You may recall that I sent a message on March 11 regarding the process surrounding the replacement document for Vision and Expectations, entitled Trustworthy Servants of the People of God. This letter indicated that there was a brief comment period open, during which I received comments from eight rostered ministers in our synod. I forwarded those directly to the chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and they became part of the more than 200 pages of comments generated from across the church. The comments I received included concerns about the process used to generate this document as well as the proposed content of the document.
This past weekend the ELCA Church Council met and decided not to act on the Trustworthy Servants document, referring it back to the Domestic Mission Unit of the ELCA for further work and redrafting in alignment with the social teachings, with instructions that the revision process intentionally include more diverse voices (here). The target date for a revised document is the Fall of 2020, and until that time, the Vision and Expectations document is still in effect.
This entire process has revealed significant tensions and various understandings of how we make decisions as a large and diverse church, as well as how we create policies that hold our rostered ministers to high ethical standards while taking into account the changes taking place in our church and in our world. As we move forward in this process, I would hope we would all be guided by several key principles:
- This is about the Gospel. We need to remember that the proclamation of the Gospel is central to everything we do, and we need to have policies in place that protect the vulnerable in our midst and make sure that the behavior of those doing the proclaiming does not hinder the Gospel’s work.
- This is about the whole church. While these documents are specifically geared toward the behavior of our rostered ministers, whom we hold to high ethical standards, our behavior impacts the well-being of the entire church.
- We are a diverse church. While we are among the least diverse church bodies in terms of race and ethnicity, we are diverse in our practices, our ethics, and our politics, and we need to find ways to respect one another and work together in the midst of our disagreements.
- We are a changing church. We are still figuring out how to live into the agreements reached in 2009 about human sexuality, and things have continued to change since then. Change never happens in a straight line, and it can often be messy and challenging to find clarity and consistency in the midst of constant change.
We, the Greater Milwaukee Synod, are committed to welcoming people from all backgrounds, races, genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations into full participation in the life of the Church. We are also committed to developing faith communities that are safe, respectful, and vibrant, exploring ways to be faithful to the ancient commands to love God and neighbor in this time and place. I’m grateful for your partnership in the Gospel, and I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions as we move forward, together.
Bishop Paul D. Erickson