09 April 2010

Can a Bishop Do Evil?

Jack Stanton, the Episcopal Bishop of Dallas, felt compelled to publish a book a few years ago in response to Jack Spong, the heretic Bishop of Newark. The title of this book was "Can a Bishop Be Wrong?" The very fact that this question must be asked has to do with the peculiar ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church.

As a Lutheran, my answer to that question is pretty straightforward. Bishops are human. As such, they are in bondage to sin just like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, I suspect that most of the time they sin because of our fallen human nature, and sometimes they sin because they willfully choose to follow something other than Christ. Just like the rest of us.

For the latter category, I nominate the recent actions of Pastor Duane Pederson, ELCA Bishop of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin.

Down in Eau Claire, one of the largest cities in the Synod, there are about a half-dozen ELCA congregations. Members of five of those congregations were very upset with the ELCA sexuality decisions of last summer. But, rather than start a fight within their local congregations, they decided to leave. Together, 60 members of the five congregations have formed a new mission church and affiliated with LCMC.

I have been working with these folks. They are hurt, they are lost. They feel betrayed by the church and yet God has comforted them as he has gathered them together as Faith Lutheran Mission Church.

They meet on Sunday evenings in LCMS church building(!). A number of us from the area have been serving as preachers for this congregation. Two of the individuals who were asked by the congregation to preach for them are rostered pastors of the ELCA who served in the Northwest Synod.

Now I thought it was the duty and privilege of a Christian pastor to reach out to the lost and hurting and preach the Good News. Bishop Pederson apparently disagrees. He has sent a letter to those two pastors declaring the folks at Faith Lutheran Mission Church to be schismatics. He has forbidden the pastors who serve “under” him to preach there.

I am tempted to go to a couple of meetings that I know that Bishop Pederson will be appearing at (I won't) and asked him this question: Jesus says you cannot serve two masters. Based on the facts I have just related above, and the fact that you have forbidden your pastors to preach the Good News to people in your synod who are lost,

when did you stop serving the Gospel and start serving the institution? And, as a follow-up, do you lose any sleep over that change in loyalties?


Steve said...

Unfortanately this is not limited to that one synod. There are similar stories taking place in other synods. And this has been increasing quite a bit lately, which suggests that this is the result of orders from "on high" in Chicago.

IggyAntiochus said...

Old school LCMSer here, but if a congregation breaks fellowship with the ELCA, why are they asking Northwest Synod pastors to preach for them? In our circles, that puts them back in fellowship with the ELCA, even though they have severed ties. Things are different over there, so I ask my question out of a desire to learn and not to instigate trouble.

Kelly said...


Came over here as suggested. And I agree with you--imagine that ;)--that what Pederson did is wrong, but I wouldn't call it evil. While I suspect he is adhering strictly to the rules pertaining to rostering (ie, a rostered ELCA pastor cannot be members of blah blah blah see 7.47.01)

(For the record, if there was such a thing as past lives, apparently I was a reference librarian.)

There are ways of managing, and I still assert that bishops are the ELCA equivalent of district managers without coming across as heavy handed. While I can understand where Pederson is coming from, it seems a little extreme and heavy handed. My guess is the ELCA clergy are more sympathetic to the LCMC and may eventually become LCMC ministers if they aren't already there.

But I do want to point out that Pederson is not my bishop. I'm a little south of the NW Wisconsin synod. Close, but I am in a different Synod all together.


Exodio said...

This is one of the major issues with organized religion, especially one with different branches or denominations. Because of the very human fallacy you talk about, the Word has many perturbations based on the local beliefs, history and interpretations.

So what is the "true" word? Where can it be found? The very fact that there are so many divisions, does that ever lead you to believe that perhaps everyone has it "wrong"?

It is a bad thing indeed when a leader within the church, who is supposed to be looking out for his charges, does things that are hurtful. No human is perfect, and this sort of thing illustrates it perfectly, to the detriment of those souls who are seeking the comfort and guidance of their church.

Tony said...

@Iggy: this is because the situation among ELCA and former ELCA types is still sorting itself out. This will eventually become clearer, but for now, it is a mess. I suppose the Bishop has at least helped offer clarity.

@Exodio: on the Last Day, I have no doubt that Jesus will sit us down and school us all. In the meantime, each should stand as though their conscience were captive to the Word of God (even if they understand it differently)