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The Presiding Bishop Steps Out

by Paul R. Hinlicky — July 07, 2012

Some years ago the Luther scholar Scott Hendrix published “Luther and the Papacy: Stages in a Reformation Conflict,” an important study which demonstrated how Luther’s quarrel was never with the catholic faith as such but with “the papists,” modern innovators who had betrayed that faith universally held. Nevertheless, Luther respected the papacy as a pastoral office, according to Hendrix. Indeed, the primary source of his anger was the betrayal of the pope’s universal pastoral duty by Leo X and his successors. Hendrix showed that Luther’s underlying and consistent criterion in judging the papacy is that by divine right the papacy is a pastoral office “of nourishing people in the church with the Word of God.” This pastoral function is “the criterion for claiming legitimate authority in the church.” Luther’s outrage is directed “at the perversion of the pastoral office.” In fact, Luther “was protesting against the usurpation of the church by an unfaithful hierarchy on behalf of the faithful people, not against the church on behalf of the individual” as he was so often falsely understood. In just the same way I am angered to learn that ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who has never attended a meeting of Lutheran CORE, nor answered the repeated requests of myself and other confessional theologians to account for his partisan leadership, will address the annual meeting of ReconcilingWorks...

Some years ago the Luther scholar Scott Hendrix published Luther and the Papacy: Stages in a Reformation Conflict, an important study which demonstrated how Luther’s quarrel was never with the catholic faith as such but with “the papists,” modern innovators who had betrayed that faith universally held. Nevertheless, Luther respected the papacy as a pastoral office, according to Hendrix. Indeed, the primary source of his anger was the betrayal of the pope’s universal pastoral duty by Leo X and his successors. Hendrix showed that Luther’s underlying and consistent criterion in judging the papacy is that by divine right the papacy is a pastoral office “of nourishing people in the church with the Word of God.” This pastoral function is “the criterion for claiming legitimate authority in the church.” Luther’s outrage is directed “at the perversion of the pastoral office.” In fact, Luther “was protesting against the usurpation of the church by an unfaithful hierarchy on behalf of the faithful people, not against the church on behalf of the individual” as he was so often falsely understood.

In just the same way I am angered to learn that ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who has never attended a meeting of Lutheran CORE, nor answered the repeated requests of myself and other confessional theologians to account for his partisan leadership, will address the annual meeting of ReconcilingWorks — Lutherans for Full Participation (the GLBT PAC in the ELCA) in Washington, DC on July 9-10, 2012. Read the story for yourself here.

Let me be very clear. As I have often said and still maintain: I favor full civic rights for sexual minorities. I favor a church climate which is welcoming of them and on guard against bigotry and bullying. What I do not favor is infidelity to the Lutheran confessional doctrine of marriage or the achievement of the former goals by means of defecting from that normative theology of human sexuality. Moreover, I have no problem with an ELCA presiding bishop attending any meetings with anybody anywhere, if he or she is indeed doing the pastoral work “of nourishing people in the church with the Word of God.”

That is precisely not what appears to be happening with Hanson’s appearance in Washington, DC. Emily Eastwood, executive director of ReconcilingWorks, a life-long Lutheran and lesbian, says so in the above cited news release: “Our primary purpose is always movement building... We gather for personal transformation and support as well as skills building, education and action planning.” Despite the 2009 decision, she says “the group’s work is not done... when policies change, when laws change, that doesn’t mean the practice of it is immediately implemented or that the cultural shifts have occurred... We believe full inclusion will take a period of years, perhaps even the rest of my life, to make sure the new policies become fully practiced within our denomination.” The news release comments: “Members say it’s a huge step for the entire denomination to have Hanson address their group. Moeller says Hanson was always sensitive to their issues but measured in his public stance prior to the 2009 vote. He’s been more unequivocal in his support since then, members say, and his appearance is unprecedented for the 4.2 million-member ELCA.” Another quote from Philip Moeller, convener of the DC ReconcilingWorks chapter since 1991: “This is the first time we’ve ever had a presiding bishop address us and it really says something about the change that’s happening within the church.”

Clearly, what is anticipated is not nourishing the people with the word of God but an endorsement of a political agenda for engineering change in the culture of the church. Of course, I do not at this moment know what Hanson will be saying at this event, but his very presence seems to be making such a statement. If his speech is made public, I will take a look at it to see if he in fact nourished the gathering with the word of God’s law and God’s gospel, and will report back on it. But, I suspect, the news release is right and, as ReconcilingWorks spokespersons say, his talk will amount to an endorsement of their agenda.

In the aftermath of the 2009 decision, I predicted that something like this was inevitable: the radicalization of the ELCA along liberal Protestant lines. Nevertheless, it profoundly saddens me now if this event is the turning point that will prove me right. I have hoped against hope in the interim that the painful cost of the 2009 decision in terms of defections and demoralization (for the evidence, see Prof. Mark Granquist’s article "A Slow Disaster and a Modest Proposal" in the Summer 2012 issue of Lutheran Forum) would cause the presiding bishop and his court theologians to reconsider the wisdom of their actions and to reach out to what remains of the loyal opposition. There is still time for Bishop Hanson to attend the CORE theological conference, August 14-15, in Golden Valley, Minnesota. That would give at least nominal evidence of his pastoral responsibility for all in the ELCA. It would perhaps even strengthen his own understanding of the confessional norm to which he himself is subject and for which he is supremely responsible in his stewardship of the church. And, unlike the uncritical adulation he might anticipate receiving at the Washington meeting, it would manifest the virtue of courage. But we shall see.

Paul R. Hinlicky is the Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.

PB Steps Out

Posted by Anthony M at July 09, 2012 01:40
Excellent insight and forecasting. Despite all of your wisdom in this area, you still hope that the PB will change - that he will be a leader of all!? The denomination is near bankruptcy, members are fleeing, and crosses are being broken from our steeples (I saw it in Mpls in 2009 with my own eyes) and he stil won't change. Maybe a flood, an exodus, and a few dozen prophets will sway the PB. Oh no, that happened too.

Presiding Bishop Steps Out

Posted by Caleb at July 09, 2012 12:52
So now we learn that, ELCA 2009 convention blandishments notwithstanding, some bound consciences are not equal to others after all. If your bound conscience impels you to scriptural fidelity, the ELCA leadership is telling you there's no place at the table for you.

homosexuality ...

Posted by Jason Loh at July 10, 2012 13:53
Dear Prof Hinlicky,

I am deeply encouraged by your stance. Your articulation on gay marriage (as analogous) has been helpful for me. For me the distinction between the theological and political use of the Law is absolute and in dynamic tension. Having said this, I am deeply encouraged by your stance, Prof.

I enjoy reading both Paths not Taken and Luther and the Beloved Community. Looking forward to your future publications! Keep up the good work!

Jason
Lutheran Church in Malaysia
Philip Baker is the ELCA's representative here ...

Luther's atheism

Posted by Jason Loh at July 10, 2012 14:02
Ah I need to get the Devil's Whore too! Prof Hinlicky has an article on "Luther's atheism"!

faith and action

Posted by Peter at July 14, 2012 00:14
It looks like you're criticizing people for living out their faith and the Presiding Bishop for acting like a bishop. Faith is always lived out in the world, and that involves "personal transformation and support as well as skills building, education and action planning". Where two or three are gathered in Christ's name, there He is also.

Clearly, you feel judged by the Presiding Bishop's decision to attend ReconcilingWorks' gathering. Instead of complaining that said judgement is unfair, look to the One who is judging you and what the judgement means for you. I would suggest that the method is what is under judgment here... for all the claims of confessional Lutheranism, the method of promoting such tends to be best described as confrontational or agitation. Contrast that with the approach of ReconcilingWorks, which is reconciliation. The irony being that confessional Lutheranism is aimed at proclaiming the Reconciliation that God has accomplished in us through Christ. Matthew 18:21-35 might be a good grounding text.

Yet Christ died for you, and that judgment is changed from death to life. And in that new life, there is joy whenever people are nourished with Word and Sacrament, even when those people believe differently than us. If you believe the Presiding Bishop capable of nourishing anyone with Word and Sacrament, why assume that he didn't at ReconcilingWorks?


Bishop Hanson's Address

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at July 14, 2012 01:15
Peter, you are the most obtuse reader I have ever encountered. If you read carefully, you would note how carefully I talked about the news release and the expectations of the quoted leaders of Reconciling Works, reserving judgement on the Bishop's address until I had opportunity to read it for myself.

Thanks to Pastor Daniel Ostercamp I have been provided a copy of the Bishop's remarks and I will shortly be posting an analysis of it here. In the process, unfortunately, Pastor Ostercamp misread somewhat what I had said about the Bishop's non-attendance as the theological conferences of Lutheran Core, and when I corrected him, acknowledged his error and said he would be correcting it with Bishop Hanson's office.

When I have served as a pastor, if ever I got wind of unhappiness or dissatisfaction, I went straight to the source, humbled myself, and listened to the complaints. Happily, as a result, I have had a good experience in the parish ministry. This is the nature of my complaint against Bp Hanson. He does not need a written invitation to attend a CORE meeting, and given the partisan nature of his leadership, can hardly expect one. It suffices that since 1988 the 5.4 million member ELCA has declined to 4.2 million and counting. It suffices that since 2009 those who could not easily leave the ELCA have voted with their pocketbooks, if not their Sunday morning participation, while in fact about 1000 congregations have actually gone through the trauma of leaving, making the largest schism in NA Lutheran history. And countless more are just like me, too damn stubborn to leave until we get tossed out. If I were a pastor in such a troubled house, I would go to those in dissent and listen. That's the sum and substance of my complaint againt Bp Hanson -- at least until next time when I show what his "gospel" is in the address he made to Reconciling Works.

semantics

Posted by Peter at July 18, 2012 03:43
Dr Hinlicky,

While you did leave the possibility open that the Bishop could proclaim God's Word, you very strongly suggested that this wasn't going to happen, see "That is precisely not what appears to be happening with Hanson’s appearance in Washington, DC." and "Clearly, what is anticipated is not nourishing the people with the word of God". That's not just a lack of trust in the news report or the ReconcilingWorks' people, but in the Bishop as well. If the Bishop can nourish with Word and Sacrament, it doesn't matter what setting he's placed in.

Interestingly enough, re pastoral care, this Bishop has been a lot more open than previous ones. Between the Town Hall meetings and discussion groups, and LivingLutheran blog posts, he's been pretty accessible. He has been listening. Your problem is that he's not doing what you want him to do. In the past, though, you've blasted bishops for not standing up and executing their office. Now that one is, you don't seem happy either.

And as to being too stubborn to leave until you get tossed out, come back after 20 years of the church saying that you can't be ordained because you're married and tell me what stubborn is. I would have expected you to understand a little better given your Seminex history.

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