A Letter to Presiding Bishop Eaton
I wrote a letter to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, a couple of years ago when she was elected. No response.
One of our members contacted the ELCA legal offices repeatedly and finally got an answer: We feel no obligation to respond. That’s the way of lawyers. Litigation shuts down dialog.
If we believe the Church should live by biblical principles of love, forgiveness and reconciliation, dialog is necessary.
Keep in mind—Each of these non-responders collects a salary paid with congregational dollars—some of it in offerings, some in seized property.
Our congregation’s experience in the ELCA, mirrored by other congregations in several other synods, merits the time and attention of the whole Church. There is no reason to believe any congregation is exempt from the misuse of unenforceable Church laws. Unfortunately, the response of most member churches is to look the other way and accept the financial benefits—less burden on them, less risk when dealing with predatory leaders.
So, I wrote to the presiding bishop again in August, one month ago.
This time, my concern is sparked by SEPA’s interference in 2×2’s mission work in our community this summer.
SEPA abandoned our neighborhood six years ago, claimed our land, and set about selling it. Still SEPA found time to come back to orchestrate a defamation campaign when our congregation attempted to offer summer programming for neighborhood children. They used familiar tactics—gossip, bribes, and threats—not entirely against us but also against people who worked with us. SEPA prefers no mission to our mission.
We are still Christians. We still live in our neighborhood. We are still mission-minded. We always were. We have a right to pursue mission ventures in our own neighborhood without SEPA and the ELCA.
SEPA excluded us by decree five years ago. They bypassed all church procedures for working with congregations in mission. As a result, we are no longer subject to their authority in any way. They voted us closed without our knowledge. They seized our land and bank accounts. We, as Redeemer, no longer exist as far as the ELCA is concerned.
We reincorporated as 2×2 Foundation. Now, when SEPA leaders interfere with our mission, they are interfering with the work of a separate entity. The First Amendment, their defense for all actions, may no longer serve their cause.
It would seem that the mission strategy of Lutheran leaders is to ignore its constituency. Hierarchy controls all forums in the Church. They can use these forums to label targeted congregations to make any actions against them sound reasonable.
In this cloistered world of Church, there is no reason to respond. Regional bodies can claim rights to congregational assets, regardless of Church rules. Under the interpretation of “Lutheran Interdependence,” each bishop is an unstoppable entity, subject to no reasonable authority, free to break and write the rules of interdependent engagement at will. They simply defend their actions by claiming Separation of Church and State. In other words, no one can stop them.
So, this will be our policy. When 30 days pass with no acknowledgement, 2×2 will publish letters.
Here is our recent letter. In it we make a few recommendations for restructuring what might keep the ELCA from ending up on life support within a few decades. Some of them are ideas that worked in previous Lutheran entities. Others may not have been possible back in 1988 when the ELCA was formed but are very possible today.
Here is the excerpt that lists these recommendations.
- Protect congregational polity. Predecessor bodies of the LCA and ELCA expressly forbade regional bodies from owning property. They were not to be in the real estate business. Synods are tempted to covet what does not belong to them. Mission ceases to be a consideration.
- Establish an independent ombudsman’s office. (also part of predecessor bodies) There are two sides in every conflict. But bishops control the voice and venues for resolution. Bishops need to know they can be challenged in a forum they do not control. Lay leaders need enforceable constitutional protection. This would help create an atmosphere where clergy and laity can innovate with less fear of reprisal. Recognize Synod Assembly is not capable of dealing thoroughly and fairly with problems between a bishop and congregation.
- Get rid of Involuntary Synodical Administration. It violates founding Articles of Incorporation and is a euphemism for theft. At the very least, review how bishops use this concept.
- Define “interdependent.” It should strengthen ties not absolve responsibility and numb conscience.
- Provide congregations equal access to the expertise of legal offices funded with their offerings.
- Discourage the use of courts by church leaders. Bullying threats of litigation side-step scriptural alternatives and cripple mission.
- Consider a non-geographical synod that congregations can opt to join. (Yes, it is possible. There is already one nongeographic synod organized for ethnic reasons.) Bishops might be more inclined to work with congregations if congregations had options. Congregations need an environment where they can innovate without designs on their property. Alternatives might preserve mission outposts that geographical synods are content to abandon for short-term monetary gain.
- Respect lay leadership. If our congregation’s lay initiatives had been inspired by clergy, they would be praised.