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March 14, 2019

Dear Bishop Collins –

I read with considerable confusion and concern your letter to the Rev. W. Stevens Shipman informing him that action had been taken by the Upper Susquehanna Synod Council to remove him from the Word and Sacrament roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

My area of confusion was in your quotation from section 8.62.15.d of the ELCA’s constitution which says that “ministers on the Word and Sacrament roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America must accept and adhere to this church’s Confession of Faith, as well as abide by this church’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament.”

We all know that there are pastors of the ELCA who do not adhere to the ELCA’s Confession of Faith.  One needs to look no further than Ebenezerher Church in San Francisco, which promotes goddess worship; the various versions of the Lord’s Prayer which were options in the service after 2009 which welcomed or welcomed back people to the ELCA Clergy Roster; and any followers of Marcus Borg and his version of “Progressive Christianity,” which denies the deity and physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus.  There were pastors on the clergy roster of the synod in which I served before I retired (Southwest California) who did not believe in the basic tenants of the historic, orthodox Christian faith as expressed in the ELCA’s Confession of Faith, but the bishop just looked the other way.

One needs to look no further than the signers of the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement to find people who are objecting to – and one can safely assume are not living up to – the ELCA’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament.  And yet not only are they allowed to remain on the ELCA clergy roster, they are celebrated, endorsed, two of them were chosen to be keynote speakers at last summer’s youth gathering, and in many ways one of them, who openly advocates for “ethically sourced porn” and sex outside of marriage, has been allowed to become the most prominent, public spokesperson for the ELCA.

In a letter to Bishop Eaton I expressed my concerns regarding last summer’s youth gathering.  She wrote back, “Regarding the ‘We Are Naked and Unashamed’ movement, it is not an official group or policy of the ELCA.  I do not wish to give more attention and credence to a movement that is outside this church’s social teaching by speaking about it publicly.”  Again, nothing is being done.  It is not being addressed.  It is being allowed to continue and even flourish even though it is in violation of “this church’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament.”

In their “Pastoral Message”, which was released on March 6, 2019, the ELCA Conference of Bishops said regarding “Visions and Expectations,” “We recognize and acknowledge that its application has been uneven and inequitable.”  They ended by saying, “We aspire and pledge in the future to apply the church’s standards for ministry with equity and compassion.”  Is your removing Pastor Shipman from the ELCA’s clergy roster while other people are being allowed to remain on the roster another example of ELCA standards being applied unevenly and inequitably?

My area of concern has to do with the Synod Council’s motion, which you quoted at the end of your letter, in which the Synod Council expressed its support for any decision that you would make that would prohibit Pastor Shipman from even attending a synod function and or event, “especially as a representative of Lutheran CORE.” 

Is the Synod Council saying that no representative of Lutheran CORE would be welcome to attend one of your synod’s functions and or events?  Would I, as Executive Director of Lutheran CORE and a retired pastor on the ELCA roster, or a pastor or member of a congregation that is a part of the Upper Susquehanna Synod, also not be welcome to attend a synod function and or event, such as to set up a display table at a synod assembly?

Bishop Eaton began the letter which I previously referred to with these words: “Grace and peace to you and to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal.”  Pages 19-21 of the “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” social statement, which was approved by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, laid out four different positions on same-gender relationships and behavior, which the document said are held to by people “with conviction and integrity.”  The social statement also said, “This church . . . encourages all people to live out their faith . . . with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor.”  That same paragraph ended by saying, “Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.”

The March 6 “Pastoral Message” from the ELCA Conference of Bishops ends by saying, “We aspire and pledge in the future . . . to listen and take seriously the concerns of all our leaders – particularly those who historically have been marginalized.”  Do the leaders of the ELCA, including the leaders of the Upper Susquehanna Synod, wish to “listen and take seriously the concerns of all our leaders” – not just those who are described as “historically . .  marginalized,” but also those who are currently the most marginalized – those with a historic, traditional view?

Thank you for your leadership in the Upper Susquehanna Synod and your attention to my confusion and concern.  I will look forward to receiving your response.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

Retired ELCA Pastor

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Hal Malecha says:

    In response to Pastor Nelsons letter of March 14, 2019 to Bishop Collins. The actions of ELCA governing councils have left my trust in ELCA shaken. Being Lutheran to me means to believe the Bible as the written word of God. Choosing which text we will follow and which we will ignore is not now and never will be, an acceptable action I can accept and follow. As Christians, the bible in its entirety, word for word, applies to our day lives.
    I read with great interest and in the end, in support of each point brought to the attention of Bishop Collins. I am dismayed at the lack of action toward the “We are naked and unashamed”, movement. Being a man of 75 years, with 24 years of military service, I believe I can recognize deviant behavior when I encounter it.

    After reading articles published about other Christian Denominations I fear that ELCA may be contemplating similar directions. My biggest fear is that of the distinct failures in each denominations attempt to loosen the articles of faith and belief that binds us as Believers in Jesus as Savior and Lord. As a Christian I will continue to protect my heart and soul against the powers of the Devil and offer guidance to members of my family. My fervent prayers are that the governing bodies of ELCA will continue to do likewise.

    I am a member Core, have been from its’ conception. I have seen no other way to remain a faithful Lutheran.

    Respectfully,
    Harold Malecha

  • Phillip Hofinga says:

    Dear Mr. Malecha and Rev. Nelson:
    I invite you and your congregations to return to the Lutheran confession of faith that you left behind when you joined the ELCA. The American Lutheran Church still exists. Its faithful remnant is called The American Association of Lutheran Churches.
    Peace,
    Rev. Phillip M. Hofinga

  • Kate Drefke says:

    Rev. Nelson,

    Please allow me to try alleviating some of your concern.

    Per publicly available information on the Upper Susquehanna Synod website they state, “At their February 16 meeting, Synod Council voted to remove Rev. Stevens Shipman (retired) from the roster of the USS and ELCA in response to the action of the NALC installing him on January 20, 2019, to serve St. Timothy, Camp Hill (an NALC congregation) without written permission.” (https://www.uss-elca.org/up-and-down-the-valleys-february-2019/)

    It appears Rev. Shipman took a call in another denomination (NALC) without his synodical bishop’s (Bp. Collins) permission, which is a violation of the ELCA’s Synod Constitution S14.17: “No minister of Word and Sacrament shall accept a call without consulting with the bishop of [their] synod.” While this applies directly to pastors on the roster of the synod (e.g.: Rev. Shipman on the USS roster), it also applies to approved candidates for first call in relation to the synod/bishop to whom they have been assigned (e.g.: someone like myself).

    I hope that helps.

    Peace,
    Kate Drefke, MSW, MDiv
    First call candidate, Word and Sacrament, ELCA

  • Dennis Nelson says:

    Dear Ms. Drefke –

    Thank you for your communication. Our concern is not that the Rev. W. Stevens Shipman was removed from the ELCA clergy roster. Instead our first concern is over the ELCA’s inconsistency in using a section of the ELCA constitution as a reason for removing Pastor Shipman from the ELCA clergy roster but then not also using that same section as a reason for removing other people from the ELCA clergy roster. Examples of these other people are given in the letter to the Upper Susquehanna Synod. That inconsistency is particularly striking in light of the way in which the Conference of Bishops – in their March 6 “Pastoral Message” – lamented about, grieved over, and repented of ways in which the document “Visions and Expectations” has not been applied evenly and equitably.

    Our second concern is over the way in which the Upper Susquehanna Synod Council expressed its support for any way in which the Bishop would prohibit Pastor Shipman from even attending any synod function and or event, “especially as a representative of Lutheran CORE.” We are concerned over whether that same prohibition would apply to anyone who would want to attend anything in that synod “as a representative of Lutheran CORE.” As expressed in our letter, we would view that kind of prohibition as in violation of the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which includes the traditional view of human sexuality as a view that some people within “this church” hold “with conviction and integrity.”

    As time passes and we receive no response from the Upper Susquehanna Synod, we develop a third concern – over the fact that this is just one more example of the ELCA’s ignoring, dismissing, marginalizing, and minimizing traditional views as represented by Lutheran CORE.

    Thank you again for your communication, and may God bless you in your ministry.

    Dennis D. Nelson
    Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

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