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Cooperation in Externals with Theological Integrity
Overtures 3-01–02, 3-05–08 (CW, pp. 165–167)
WHEREAS, The 2001, 2004, and 2007 conventions of the Synod asked that various aspects of cooperative working arrangements with the ELCA be evaluated by the Praesidium with results and recommendations reported to the subsequent conventions; and
WHEREAS, In 2010 President Kieschnick formed a task force to address the theological implications of the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly regarding homosexuality; and
WHEREAS, The task force produced a document titled “Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions” (2010 Convention Workbook [CW], pp. 14–18); and
WHEREAS, “Theological Implications” refers to the Synod’s longstanding position: “Our Synod should clearly recognize that, in cases of necessary work on the local, national, or international level, where the faith and confession of the church are not compromised, and where it appears essential that the churches of various denominations should cooperate or at least not work at cross purposes, our churches ought to cooperate willingly to the extent that the Word of God and conscience will allow” (1965 Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) Report, Theology of Fellowship [ p. 43], officially adopted by the Synod in 1967 [Res. 2-13]); and
WHEREAS, The Synod’s position stated above clearly sets forth two fundamental principles:
- “the church cannot compromise its faith and confession;” and
- “there are circumstances in which churches ‘ought to cooperate’ to the extent that the Word of God and conscience will allow;”
WHEREAS, The task force statement goes on to offer the following analysis and guidance:
In light of these two principles, it has been the longstanding practice of confessional Lutheran churches to distinguish between joint participation by churches and church workers in Word and Sacrament ministry (“altar and pulpit fellowship” or communio in sacris) and cooperation between churches in matters of physical need (cooperatio in externis). To maintain such a distinction carefully and conscientiously prevents both compromise of the teachings of the Christian faith and disregard of human needs which can be addressed more effectively by groups working together than by individuals or churches working on their own.
Because of doctrinal differences, the LCMS is not now nor has it ever been able to be in a relationship of altar and pulpit fellowship with the ELCA. Nevertheless, we have engaged in many cooperative activities with the ELCA, nationally and locally, in order to meet physical needs. These cooperative activities, however, are threatened by the sexuality decisions of the ELCA, because, in some cases, the ELCA’s new affirmation of same-gender relationships may contradict understandings or goals that have enabled cooperative activities in the past. As one example, the CTCR already in 2006 addressed the decision of an adoption agency to treat same-gender relationships as equal to marriage for adoptive purposes. The opinion states: “On the basis of the clear teaching of Scripture regarding homosexual behavior and about God’s will and design for marriage and the family as foundational units for society as a whole, it is the express opinion of the CTCR that a policy of placing adopted or foster children into homosexual contexts would stand in opposition to the official doctrinal position of the LCMS.”
In areas where we currently have working arrangements with ELCA congregations and entities, the status of those working relationships is dependent on policies and actions taken by the various entities from national to local levels. We do not believe the ELCA’s recent sexuality decisions should necessarily or summarily end our work together in these agencies. However, we hope and expect that the leadership of such entities will respect the theological position of the Synod (including its position on same-gender sexual activity) and avoid any policies or decisions which would require us to cease our support and involvement in their activities.
We cannot dictate the exact direction(s) various cooperative relationships will take in the future, primarily because the nature of agreements between ELCA and LCMS congregations and entities varies on a case-by-case basis. Frank and serious discussion on this issue needs to continue on various levels so that convictions and beliefs are not compromised and that worthy projects, activities, and relationships between our church and others may continue wherever possible. We urge LCMS participants in such cases to make decisions about whether to continue involvement on the basis of the principles we have discussed. We also suggest the following questions for consideration in making these decisions:
- Is the purpose of the joint work fully consistent with the positions, policies, and objectives of the Synod?
- Do cooperative efforts imply doctrinal unity with the ELCA or endorsement of ELCA positions on same-sex relationships or other matters of disagreement with the LCMS?
- Does the joint agency or organization distinguish itself as an entity from the churches that support it?
- Are all the policies and programs of the organization consonant with the doctrinal position of the LCMS?
- Do the individuals who lead the organization openly support and encourage efforts, positions, or policies which compromise the theological stance of the Synod?
We urge LCMS participants to answer such questions as these and to make decisions about whether to continue involvement on the basis of the principles we have discussed [2010 CW, p. 16];
therefore be it
Resolved, That the task force be thanked and commended for its work on identifying practical implications of the 2009 ELCA decisions on human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That, in keeping with the basic principles set forth in the task force statement, cooperation in externals with other Lutheran churches, including the ELCA, continue with theological integrity; and be it further
Resolved, That we give thanks to God for the opportunity to give witness to God’s care for all people through such cooperative work; and be it further
Resolved, That the CTCR, in consultation with the Praesidium and other entities and individuals as needed, develop more in-depth theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors, determining what would necessitate termination of such cooperative efforts; and be it finally
Resolved, That the Praesidium, in consultation with the CTCR, provide an assessment of the current state of cooperation in externals and a full report of criteria for on-going assessment of the same by the next convention.