(Editor’s note: The following letter was mailed as a “public” letter to the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) last week by Solid Rock Lutherans, Inc., and signed by several former ELCA bishops.)
August 19, 2004
Conference of Bishops
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Solid Rock Lutherans is a coalition and umbrella group whose purpose is to uphold our Church's current standards and teaching on marriage and ordination. Solid Rock Lutherans includes academic theologians, former and current bishops, lay people, and parish pastors from different Lutheran perspectives who are opposed to the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-sex unions. Our network reaches into sixty-two (62) synods of the ELCA.
We write to you out of concern for the unity of the Church and for the Church's fidelity to the Scriptures and the Confessions.
We observe what is happening in the Episcopal Church over changes in the doctrine and practice of marriage and ordination. The actions at their recent General Convention have seriously damaged that Church's relationship with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has been forced to resign as co-chair of the Anglican - Roman Catholic dialog team. It is no exaggeration to note that the Episcopal Church is now quite isolated ecumenically.
We continue to receive warning signs from Lutheran leaders in the developing world of their strenuous opposition to the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians and to the blessings of same-sex unions (note the recent Bukoba Statement of the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.). The United Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in the United States have recently re-affirmed what has been our practice and teaching on these matters. The position of our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters is well known to us all. To ordain practicing gay and lesbian people and to authorize blessings for such unions would effectively cut ourselves off from most of our ecumenical partners.
Much to our sorrow, some of our congregations have chosen to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over these issues, and many others are preparing to do so. Already many congregations are diverting benevolence support to causes other than synodical and Churchwide mission support. The changes in Church practice that have been proposed by those who advocate a gay and lesbian agenda have only added to the sense of distrust and estrangement that many pastors and lay people feel about the leadership of our Church.
We are deeply troubled by all these matters. Even those who support the proposed changes admit that the Scriptures provide no warrant for blessing and ordaining practicing gays and lesbians. There is no consensus within the scientific community about the supposed genetic origin of homosexuality. There is now concrete evidence that many gay and lesbian persons who want to change their behavior have been able to do so.
Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession teaches that "it is the office of the bishop to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, (and) judge doctrine that is contrary to the Gospel." The constitution of our Church commits us to advocate and defend the confession and faith of our Church, according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
We are former bishops of the ELCA. We have joined Solid Rock Lutherans, because we believe in the doctrine and practice of marriage and ordination as we have known them. We believe that these are critical matters for our contemporary witness to the truth of the Scriptures. We ask that you join us in this effort. We request that you use your office for the sake of the Church's faithfulness and unity. We plead with you to act now and call the Church back to its historic doctrine and practice.
From our experience, we know first-hand the burden and stress that you carry as bishops of the Church. Many of you are our personal friends and confidants in ministry. We pray for you, and we remember the office that has been committed to you. We sincerely invite your response to this letter. It is our "cry from the heart" to you. We ask you to do all you can to maintain the Church's orthodox ethical norms for marriage and ordination.
God bless our Church, and God bless your ministry of oversight.
Paull E. Spring, Chair, Solid Rock Lutherans,Former bishop, Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod
John C. Beem, Former bishop, East-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Ralph A. Kempski, Former, bishop, Indiana-Kentucky Synod
George P. Mocko, Former bishop, Delaware-Maryland Synod
Kenneth A. Sauer, Former bishop, Southern Ohio Synod