I finally have applied to become a member of the clergy roll of the North American Lutheran Church, which means leaving the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (Here is the NALC’s site.) About time, too, inasmuch as the NALC made me a dean back in early September. I am a sort of acting proto-bishop for NALC parishes in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Pretty easy job in the moment; the NALC has but one congregation in the entire four-state region. There are others pending. The one NALC congregation. however, is not the one I serve as pastor.
In my congregation, we are a mixed lot in the moment, as is the case with numerous ELCA parishes. While there is a lot of unhappiness with the ELCA, there is equally a lot of indifference and even some support for what the ELCA did on gay sexuality and gay pastors. I have not pushed my congregation for a vote to leave the ELCA and I have no plans to do so, so I cannot say what direction the parish will eventually take. But my displeasure with the ELCA is well known, and I did make sure the parish council voted permission for me to join the NALC. The vote was six in favor, one opposed, one abstention (my own), and the one absent member indicated she would have voted yes.
There is a wrinkle. ELCA congregations are served by ELCA pastors, period. Which I am not or soon won’t be. Otherwise, an ELCA congregation served by a non-ELCA pastor is subject to expulsion.
But the ELCA has been rather lax about enforcement heretofore. A number of gay pastors ordained by what was called the Extraordinary Candidacy Project – in the run-up time before gay pastors could be ordained in the ELCA – were serving ELCA congregations. The local bishop would issue a pro-forma reprimand and censure and decree the congregation would no longer be allowed to send representation to church conventions (boy, there’s a worry). But they were not expelled. We are warned that this practice is possibly subject to change, because leaving the ELCA is not an instance of an irregular call to a pastor, but a case of schism. I won’t bother trying to answer that charge. Besides, as I see it, the ELCA left me.
My real disaffection with the ELCA didn’t start with sex. It began in earnest over the ELCA abortion statement and the subsequent decision by the national council to treat elective abortion for pastors and dependents as a reimbursable medical expense under the church health plan. From the abortion statement, the church said to value my baptism as an infant regards my conception by step-siblings as a morally justifiable reason for terminating the pregnancy that became me at the baptismal font. From the schedule of benefits by the health plan, had my birth-parents in any way been covered under the ELCA health plan, my church would have paid to do it.
I took what steps I could at the time to distance myself: I dropped out of the health plan. It does not help that my present ELCA bishop had, before becoming bishop, been pastor to the late George Tiller, the Wichita, Kansas, late term abortionist murdered in May 2009, and regarded it as less than problematic.
If it was abortion that created the distance between me and the ELCA, the decisions on gay sexuality from August 2009 have only convinced me to seek a somewhat further distance and, Brother, at last I’m taking it.
Of course the ELCA bishop isn’t too happy, but then I have never made it part of my career to make him happy. I suspect he will get over it. Since he has not made any reply to my letter, I am guessing he is dealing with my loss very well. Which is good; one should stay cheery around Christmas. Soon, then, I shall receive a letter from the secretary of the ELCA telling me I am no longer a pastor, cannot dress like a pastor, and of a fact I may no longer do any of the usual things a pastor does. My reply, if I bother making one, will be: yes I am; I will if I want to; and yes, I may.