With a profound sense of sadness

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

Bishop Ullestad,

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.


In a Foreign Land

It is no secret that I was disappointed in the outcome of the NE Iowa Synod Assembly.  I was not eager for endless debate on the ELCA and its choices of last August.  I have no deep-seated need to drag this debate out until our Lord returns, so in at least one way, it is a relief that this is behind us.  I still very much believe that the ELCA erred in its votes last August.  The Biblical and Confessional justification for leading the ELCA away from the Great Tradition of the Church has not been made by the advocates of change.  Our dissent from this path was never so much about sexuality as it has been about the interpretation of Scripture that allows the weak theological arguments for these changes.  The Church is never well served by poor theology and the arguments made for this change have never risen to the level that we all could affirm as rightly understanding the will and purpose of God on this matter.

It is, however, the theology of the ELCA and we have seen that for now the ELCA will follow where this theological path leads.  The question for many who have been supportive of Call to Faithfulness is whether they can take this path and if they can, for how long?

For some, the answer is already clear: this is a path upon which they will not take one step.  These folk either have already left the ELCA, are in the process of leaving or have begun that process.  For these folk there is no further reason to remain in the ELCA.  They recognize that they will not find a perfect church this side of the resurrection, but they cannot for the sake of their witness to Christ continue their affiliation with the ELCA.

For others, the answer is we will not stay, but will take our time to leave.  These folk, depending on their ministry and God’s call to that ministry, will go a bit further down the path with the ELCA, but will not for long.  They may need time to sort out what they need to do to serve God well as they leave.  They may, for the sake of their local ministry, desire to give everyone involved time to absorb the implications of departing.  They may desire to listen as fully to the Spirit as they can before dusting off their shoes and going no further with the ELCA.

There are many, who will continue, for now, with the ELCA even though they believe the ELCA to be in error and the path it is taking is leading to further error.  They will do this for as many reasons as there are congregations of the ELCA.  We can still be faithful to our Lord even if we are staying in a church that by its actions we no longer see as faithful.

Call to Faithfulness will aid as we can those who have left, who are in the process of leaving or beginning to actively depart.  We will try to help them do this well and with as little rancor as possible.  Christ is not served if we depart in bitterness and anger.  It is hoped that congregations and individuals are leaving to better serve our Risen Lord and not because of anger at the weakness and folly of the ELCA.

Call to Faithfulness will continue to work with those congregations and individuals who are just beginning discern how best to part from the ELCA.  We will join with you as you seek God’s guidance in this most important decision.  We will encourage, challenge, critique and ponder with you the choices you are beginning to make.  We will speak the truth in love to you so you may be as clear as you can about what lies before you.

Call to Faithfulness will continue to walk with those who will remain the ELCA.  We will be there to support one another, to encourage sagging spirits, to renew hope and faith as we find ourselves in a foreign land.  God’s people throughout the ages have often found themselves in times and places that were not their homes.  Even so, it was there they gave their witness to the redeeming power of God’s mercy, so it will be for many of us.  The ELCA may no longer be for us the home we once knew, but it will be the place where we give our witness.

However God is leading you, remember to pray for your family in Christ.  Remember to pray for those who now rejoice in what the ELCA has chosen to do.  Remember that regardless of what we in our weakness and error may do as that part of the Holy Church that is the ELCA, Christ is Still Risen from the Dead!  Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against this Good News.


All Is Not Quiet on the Western Front

Pr. Ken Kimball forwarded this report from the Western Iowa Synod:

From the Western Iowa synod assembly this past weekend:


#8A  A Resolution concerning 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly Actions

Regarding “Report on Ministry Policies”

WHEREAS many ELCA members believe that marriage should only be between one (1) man

and one (1) woman; and

WHEREAS many ELCA members feel that the Bible does not approve of sexual activity

outside of the above definition; and

WHEREAS there is question that the majority of ELCA church membership believes that

people in publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships should be

accepted for rostered leadership; and

WHEREAS the ELCA has lost membership following the action of the Churchwide Assembly

in approving the “Report on Ministry Policies,” be it therefore

RESOLVED that the ELCA revisit the “Report on Ministry Policies” reversing the approval of

the Report so that people in publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender

relationship would no longer be accepted for rostered ministry, requiring all rostered leaders to

acknowledge “Vision & Expectations Ordained Ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in

America from 1990 as the standard for their practice of ministry, as well as not formally

recognizing, officiating, nor conducting any ceremony which contradicts an understanding of

marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.


Some Consciences are More Equal than Others

Resolution from the Upper Iowa River Conference Spring Assembly, February 14, 2010

Whereas the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a constitutionally governed organization served by constitutionally elected leaders at both the synod and church wide levels, and

Whereas the stated purposes of the organization known as Lutheran CORE are to 1) bring forth a proposal for a new Lutheran church body governed by a new constitution for those who choose to leave the ELCA, and 2) to plan for the continuation of Lutheran CORE as a free-standing synod for all Lutherans, and

Whereas it is an inherent conflict of interest for individuals who are members of CORE to fully and wholeheartedly support the ELCA constitution,

Be it Resolved that: 1) all rostered and lay leaders who are members of CORE and are currently serving in elected positions in the  NE Iowa Synod be required to resign from those positions, and that 2) all rostered and lay individuals currently holding membership in CORE be disqualified from election to positions of leadership within the NEIA Synod.

Submitted by the Upper Iowa River Conference of the NEIA Synod — ELCA Voted on at conference assembly, February 14, 2010

One hardly knows where to begin.  For years GoodSoil, Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) and Reconciling in Christ (RIC) have been busily at work in the ELCA, especially in congregations, seeking and getting support from pastors and laity.  In all that time never once has Call to Faithfulness or anyone associated with Call to Faithfulness ever suggested that those who support GoodSoil, LCNA or RIC should be removed from leadership in their respective synods.  We encouraged the dialogue that we were told needed to take place so the ELCA could be a ‘diverse and inclusive’ church.  So we talked and we listened.  We went to conferences, to synod assemblies seeking to find a path that all could travel into that bright future the advocates of change were describing.  We were assured that ‘structured flexibility’ would be the shape of the new and improved ELCA where all voices would be heard.  We were promised that the ‘bound consciences’ of all would be respected and allowed to bring their witness to the church.  We were told all these things.

Perhaps the action of the Upper Iowa River Conference of the NE Iowa Synod is an aberration that will not see the floor of the 2010 NE Iowa Synod Assembly.  Perhaps it was just an ill-advised temper tantrum directed at those who cannot bring themselves to be silent about the votes taken at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.  Perhaps it was many things, but it gives the very distinct impression that for some in the ELCA dissent against the new order will not be tolerated.  It gives the impression that unless you just keep your mouths shut about anything other than the agenda pushed by GoodSoil, LCNA and RIC in the ELCA as far as the Upper Iowa River Conference is concerned, you should be forced to resign any leadership role in the NE Iowa Synod.

It may be that the advocates of change are giving that last shove to those who said they wanted to stay in their church.  A shove that communicates the true feelings of the advocates of change, ‘you can have your opinions about where the ELCA is headed, you just can’t have any that disagree with us.’


The Winter of our Discontent

The synod Council of the NE Iowa Synod voted to rescind the resolutions it passed in November.  You may remember those resolutions, one repudiated the Churchwide votes and called upon the ELCA to do the same.  The other expressed the bound conscience of the NE Iowa Synod, seeking to adhere to the 1990 Vision and Expectations.  From the firestorm it caused through out the synod and the larger church, it is not too surprizing that the synod council reversed itself.  People can stand just so much pressure, then they will turn from the pressure to seek a quieter life.  It is hard work being at the center of the maelström, with the winds of discontent swirling about you.  Most folk simply cannot stay there for long before the desire to flee takes hold and that which was done is undone.

I do not fault the good folk who serve on the NE Iowa Synod Council.  In the weeks following the November council meeting letters, calls, emails and face to face conversations took place that pulled back the covering which hides the deep divide we now suffer in the ELCA.  For all the talk about ‘structured flexibility’ and ‘bound consciences’ that greased the skids of passage in August, we cannot pretend that we are not a deeply divided church.  We cannot live as a divided church for long.  No organization can survive if its purpose is so compromised in the way we are in the ELCA.  We will see more of what we have seen in the NE Iowa Synod Council’s reversal as the ELCA seeks its new equilibrium.  Unless approached with the greatest humility and Christlike compassion, the purging of the defeated will continue.

There will be no organized pogroms coming from Higgins Road, no synodical schemes of removal, just the slow, grinding pressure to conform to the new reality of the ELCA.  It will come in the Lutheran form of shunning, orthodox clergy and laity ignored as if they do not exist or treated as if they belong to some unenlightened earlier time.  It will come in the pop theology of no judgment of any behavior.  It will come in the apathy of the majority and the desire to let this storm pass us by and go some other place.  It will come when what was once understood to be orthodox Christian faith is set aside in order to maintain ‘peace’ in the church.

It is easy in this time to yield to the desire to depart from so troubled a church.  It is easy to see no hope for the ELCA and walk away from the unhappy place that our church as become.  It is easy to be discontented,  to be so disconsolate, that we become eager to depart for the imagined bliss of some new ecclesiastical shore.  Many are already at this point and can do no other but leave.  With sadness we watch them go, but we understand why they cannot stay.

Yet we stay in this divided, troubled church.  Like Jeremiah, God has set us in this church to give witness to what the Word God has spoken and continues to speak.  Yes, like Jeremiah, there will be set backs, there will be ears that refuse to hear, there will be God’s people thinking they are wise as they run after the new god of inclusivity, justice and social righteousness.  Yes, there will reversals such as the NE Iowa Synod Council’s rescinding their earlier stand.  Like Jeremiah, those who remain in the ELCA will not cease speaking God’s Word in the hope that one day repentance will come and this church be restored.

All these will come, and are in many ways, already here.  Let us lift our voices against it all, not because those who advocate the new path are our enemies, rather because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ who have erred and lost their way.  Let us speak God’s Word of mercy and grace until all repent of their sin and return to the Lord.


Congregations Affiliate with Call to Faithfulness

St. Paul Lutheran in Monona, IA and Nazareth Lutheran in Cedar Falls, IA have voted to affiliate with Call to Faithfulness.  They join other congregations who have formally aligned with the ongoing work of reform and renewal in the NE Iowa Synod.  Other congregations are considering affiliation with Call to Faithfulness at their annual meetings as well as congregations and individuals who support CTF with their prayers and resources.


Christianity Lite

The February 2010 issue of First Things has a very good article by Mary Eberstadt titled Christianity Lite.  You can find it at  http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/01/christianity-lite

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