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What is ELCA
central commitment?

By Pastor Oliver Brown

April 2005


(Editor's note: Pastor Brown serves as a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institution Schuylkill. His address is P.O. Box 700, Minersville, Pa. 17954. He notes that he is writing on his own behalf as an ELCA rostered pastor, not as a federal chaplain.)

A "central commitment" of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is "to become an antiracist, multi-cultural church," according to a 2005 restructuring proposal for the ELCA departments, divisions and offices.

The restructuring plan was created after the 2003 Churchwide Assembly authorized it and asked Presiding Bishop Hanson to come back to the 2005 assembly with recommendations including possible constitution and bylaw amendments to act upon.

To keep the new structure's "central commitment", the Multicultural Ministries Program Unit will have "authority and power to act on behalf of this church" (italics mine), to implement multicultural programming and to review, monitor and hold accountable all churchwide programs. The goal of this unit will be zero tolerance for racism in the church. Presently a Multi-cultural Ministries Commission has little power or authority.

The inference made from this proposed manner of reorganization is that racism is the greatest threat to the ELCA, and you ordinary pastors and lay people cannot be trusted to deal with it. A specially empowered unit will act on your behalf, because it seems that the Bible and the sacraments have not sufficiently equipped you. The following questions ought to be considered by the churchwide assembly.

1) What happens when one sin is elevated in gravity above others? If any sin is the greatest, it is unbelief; for that is why this commandment is first: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Any church that would restructure itself to implement a no tolerance policy of, say, adultery, would be the subject of less-than-complimentary comments. Why? Because while adultery is sinful (and so is racism) its elevation above the sin of unbelief would appear to be a symptom of a malady in that church's teaching and life.

Therefore we must ask: What is the malady, for which the elevation in gravity of the sin of racism is a symptom? Could it be political correctness, the dogmatic refusal to acknowledge even the most obvious truths due to their potential to outrage those who over-identify with their sense of victimhood? If we encourage a continual sense of grievance, in what way is our "Gospel" setting people free?

2) What is meant by "racism"? A common definition of racism includes both the concepts of racial prejudice combined with the power to act on that prejudice. By this definition, only white persons can be racists because whites are more powerful than minorities, in the U.S.

3) Zero tolerance policies in general produce unexpected results by causing inadvertent infractions to be punished at the same level as the most intentional ones. God has a way of being, and making, holy without using secular models of zero tolerance policies. Can we?

4) What will this program unit become if the ELCA approves same-sex marriage and gay ordination? The unit would advocate for "the rights and privileges of people of color, including women, youth, churches and individuals living in poverty." Would it add the Lesbian-Gay- Bisexual-Transsexual community under its aegis? Will mandatory "racial justice education" include propagandizing on behalf of the LGBT community as well? Is it meant to hold everyone to a higher standard, or would that standard be selectively enforced? A pastor who refuses to perform a same-sex marriage? Or a congregation that refuses to extend a call to a LGBT candidate?