Today’s scripture from John 10:18 says (Jesus speaking of giving his life), “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”
The words sound familiar to Redeemer. Bishop Burkat was heard to say four years ago at a gathering in Chicago, ELCA headquarters, “I have the power to close that church and I intend to close it.”
Within two days she came to Redeemer supposedly for a “mutual discernment” meeting. She brought with her a lawyer, a sizable posse of support which had not been announced as coming. She also had a locksmith hiding behind the property out of sight.
Constitutionally, Bishop Burkat doesn’t have the power to seize congregational property. That’s clearly spelled out in Synod’s Articles of Incorporation. We’ve been pointing this out to SEPA clergy for three years.
Bishop Burkat is getting away with her interpretation of her power because no one dares stop her. Why?
The courts have said they do not have jurisdiction in intrachurch disputes. Four years of costly legal maneuvering and the case was never heard. Courts want church people to solve their own problems.
Church people operating under the structure of the ELCA seem to be unable to do this. We can guess that they fear the vindictive treatment received by the members of Redeemer who dared to challenge Bishop Burkat. It has been horrific, but SEPA congregations don’t want to be bothered with nastiness.
The latest judge in four years of courtroom drama pointed out to Synod that there are legitimate constitutional questions. The split decision favoring their position isn’t a “slam dunk” for Synod. Two judges agree with Redeemer’s position to the letter. That should interest SEPA Lutherans. A good number of you are no larger or stronger than Redeemer.
Good Shepherd Sunday is a good time for SEPA Lutherans to ponder how power within the church is meant to be used. Jesus used his power sacrificially. Bishop Burkat uses power for monetary gain and prestige.
It is Lutheran polity for the various arms of the church to work together, as interdependent equals. In Lutheran polity, leaders are servants. That’s true in Chicago, in Mt. Airy and in every congregation. There is no power — save that of the Gospel — in Lutheran polity. It’s time for us to insist on that.
And the courts have told you — it’s our job, not theirs.