Dis­si­dent Luther­ans claim bul­ly­ing over ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY WAYNE M. AN­DER­SON

A de­ci­sion to or­dain ac­tively ho­mo­sex­ual clergy has caused deep fis­sures in the na­tion’s largest Lutheran church group, with some tra­di­tional Luther­ans say­ing they have been sub­jected to threats and re­tal­i­a­tion as they con­sider break­ing away.

Sev­eral dis­af­fected mem­bers of the Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church in Amer­ica (ELCA) say the de­ci­sion made at the church’s na­tional con­ven­tion in Min­neapo­lis in Au­gust could prompt a ma­jor ex­o­dus from one of Amer­ica’s big­gest Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions.

“I wouldn’t even be­gin to tell you how many thou­sands [of calls] I’ve got­ten,” said Paull Spring, chair­man of Lutheran Coali­tion for Re­newal, or CORE, a na­tional coali­tion based on tra­di­tional val­ues. His group said last month that it can­not re­main in­side the 4.7-mil­lion-mem­ber ELCA and will form a new synod. He is not alone. “I am re­ceiv­ing ev­ery sin­gle week dozens of phone calls, emails, from pas­tors of the largest Lutheran churches in ELCA,” said the Rev. Wal­ter Kallestad, se­nior pas­tor of Com­mu­nity Church of Joy in Glen­dale, Ariz., who left the synod af­ter hav­ing been “ros­tered” as a min­is­ter with the ELCA for 31 years. “I’ve an­swered hun­dreds [. . . ] from con­gre­ga­tions looking to tran­si­tion out of the ELCA.”

For rea­sons of church struc­ture — Lutheran con­gre­ga­tions re­tain their prop­erty as long as they are af­fil­i­ated with a Lutheran synod — the fall­out from the ELCA’s de­ci­sion isn’t likely to lead to the kind of court fights that fol­lowed the U.S. Epis­co­pal Church’s 2003 or­di­na­tion of an openly ho­mo­sex­ual bishop.

But the splits within the ELCA, which is more than twice the Epis­co­pal Church’s size, are get­ting ugly in their own way. Pas­tors tak­ing their churches out of the ELCA are mak­ing charges of “un­eth­i­cal, im­moral and in some cases, il­le­gal” acts by bish­ops and other of­fi­cials, Mr. Kallestad said.

“I’m talk­ing to some pas­tors and leaders from many states around the na­tion, whose [ELCA] bish­ops are be­com­ing very hos­tile,” Mr. Kallestad said.

The Rev. Mark Gehrke, of Faith Lutheran Church in Mo­line, Ill., said that “if you do not agree with the di­rec­tion of the ELCA, you are [. . . ] bul­lied or os­tra­cized or threat­ened. The threat has been to even re­move me and sus­pend me from min­istry,” he said.

In early Septem­ber, he said, he was lead­ing meet­ings and

“They are afraid for their jobs,” he said. “They are afraid of stand­ing against the church, the bish­ops.”

In Novem­ber, his church voted not to leave the ELCA but to com­pro­mise by join­ing Lutheran Con­gre­ga­tions in Mis­sion for Christ, an inde-

Lutheran churches are leav­ing across the na­tion, not just in the Mid­west. “I, too, have talked with both lay and clergy peo­ple around the coun­try who tell some pretty hor­rific sto­ries,” said the Rev. Mark Gra­ham, of St. John Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church in Roanoke, Va. Th­ese are sto­ries of “du­plic­ity and de­ceit and out­right mean-spir­ited action — even il­le­gal action.”

front of the en­tire con­gre­ga­tion.”

Mr. Gehrke said other pas­tors have been bul­lied into si­lence.

“In Illi­nois, I’m one of the only few pas­tors that have taken a stand,” he said, not­ing there are oth­ers who are too fright­ened to openly crit­i­cize the de­nom­i­na­tion’s po­si­tion on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. pen­dent con­ser­va­tive Lutheran as­so­ci­a­tion.

The ELCA de­nies threat­en­ing or bul­ly­ing any­body.

“I would deny that com­pletely,” said Bishop Gary Woller­sheim of the ELCA’s North­ern Illi­nois Synod. “That’s not hap­pen­ing in north­ern Illi- nois. I’m sure that’s not hap­pen­ing any­where in the coun­try.”

More than that, the bishop said, the de­nom­i­na­tion has taken the op­po­site ap­proach to­ward those who back tra­di­tional sex­ual moral­ity.

“I have done the ex­act op­po­site,” Bishop Woller­sheim said. “I have as­sured clergy, ros­ter leaders, that hold dif­fer­ent opin­ions on the de­ci­sions that [nei­ther] the synod nor I will dis­crim­i­nate against them in any way. The last thing that I would do as pas­tor of the synod would [be to] bully some­body or threaten them.”

Pre­sid­ing Bishop Mark Han­son, the head of the ELCA, also de­nies that the synod is en­gag­ing in in­tim­i­da­tion and ques­tions re­ports of any split.

“I think some of the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of po­lar­iza­tion is a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion,” Bishop Han­son said. “To be bru­tally hon­est, it seems to me me­dia can only tell sto­ries about po­lar­iza­tion and frag­men­ta­tion.”

The head bishop re­cently met with sub­or­di­nate bish­ops from across the coun­try, and told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he is not aware of “any al­le­ga­tions” of im­proper or il­le­gal acts by ELCA of­fi­cials — or even that an ex­o­dus is tak­ing place.

Through the end of Oc­to­ber, the church es­ti­mates that “50 of the ELCA’s 10,396 con­gre­ga­tions have taken first votes to leave,” said ELCA spokesman John Brooks in an e-mail. “Five such votes have failed.”

To leave the ELCA, a church must con­duct two votes, 90 days apart, with both votes at­tain­ing a two-thirds ma­jor­ity.

Bishop Han­son also ques­tions

MAYA ALLERUZZO / THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

In­ner tur­moil: The chapel at Lutheran The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Get­tys­burg, Pa. is seen through a cross-shaped win­dow.

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