An Open Letter from the Bishop

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Those who trust in the Lord shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  In the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.  [Jeremiah 17:7-8]

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus who died on the cross for all of us.

I write to you today as your Bishop.  I write to you as disciples of Jesus each of whom is created differently.  We look different.  We like different foods.  We have different gifts.  We shop in different stores.  We enjoy different activities.  We also have different positions on human sexuality and homosexuality.  Thus some of us are referencing the human sexuality statement and ministry policies votes last week in Minneapolis as historic and life-giving.  Other of us are calling the votes tragic and church-dividing.  I do not know where you are personally, but what remains true for each of us is that we are all children of God, our roots made new each and every day in the ‘stream’ of Jesus’ death on the cross.

I arose this morning remembering that gift to me in Christ by recalling my baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  As I opened my devotional booklet, Daily Texts, [a ministry of the Moravians] I read the watchword for the day from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, the Lord

spread his wings and caught his people, he carried them on his pinions.

[Deuteronomy 32:11]

The text was a gift to me presently as I find myself embroiled in a challenging time in this church.  I cannot change it … as much as I would like to wave a wand and make everyone happy, like it or not, God has not bestowed on me that gift.  Presently some members of our faith communities are disappointed and frustrated, even angry because of the actions of the Churchwide Assembly around sexuality.  Other members feel a sense of relief and joy, while another group just does not comprehend what all the fuss is about.  No matter how you personally feel, at present, this text from Deuteronomy reminds us that we are the people of a God who is hovering over us, ever loving and ever present and ever committed to caring for each and everyone of us.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a diverse church.  That fact is not new. The question is: how diverse can we be, yet remain configured as one community of Christ?  Right now that goal feels far out of reach, perhaps even impossible to achieve.  Of course, there were earlier times in the church when the emotions and intensity of differences paralleled this moment.  Examples that come to mind are … in the early church when there was a call for the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church of Jesus Christ alongside former Jews; in the Reformation; in the debate over slavery; in the ordination of women; and in the decisions on full communion with the Episcopal Church.  Oh be sure, each of these examples is distinct and not like the others.  The similarity rests in the intense feelings generated around differences persons had with one another.

I have no instant solutions or ready answers to our present circumstance.  What I do know, … and believe, is that what we need, right now, is to trust our lives, our differences, and this church to God.  No matter how we feel about the ELCA’s sexuality decisions, this world is in desperate need of us to be mission centers where people gather to be fed by God’s Word and then scatter to witness and serve in the name of Jesus.  Yes, I know, I know some of you feel like you want to take action; you feel compelled to do something to reflect your dissatisfaction with the decisions, because they fail to reflect the authority of Scripture, the Confessions and long standing traditions of the Church.  Of course, others of you may be thinking, “well it is your turn to suffer.  I have felt marginalized in this church for years, so now you know how it feels”. For this group of people recent sexuality decisions are about justice and care for those who are gay and lesbian persons.

It is in that kind of world that we find ourselves; the challenges for us are many and the burdens feel heavy.  Yet I know you to be like that tree Jeremiah references, with roots nurtured and fed by the life-giving stream who is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, though this ‘drought’ of tension and discontent can feel ominous, the Lord will continue working in us.  This one who is Lord of all, then, calls all of us, no matter our position on sexuality (or any other difference of opinion for that matter) to love God and one another, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to care for one another, to respect one another’s differences, and to bear one another’s burdens.  Knowing that and feeling that deep and abiding faith, please be reminded these things have not changed …

    • Jesus Christ is Lord of all and has a mission for this church and the disciples who are a part of it.
    • Jesus will continue to be present to each of us in promise of forgiveness spoken, in the Word of God read and proclaimed, and in the water of baptism, and the bread and wine of the meal.
    • We can trust that God’s continuous initiatives in our lives will mean blessings for us and our church.
    • Ministry will continue to occur through those whose roots are regularly fed by the gifts of God.
    • Congregations will continue, as they always have in the Lutheran Church, to decide who they will call to be their pastors and lay rostered leaders.
    • I am not going anywhere.  I remain committed to walk with you during this time of challenging differences and uncertainty.

    As I close, I invite you to pause … take a deep breath … and pray with me.

    Gracious and life-giving God, we pray for all of us who are the Evangelical Lutheran

Church in America.  Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where it needs compassion, supply it; where it could use courage, grant it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen and Amen.

          [slightly adapted from ELW, p. 73]