Church dispute brings out some unfitting behavior

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Growing up Lutheran in Arizona when I did meant growing up as a member of a mostly invisible minority denomination.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Growing up Lutheran in Arizona when I did meant growing up as a member of a mostly invisible minority denomination. Moving to the Midwest was, therefore, an eye-opening experience. Here Lutherans are the crowd and most everyone else is in the minority. I also discovered that just being Lutheran isn’t enough for many; before they talk to me, people often want to know what &uot;flavor&uot; I prefer. On the whole, I guess I preferred being in the minority.

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This past weekend I served as a voting member at the Synod Assembly of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). And to be honest, I would have to say that I left the assembly less than inspired by what we did there.

One of the reasons for feeling uninspired by our gathering is the continued squabbling over decisions my denomination made two years ago, decisions to enter &uot;altar and pulpit&uot; fellowship with the Episcopalians. I was not a supporter of that plan, now usually referred to as Called to Common Mission (CCM). I am disappointed that some within our church pushed it so hard for so long. The details of the actual agreement are both boring and the source of much contention-I don’t plan on going over those issues again here. What I do want to say is that, despite my own opposition to the agreement in the past, I am sick and tired of the constant whining and complaining about it now, and I am disappointed by the name-calling, dishonesty and tactics that are more appropriate to the smoke-filled rooms of a political convention. It seems the ends justify whatever means are considered necessary.

As I have listened to those who are the most upset about these issues, I become uneasy because what I hear are attacks on the Episcopalian vision of what the church is. I see American Christians filled with arrogance, who think that our way of doing things here is the only way to be a proper church. I see evidence that people in many congregations are willing to use their money as a bludgeon and who don’t trust their pastors, their bishops, or other leaders of the ELCA to make any decisions at all. I see people who have become so inflated with their own self-righteousness that they are unable to hear the hate in their words and see the damage they cause to the church and faith they claim to be defending. I have seen friendships sundered. I see a church that is losing it’s focus.

As I read Sunday’s paper, I found I couldn’t even escape the nastiness here at home. There on the religion page was an ad for a Lutheran church with a big circle and slash over the word &uot;Episcopal.&uot; What kind of church advertises itself in such a negative way? If I worship there with my children, will they be taught that our flavor of Lutheranism is the only way to truly know God? Will children be taught how to love their neighbors or how to be mean to those with whom they disagree?

We Lutherans need to stop creating so much antagonism and chaos for ourselves and find a way to keep the real work of the church moving forward. Our mission partners in Tanzania and Colombia are counting on our support as they continue to expand their ministries to the people of their countries. Congregations here in our synod are waiting for pastors that don’t yet exist – and those new pastors that do come from Seminary are weighed down by educational debt. The message of hope and new life in Christ needs to be shared with many, both here at home and in places around the world. All of those things need to be addressed and all of them are far more important to me than disagreements over details covering the correct way to ordain pastors.

David Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.