By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 29, 2009
Given their embrace of politically correct moralities that conflict with Sacred Scripture and with the witness of Christian tradition, is it any wonder that certain major Protestant churches are now finding themselves plagued with internal convulsions.
Recently, in the space of a single week, two stories carried by the secular press illustrated the rapid transformation of mainstream Protestant churches in the spirit of a gospel that is not the Gospel of Christ. The first story concerns the ELCA; it appeared in The Star Tribune for Thursday, November 19th. The second story appeared in the national edition of The Washington Times, issue of November 16, 2009.
* * * * *By Jeff Strickler Star Tribune
Lutherans Ready to Split Off
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A fracture of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America became a real possibility Wednesday with the announcement by dissidents that they will have a new Lutheran denomination ready for launch by August. That marks a speed-up in plans by Lutherans who oppose the ELCA's decision to allow gay clergy to be pastors. "Every day we're hearing from people asking us to do something, so we are responding,'" said the Rev. Paul Spring, chairman of Lutheran CORE.
The ELCA office in Chicago anticipated the news. "The announcement by Lutheran CORE was not unexpected," said spokesman John Brooks.
CORE, an umbrella group of Lutheran organizations, led the fight against the gay-clergy vote at the ELCA convention in August in Minneapolis. The measure, which required a two-thirds majority, passed by one vote after days of contentious debate.
At the time, ELCA officials asked unhappy members to take no quick action in response to the vote, and delegates to the CORE meeting in Indianapolis agreed to wait a year before moving to split from the ELCA.
But last week the second-largest Lutheran congregation in Minnesota, the 4,500-member Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville, announced it has changed its mind about waiting and will take the first of the required two votes to leave the ELCA by mid-December.
CORE organizers said that their accelerated exit strategy is not tied to any particular church's decision not to wait. The change in timing is the result of a sense of growing impatience among an increasing number of congregations, said Ryan Schwarz, the chairman of CORE's Vision and Planning Working Group, the committee that will draw up the framework for the new denomination.
"When we talked about waiting a year, we never intended to sit around for a year and just contemplate," he said. "We expected to do planning. Now we're also going to be doing the leg-work in terms of creating a new church body."
The ELCA has 4.6 million members nationwide, 830,000 of them in Minnesota. It has 10,391 member churches.
Splitting from the parent denomination is not going to be an easy decision for some churches. Of the 87 congregations that have informed the ELCA that they are considering leaving, the vote to split has failed in 28 of them.
The goal of the as yet unnamed denomination is to have a proposed structure, including a statement of faith and financial plan, in place by the CORE convention August 26 so that a vote can be held and, if it passes, the new church can be launched.
There will still be a lot of work to do after that, Spring said, including making arrangements for the education of new clergy and drawing up a plan for ministries and missions.
It will probably be a work in progress, Schwartz said.
"One of the things we decided is that everything is going to be labeled 'provisional' for the first year," he said. "It will give us a chance to get settled in and see how things work, and if something doesn't fit, we can change it."
The new church will have a sister organization that will function as a free-standing synod. The purpose of that is to accommodate Lutherans who share CORE's values but belong to churches that stay in the ELCA, an issue in smaller towns where people might not have the option of choosing among multiple churches.
They also are exploring the option of allowing churches to belong to BOTH the new denomination and the ELCA. This is not unprecedented. Another splinter denomination, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, includes many churches that have dual affiliations.
"We wouldn't force a church to leave the ELCA to join us," Schwartz said.
Brooks said the same applies to the ELCA: "We'd never tell any of the churches what to do."
A similar split threatened the U. S. Episcopal Church after the openly gay Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Since then, the church has lost about 4 percent of its total membership.
* * * * *Ex-clinic Director Says Church Chilly to Pro-life Turn
By Julia Duin, The Washington Times
Monday, November 16, 2009
Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director whose about-face on abortion prompted her to resign her job, says she's gotten flack for her decision from an unexpected quarter: her own church.
Her October 6h decision to leave Planned parenthood in Bryan, Texas-after viewing an ultra-sound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old fetus two weeks earlier - made headlines, especially when she ended up volunteering at the Coalition for Life center a few doors away. Her former employer filed a restraining order to silence Mrs. Johnson, but a judge threw out the case on Nov. 10th.
Now she is facing a different kind of music at her parish, St. Francis Episcopal in nearby College Station, the home of Texas A&M University.
Whereas clergy and parishioners welcomed her as a Planned Parenthood employee, now they are buttonholing her after Sunday services.
"Now that I have taken this stand, some of the people there are not accepting of that," she told The Washington Times. People have told me they disagree with my choice. One of the things I've been told is that as Episcopalians, we embrace our differences and disagreements [except for a pro-life stance?]. While I agree with that, I am not sure I can go to a place where I don't feel I am welcome."
The rector at St. Francis refused to comment on the charge of nonacceptance.
"I do not intend to be dismissive," the Rev. John Williams wrote in an e-mail, "but my pastoral responsibilities to this faith community preclude making public comments. I am sure you understand how important it is for me to foster healthy communication around this emotional issue-that is only possible, as I said, in the context of my pastoral ministry to all."
Mrs. Johnson, 29, spent much of her 20s searching for the right church.
"I was raised Southern Baptist but didn't find the Southern Baptist community was very accepting of my work at Planned Parenthood," she said. "I felt there was a spiritual conflict in what I was doing, but you just begin to rationalize it. I didn't want to leave these women without options, so you begin to think you are doing the right thing, although it doesn't feel right."
As a result, she and her husband, Doug, "had been told by a couple of churches," one being Baptist and the other nondenominational, "that because I worked at Planned Parenthood, we could not be members."
She and her husband, who grew up Lutheran, dropped out of church until two years ago, when they began attending St. Francis, a 25-year-old church that achieved parish status in February.
"I thought because this church was so accepting, maybe I was doing the right thing," she said of her former employment of eight years. "A lot of people would consider the Anglican faith a pro-choice faith."
The U.S. Episcopal Church has one of the most liberal stances on abortion of any mainline Protestant denomination and is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which supports legalized abortion.
A former longtime RCRC board member, the Rev. Katherine H. Ragsdale, is the newly installed dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, a seminary in Cambridge, Mass. She is famous for making a 2007 sermon in which she termed abortion a "blessing."
Mr. Williams "made it clear we [as abortionists] we're welcome" at St. Francis, Mrs. Johnson said.
"I have gone to some churches in the past where they have said, 'You can't go here because you work at Planned Parenthood," she added....
The couple made St. Francis their home. They were confirmed as Episcopalians, and their daughter, now 3, was baptized there. A photo on the front page of the church's Web site, stfrancisonline.org, shows her seated at the right front end of the front row, holding a girl dressed in pink. Her husband, dressed in an orange shirt, is to her right.
"Chief among our values," says a statement below the photo, "are service, tolerance, and understanding of the people and that eventsGod has put into our lives."
Now the Johnsons are "reconsidering" their membership. Another Planned Parenthood staffer who was a member of St. Francis has not attended since Mrs. Johnson made her new views public a month ago.
"I know Planned Parenthood told her not to have any contact with me nor to attend the same church," she said.
Rochelle Tafolla, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southeast Texas, said the employee had chosen freely not to attend St. Francis because she was concerned about encountering Mrs. Johnson.
Forbidding any employee to attend a certain church, "would never happen," she said,
"Many things Abby has said about Planned Parenthood are false," she added.
Churches have long debated how to handle the abortion clinic worker who wishes to join. When Dr. George Tiller first began performing late-term abortions, his Wichita, Kansas, church, Holy Cross Lutheran, privately gave him "admonitions" to stop his clinic work.
Instead, Dr. Tiller left the congregation, which was part of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, and moved across the town to Reformation Lutheran Church, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a more liberal body.
He was ushering there when he was killed May 31 by a lone gunman.
Mrs. Johnson, who was in Nashville, Tenn., on November 12 making arrangements with a public relations firm to handle her growing speaking engagements, says she's found a new job near her home: managing an obstetrician-gynecologist clinic.