within the fallen ELCA. There is tremendous pressure theologically, spiritually, emotionally and relationally as one goes through the process of staying Biblically true even at the cost of all attacks. It is a burden to bear.
A comfort is found in Matthew 5:10, "God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,  for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs." This is a good thing to know, believe and trust for all of us. But I ask you, if you are in the process of leaving the ELCA, make sure that the clergy in your congregation is comforted by you too as you affirm them, care for them, treat with great kindness, and genuinely listen to their life story. They are reflecting, leading, and taking shots at them all at the same time. And even though they are wearing the full armor of God, make sure that they are protected by prayers wrapped all around them. Yes we are all in this together, but clergy are often under extreme stresses that few truly understand unless you have walked the same road. As one who has walked the road, please minister to your ministers.
Lastly, I want to lift up and praise my friend Pastor Mark Gehrke of Faith Lutheran Church in Moline, IL. He is an example of determination in the face of injustice being done to him. He has held tightly onto Scripture as his guide and has led others to follow him deeper into God's Word through the ordeal at Faith. The faith at Faith Lutheran Church is stronger because he has shown what it means to live by faith and do what is right. Even though he has been attacked mercilessly he has shown mercy. Even though the synod has brought him discomfort he has been pastoral and brought comfort. Even though there have been dark days of despair he has reminded people of the light of Christ. And even though this journey of leaving the ELCA has been filled with unexpected turns and curves he has announced "Make straight a royal highway to the Lord" and welcomed many into the body of Christ called Faith. It has not been an easy task, but I believe God placed Mark at Faith Lutheran for a time like this so that the light of Christ would burn even more brightly against a darkened sky. Hats off to you Mark.
Encourage your clergy,
Pastor John P. Nelson
Hosanna! Lutheran Church
St. Charles, IL 

Friday, February 5, 2010

ELCA, Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim's response to our requested consultation as required

Anybody who follows this blog is familiar with the tactics that the ELCA or more so Bishop Gary Wollersheim has been pulling. We ask for clarification of comments made from his office including supporting documents and factual information, they then send back statements totally ignoring our original inquiry. Below is his latest round of repeating this cycle. They must not be aware that I have been posting all of our communications here ,and everyone can follow the path and draw their own conclusions. 
February 4, 2010                                                                                              

Ms. K---- M-----
Congregational Council Secretary
Faith Lutheran Church
1611 41st Street
Moline , IL   61265

Dear Ms. M------ and Congregational Council members of Faith Lutheran Church :

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 I find the request to meet with me from the Congregational Council of Faith Lutheran Church to be inconsistent with your past behavior.

I have made offers to meet with members of Faith Lutheran Church but they have either been ignored or refused.  I have even suggested dates and times when I would be available.

I have written your pastor on several occasions and my letters for the most part have not been answered.

An attorney from Faith Lutheran Church has attempted to limit my contact with congregational members even though I serve as the pastor of the Northern Illinois Synod.

When the properly instituted Northern Illinois Synod Consultation Team was scheduled to conduct interviews at Faith Lutheran Church they were refused access to the Church building and were threatened:  “This team will not be allowed to enter our property and will be removed by the Moline Police Department if they attempt to do so. “

I have also been accused by members of Faith Lutheran Church of being a liar and denying the basic tenants of the Christian faith as confessed in the Apostles’ Creed.  These accusations are absolutely false and are a clear violation of the Eighth Commandment and Luther’s meaning:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  

“What does this mean?”  ‘We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.’ 

Now, if you still wish to meet with me, I will need some explanation of the above behavior.   Then we will need to agree on the purpose of said meeting and the agenda.   After this is accomplished, I am willing to receive Congregational Council members only, at my office at 103 West State Street , Rockford .  An appointment may be made through my administrative assistant, Ms. Julie Lewis.  You may reach Ms. Lewis at (815) 964-9934. 

In Christ,

Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim

Hard copy mailed to:
 Ms. K---- M-------
                Faith Lutheran Church
                1611 41st Street
                Moline , IL   61265

Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim
Northern Illinois Synod
103 W. State Street
Rockford, IL   61101
Phone: (815) 964-9934
Fax: (815) 964-2295

More Victories!...Halleluhiah!

Good morning Gentleman,
I am happy to report that both Congregations in our Parish vote 100% to leave the ELCA!!  First Dongola vote 28-0 and St. John's 17-0 (no uncast, blanks, or damaged ballots).
Hopefully with unanimity here we won't be a good target but I think the ELCA is going to start its cowardly tactics.  Higgins Road sent out a memo to Synod Bishops from Secretary Swarting dated Jan. 19th.  It deals with Dual-Rostering of Clergy and Congregations.  You can see the heavy handedness and bullying coming through.   
I will continue to monitor your Blog and pray for all Lutherans who continue to Stand the Authority of the Bible. 
S--- P--------
By the way our letters to the Bishop and Voting Members are very similar to yours, hope you don't mind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some ELCA Pastors Use Dishonesty, Bullying to Keep Churches from Leaving the ELCA

Some ELCA Pastors Use Dishonesty, Bullying to Keep Churches from Leaving the ELCA
Contact: Rev. CJ Conner, 651-373-9137
MEDIA ADVISORY, Feb. 3 /Christian Newswire/ -- ELCA leader and Pastor Barry Hoerz is no stranger to twisting arms to get his way. While he was a member of the Weyauwega School Board in Wisconsin, he sued his colleagues over a disagreement and resigned his elected office. Hoerz serves the dwindling Saint John Lutheran Church in Weyauwega, with an average attendance of about 100. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Appleton Post-Crescent- part of a broad ELCA letter-writing strategy to shape public opinion about congregations leaving the group. The headline was "Homosexuals Are Now Part of LCMC Ministry." Hoerz is a signatory to the "Reconciling in Christ" creed.

Hoerz went on to suggest that Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) ordains practicing homosexuals just the same as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Privately, he has acknowledged that this is not true.

LCMC was formed over 10 years ago, long before the ELCA became embroiled in the controversies of gay marriage and sexually active gay clergy. Since then the group has worked faithfully and quietly to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people, with a resolute focus on Christian Mission rather than social statements. A clear threat to the ELCA, LCMC has accepted 102 congregations into membership the past year, including many of the ELCA's largest and most vibrant churches. 

LCMC is a Biblically orthodox and Confessional denomination- formed to remain faithful to the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. By stark contrast, the ELCA is a "constitutional church" -- where a vote on doctrinal and moral issues by a constitutional assembly trumps the Bible and the centuries-old Lutheran founding documents. 

When urged to offer a correction to the false statements, Hoerz replied "I stand on what I wrote, no correction given."

That's just how the ELCA "rolls" -- by any means necessary, no apologies given.

Washington Times correspondent Wayne Anderson wrote about the bully tactics that many orthodox ELCA congregations are facing (1). Similar reports are emerging daily as the ELCA fights to prevent congregations from following their Biblical conscience and leaving with millions of dollars of benevolence and assets. Pastor Barry Hoerz represents a movement that is hostile to those congregations, "bound conscience" be damned. 


Monday, February 1, 2010

Pastor remains on clergy roster

A year ago, members of Zion Lutheran Church in Hummelstown, Pa., woke up to the news that their pastor had been arrested.
The Rev. Alan Curtis Wenrich was charged with “patronizing prostitutes” and for solicitation of prostitutes, according to the police report.“He admitted his guilt to me,” Bishop B. Penrose Hoover recently told Pretty Good Lutherans. Hoover leads the ELCA’s Lower Susquehanna Synod in Pennsylvania.
Soon after his arrest, Wenrich, who is married, resigned his post at the Hummelstown church. Yet he remains on the ELCA clergy roster. His status is listed as “on leave.”
When asked why Wenrich is still a pastor, Hoover said: ”Because his misconduct did not rise to the level of sexual misconduct as we define it. It was solicitation, not the act of sex.”
Pretty Good Lutherans then asked: “So a woman has to allow a pastor to have sex with her before the ELCA considers his behavior sexual misconduct?”
The bishop responded: “I think this conversation needs to end.” Then he hung up the phone.