Friday, July 23, 2010
Follow the Questions
by John Spangler, From Stuttgart
How does the world view Lutherans in this kind of a global gathering? To answer that, I followed the questions that people have been asking. In this case, mostly press and media questions.
From the pre assembly news conference and subsequent conferences taking place within the assembly time frame, the world and its media representatives press their questions to LWF leaders. In the pre assembly event, all questions were related to human sexuality in one way or another. The ELCA’s decision, joining the Church of Sweden in formal openness to the ordination and recognition of persons in faithful same gender relationships, elicited questions about whether disagreements among the LWF member churches, particularly Africa, would surface. A second focus, still centered on sexuality, was the abrupt resignation of German Bishop Maria Jepsen over the weekend before the assembly. (Jepsen resigned in response to clergy sexual abuse cases within her jurisdiction that did not receive proper intervention in a timely way.) One German newspaper noted that it was the third German bishop to resign (2 Lutherans, one Roman Catholic) with in a year’s time. Jepsen is listed as a delegate to the assembly but has not attended to date.
In a later conference, the questions from media shifted slightly toward the search for conflict, signs of what they believe to be potentially underlying clashes among the Lutheran churches around sexuality. This shift was triggered by questions raised by delegates in a plenary session in response to Bishop Hanson’s report on Wednesday, wondering why the U.S. church, and by implication, the church of Sweden, moved ahead on sexuality questions when the LWF is calling for a five year period of study and conversation. A second delegate from Africa wanted to know what the nature of the communion of churches is in which this kind of decision might be made by some churches. But the secular media members’ other questions also picked up on disagreements over the ordination of women among the churches, a kind of extension of the tensions around sexuality. Bishop Hanson clarified that membership in the LWF does not require the ordination of women, but that the LWF is on record within its membership to supporting those churches that do (which is a very strong majority) and encouraging those that do not to consider adoption of the practice.
More pointed questions from secular and ecumenical outlets searched for possible rifts in the LWF’s unity. Here LWF leaders responded with frustration around the belief that some non-LWF member entities in the Lutheran tradition may be trying to use either scripture or the Lutheran confessions to define who is and who is not Lutheran, or who is and who is not confessionally pure. There appeared to be a frustration among some leaders that there are thinly veiled attempts to fragment the Lutheran world and use issues of women’s ordination or human sexuality as a wedge.
Other questions included one about the hopes the leaders might have for the 2017 anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, is there ecumenical work going on around the prospect of common communion for couples who belong to ecumenically diverse traditions, such as Lutheran and Roman Catholic spouses, and one about the fragility of family and church life in the North, the isolation and scarcity of young people in church life.