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To the editor

—of "The Living Church"

April 14, 2002

ENTIRE, UNEDITED ARTICLE written by Dr. Tim Huffman; sent to 'Letters to the Editor', The Living Church, April 14, 2002, entitled: "Serious Arguments".

To the Editor, The Living Church:

I am honored to have stimulated such a lively response by my little Viewpoint article (“CCM: Broken Covenant or Flawed Pre-nuptial?” Jan. 20). The arguments are serious, and deserve a serious response.

Several correspondents make the point that a vote of more than 2/3 of the ELCA’s churchwide assembly seems mandate enough, and suggest that it is mere “sour grapes” to complain after the fact. Actually, that Biblical proverb might be appropriate here; cf. Jer. 31:29; Ezek. 18:2. My point was, and is, that the dysfunctional decision-making processes in the ELCA guarantee a gap between assembly actions and churchly reality. Perhaps this never happens in the ECUSA, but the Presbyterians are the example of the moment. A resolution to change PCUSA policy on sexuality passed their assembly with more than 60% approval. Fortunately for them, the PCUSA has a polity that requires that synods affirm assembly actions, and the synod vote, almost complete, is at 27%. That’s a huge gap: 61% and 27%. Unfortunately the ELCA has no similar checks and balances, and the secretary of the ELCA works hard to persuade ELCA voting members that they are not delegates and represent no one; they “are the church,” and should listen to the input carefully controlled by ELCA leadership, and then vote. They are not required to disclose or explain their votes to anyone. Growing numbers of ELCA leaders, fearful of the next contentious vote in 2005, are thinking about ways to avoid the “mistakes” of the CCM process. In the meantime, as some of the 73% of ELCA members who knew nothing or virtually nothing about CCM are learning its requirements, opposition is growing in many parts of the country. Unfortunately some congregations are simply leaving the ELCA.

Bishop Epting addresses my comment on the “ordination” of bishops, saying “Lutherans whom Huffman perceives ‘were not told the whole truth about the implications of CCM’ apparently did not bother to read material produced by the ecumenical office of their church or the document itself which make clear that traditional elements of ordination are indeed employed. How else could Anglicans have entered into the agreement?” Inadvertently Bishop Epting has proved my point. This question is addressed at least half a dozen times in ELCA material, and always in contradiction to Bishop Epting. One example, from the infamous “Since You Asked” booklet from the Department of Ecumenical Affairs, ELCA: Q.: “Will future ELCA bishops be ordained into the office of bishop?” A: “No. Bishops of the ELCA are ordained ministers who have been elected to serve in the office of oversight. Bishops are installed, therefore, into this office, similar to the way in which a pastor is installed to any new call.” For an excellent account of the details of this deception, read the new paper by Walter Huffman, Professor of Worship at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, one of the leading liturgical experts of the ELCA and part of the task force that developed the ELCA’s Ordinal. The paper is posted on the website wordalone.org and available in hard copy upon request.

Bishop Epting denies my assertion that CCM papers over fundamental disagreements. Of about a dozen such disagreements, several are crucial. At the Common Ground Consultation in Milwaukee in February, 2000, Bishop Epting answered my question, “Does the ECUSA understand that the preface to the Ordinal will apply to both ELCA and ECUSA ministries when the suspension is ended?” (par. 16) with a simple yes. ELCA sources uniformly say no. Both Bishop Epting and the ECUSA bishops’ Mind of the House resolution have been clear that the ELCA is adopting the historic episcopate and thus the threefold ordering of ministry. Before the 1997 vote ELCA leaders denied that the ELCA was adopting even the historic episcopate itself, and have been very clear since then that the ELCA is not adopting the threefold ordering of ministry: “CCM makes clear that the ELCA will not need to change its position to designate deacons or diaconal ministers as members of the clergy.” (Q & A) The very resolution by which the ECUSA adopted CCM is in error. Resolution A041 states, “…having agreed that the threefold ministry …will be the future pattern of the one ordained ministry shared corporately within the two churches…” This quotes the key phrase from the Concordat of 1997, to which the ELCA did not agree; and ELCA sources, including the Conference of Bishops, are unanimous in saying that the ELCA has not agreed to such a plan.

Other key differences include the nature of ordination itself (no ontological character in Lutheranism) which results in the practice of lay presidency, growing in the ELCA both from necessity and out of conviction; the significant differences on the meaning of the priesthood of all believers; and the status of the “Tucson Resolution,” much debated in the ELCA. The amendment regarding the Tucson Resolution, passed by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, was presented by Judge Dale Sandstrom on behalf of the ELCA’s Church Council. With the Presiding Bishop and the secretary of the ELCA at podiums on stage, Judge Sandstrom said, “The intention of the action of the Church Council is to make the interpretation of the [ELCA] Conference of Bishops binding and incorporated by reference, and therefore binding by the action of both this church and the Episcopal Church.” Sandstrom’s motion passed overwhelmingly. Printed on page 1 of The Official Text of Called to Common Mission at the ELCA Assembly, the Resolution disappeared from the text deep into the packets of ECUSA delegates, who were told that the ELCA had not voted on it, and thus it was not important. Doubters should simply read the “dueling resolutions” of the two conferences of bishops and see whether they can reconcile them.

The tragedy of all this is that an “ecumenical agreement” is driving wedges between two churches that ought simply to have accepted each other, and has been the occasion for the stated desire of some CCM enthusiasts that dissenters should leave the ELCA. Two years ago I wrote, “The reluctant bridegroom is arriving at the wedding with a shotgun held by his own family. It will be an interesting honeymoon!” (episcopalian.org) So it is.

Tim Huffman, Kuder Professor of Mission, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio