Pr. Marshall Hahn had served as secretary of the NE Iowa Synod for seven years prior to the 2010 NE Iowa Synod Assembly. The Assembly’s actions in support of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s actions has led Pr. Hahn to resign as Synod Secretary. His letter to Bishop Steven Ullestad is printed below:
June 24, 2010
Rev. Dr. Steven L. Ullestad
Bishop, Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA
201 20th Street SW, PO Box 804
Waverly, Iowa 50677-0804
It is with a profound sense of sadness that I offer my resignation as Secretary of the Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA.
In our conversation last fall we discussed the difficult position in which I found myself following the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. As I explained, not only was I convinced that there was no Scriptural warrant for changing our teaching on human sexuality and our ministry standards with respect to homosexual behavior, I also could not reconcile myself with the fact that an argument from Scripture was not even offered within the documents approved by the assembly which authorized these changes.
I came to see the overriding issue to be more than a disagreement over how to treat homosexual relations in the church. Instead, I came to understand the issue as a confessional one, which I attempted to outline in my statement, “The Confessional Crisis Created by the Decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.” The primary issue I raised in that statement can be summarized as follows:
The decisions made at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly with respect to homosexual relations and the rostering of those engaged in such relations were made without reference to a compelling argument from Scripture for doing so. Instead, the lack of a consensus in the church on this issue was deemed to be sufficient for making these changes. Deciding these issues which concern the ordering of our lives as sexual beings and the ordering of the public ministry of the church in a manner which is not based on a compelling argument from Scripture is contrary to our commitment as a confessional Lutheran body to the authority of Holy Scripture, and is in violation of our ELCA Constitution which binds us to that commitment to “the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (ELCA Constitution, 2.03)
As a pastor of the church, I have taken a vow to uphold the authority of Scripture in my preaching and teaching, and to abide by the Constitution of the ELCA, with particular attention to the Confession of Faith upon which it is based. As such, I have considered it my duty to oppose the actions taken at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. In our conversation last fall, I told you that as long as I served in a position of leadership in the synod, I would be seeking to overturn those actions.
The resolutions I brought to the November Synod Council meeting were my attempts to act on that opposition. I deliberately called upon the synod council to “repudiate” the actions of the Churchwide Assembly. This was not a denial of the authority of the Churchwide Assembly, but rather, an appeal to a higher authority we are to uphold, namely, the Confession of Faith as contained within the Constitution of the ELCA. The intention was to bring this debate to the whole church, and force the church to address the confessional issues involved. I did not expect this to be a simple nor quick undertaking, nor did I realistically consider there to be much of a possibility for it to succeed. But I was determined to try. Meanwhile, I sought to use the language and concepts adopted by the Churchwide Assembly of “bound conscience” and “structured flexibility” to create a space within our synod in which the existing ministry standards could be maintained.
When those resolutions were rescinded at the January Synod Council meeting, and particularly when the ELCA Churchwide Council adopted the revisions to ministry policies without any mention of the concerns I had raised, it became clear that these efforts would prove futile. Nevertheless, I was determined to continue to argue for them through the synod assembly. But that was not to be, either.
My greatest disappointment is not that my efforts have been rebuffed, but that the concerns I have raised have not been addressed. I still stand by what I wrote in my statement last fall. And nowhere have I received an answer to the issues I have raised. Neither ELCA Secretary Swartling’s rulings nor the decisions of the ELCA Churchwide Council dealt with the confessional, constitutional issues raised by the failure of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly to present – or even refer to – a compelling case from Scripture for the changes that have been adopted. At the 2010 Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly, not one of the speakers who spoke in opposition to the resolutions I authored touched upon the primary issue that was at the heart of those proposals.
With the defeat of those resolutions at the synod assembly, I can see no further avenue to oppose the actions of the Churchwide Assembly within the Synod Council. And I cannot, in good conscience, carry out policies which I believe to be in violation of the Confession of Faith I promised at my ordination to uphold. It is for that reason that I am offering my resignation as Secretary of the Northeastern Iowa Synod. I will fulfill my duties related to the 2010 Synod Assembly, and will be available to meet with whomever is appointed to replace me for the final year of my term if such would be helpful in any way.
I want to thank you for your partnership in this ministry. Even though we have disagreed at times, and in some important ways, I have never doubted your integrity nor your honesty. I also wish you to extend my thanks to the entire synod council, to Vice-President Susan Armstrong, Treasurer Larry Gregory, Assistant to the Bishop Linda Hudgins, and your entire staff for their helpfulness and support and for putting up with my often last-minute submissions. It has been a privilege to serve the synod in this way for these last seven years. Please know that I continue to keep you and your staff and the whole synod in my prayers, as I ask that you would keep me in your prayers as I continue to discern my relationship with the ELCA.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Marshall E. Hahn
Secretary, NE Iowa Synod, ELCA
cc: David Swartling, Secretary, ELCA
Susan Armstrong, Vice-President, NE Iowa Synod
Larry Gregory, Treasurer, NE Iowa Synod
Linda Hudgins, Assistant to the Bishop, NE Iowa Synod
Mary Jo Rathe, Vice-President Elect, NE Iowa Synod
I would add to Pr. Hahn’s resignation that I have resigned as Chair of the NE Iowa Synod Candidacy Committee. My rational for resigning is echoed in Pr. Hahn’s letter.