ELCA please feel free to read, as well.
Dear fellow Lutherans,
By now you should be aware of the horrific conflict being waged in your name by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America against the Lutherans of East Falls.
For four years, it has been the forbidden topic — ignored and danced around—everyone making nice like nothing terrible is happening.
Litigation as a ministry tool creates this climate. It’s a bullying technique and it works!
For us in East Falls, it has been a daily part of our lives for half a decade. Clergy skedaddled early on, leaving lay people to take the heat. SEPA wanted our property to meet their budget. The 2009 Synod Assembly approved taking our property at the same time they approved a $275,000 deficit budget. And yet SEPA denies that closing churches is a plan. There is ample evidence that it has been part of a plan for some time. Money from closed churches was laundered through its Mission Fund — there supposedly for mission purposes but regularly filling the six-figure operating deficit.
Voting on a congregation’s property by Synod Assembly is forbidden by SEPA’s Articles of Incorporation. The consequences of this ill-advised and improper vote is devastating to both SEPA and Redeemer. But let’s not talk about it!
Why is it OK with SEPA Lutherans to treat fellow Christians so heartlessly?
The only way to justify this is to demonize Redeemer members. Bishop Burkat as much as said so in a letter to pastors back in February. It’s heartbreaking, she wrote, but they didn’t do as they were told.
We deserve this?!
The Lutheran Church, born of dissent, historically allows for stands based on conscience. Redeemer challenged the decisions regarding our ministry on constitutional grounds and conscience. We were sued as a congregation and some of us as individuals before the constitutional provisions for dissent could be exercised. The process was manipulated and SEPA Lutherans followed like sheep. Leadership in Chicago turned blind eyes, siding with hierarchy with no regard for the laity.
SEPA used its position and power to create an unfair process that they hope can be replicated. They sent SEPA legal counsel, John Gordon, to Chicago to teach their process to all Synod Counsels. If this process is right and part of Lutheran polity, why must it be taught as something new and innovative?
SEPA is so focused on power and attaining our property that in 2009 they ignored all other issues we brought to Synod Assembly’s attention. They used this improper vote on one of many issues to justify every action before and since—voted on or not.
The behavior of SEPA synod is wrong. Going after a member congregation to the point of attacking individual lay members and threatening their homes and livelihoods is wrong. ELEVEN Redeemer members face the loss of our homes while SEPA maintains an empty property which could be generating income to pay the congregation’s debt (as the congregation had planned). By the way, eleven is just two shy of Redeemer’s total membership, according to SEPA. The ruin of every Redeemer member is OK with SEPA—as long as their assumed power is recognized. SEPA trustees reported our membership as 13 when their own records listed 26. But Redeemer had grown significantly since the figure 26 had been reported. SEPA has recognized this in court, holding the congregation to a quorum for a membership of more than 70.
There is a powerful disconnect between what SEPA Lutherans preach and what they practice.
SEPA’s actions are wrong
- and two appeal judges wrote a dissenting opinion that suggests they are also wrong legally.
One judge pointed out to Synod Counsel that this was not a “slam dunk” for them. There was room for honest disagreement.
The answer is so simple that a third grader could advise us where concepts fail the learned theologians. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
SEPA Lutherans talk about doing the right thing but are powerless to check their own leaders.
This conflict is unnecessary. Peaceful remedies are available. SEPA leadership has no interest in peace or reconciliation. They want to win—win at any cost. Pride, power and greed have fueled the conflict. Apathy and fear keep the engine purring.
Redeemer has maintained its ministry as best it can for the last four years. We’ve done well, following the mission plan presented to SEPA trustees in 2007 with adaptations for the hostile circumstances. There were never constitutional grounds for SEPA’s actions against Redeemer.
SEPA wanted our property to pay their bills. That end is the only justification of their means.
We believe from our many visits that SEPA Lutherans know better, but they are too insecure to question the leaders they elect as servants.
Our faith is meant to empower us all to look beyond our own interests. Christian leaders are expected to embrace servanthood. Christian followers are not expected to be passive.
Not in SEPA.
Are there any blessed peacemakers in SEPA Synod? Does anyone have a vision for ending this?