Midweek Message: “Promised Reflections on the Current Controversies within the ELCA”

Week of the First Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I had hoped to gain greater clarity at our Synod Assembly about the controversies within the ELCA concerning events in our Sierra Pacific Synod in northern California. Unfortunately, I don’t have many new insights to share that shed definitive light on what is happening there, as the situation continues to unfold.

I risk mispresenting the circumstances and perhaps overstepping my bounds in offering reflections, given that I do not have first-hand knowledge of what is occurring in the Sierra Pacific Synod. That said, I believe that some attempt at a summary is in order. But please know that this is a very complex situation which my summary cannot ultimately do justice to.

Here is a summary: Allegations of the misuse of pastoral authority were made against a pastor who was a mission developer in the Sierra Pacific Synod in an emerging Spanish-speaking ministry. The Bishop of that Synod, who also happens to be the ELCA’s first publicly-known transgendered Bishop, removed the mission developer pastor from his ministry, and did so on a festival day that is dear to Hispanic Christians. This action was received as extraordinarily insensitive and racist in the ELCA’s Hispanic community. Our Presiding Bishop called for an investigation into the actions of the Synodical Bishop. When the investigating team offered their report, our Presiding Bishop declined at first to bring charges against the Synodical Bishop. This decision on the part of the Presiding Bishop was deemed as woefully inadequate by various constituencies in our church, including our Conference of Bishops. Meanwhile, the Synodical Bishop resigned from their ministry as Bishop. However, new concerns about the Synodical Bishop have emerged, and our Presiding Bishop has now decided to engage in disciplinary action against the Synodical Bishop. This decision to pursue disciplinary action has the wide support of the Conference of Bishops. That’s basically where we are now as this controversy unfolds in our church.

Should you wish to engage in further reading about all of this, see the many links below at the conclusion of this message.

Now on to my reflections. This matter is a perfect storm of the conflicting confluence of various realities in our church engaged as we are in mission in a particularly divisive time in our current society. Here is a listing of these complicating realities: the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community; the Hispanic community within the ELCA and certainly the local mission site; governing documents and policies and procedures of our church which may have embedded within themselves instances and dynamics of systemic racism; the extent to which these policies and procedures were carefully followed or not in these matters; the interdependent, often messy, but still laudable, polity of our church which seeks input from many constituencies – locally, synodically, and nationally – for discernment and decision-making; how all of this affects the nature of the exercise of authority in our church; and finally, how the realities of human sin find their expression in the church at various levels when we inevitably fail institutionally to live up to the theology we proclaim.

One thing that did come out of our Metropolitan DC Synod Assembly was a memorial to advocate for the establishment of a process to review the polity, procedures, and structures of our church through the lenses of diversity, equity and inclusion to discern how the ways we organize ourselves as church inhibit our aspirations to be a more fully welcoming and safe place for all of God’s children. This memorial will be sent to our Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio in August of this year for consideration there.

As a potential silver lining, this perfect storm holds promise for all of us in the ELCA to take a good, hard look in the mirror to recognize and acknowledge the various ways in which we fail institutionally to live up to the mission of gospel proclamation that God has entrusted to us. Our Lutheran theological sensibilities give us what we need to engage in this kind of reality therapy, to acknowledge fully, forthrightly, honestly, and courageously our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our total reliance on God’s grace to be led to ways of enacting our life together that nurture greater justice, welcome, and safety for all people. If only we as the ELCA would draw fully on our own theological tradition as we move forward together in coming months in response to the pain and suffering in the Sierra Pacific Synod and the reverberating effects throughout our church.

Our Synod Bishop, Leila Ortiz, recounted at Synod Assembly the circumstances of her conversion to the Lutheran theological way, having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition. Bishop Ortiz’s theological transformation, which also had profound existential effects on her, occurred in the seminary classroom while studying the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, it was the discovery there of God’s unconditional, boundless love, mercy, and grace which was life-changing for Bishop Ortiz. Which is to say that we have theological riches to share with the wider world. Moreover, we have theological riches, which by God’s sovereign grace, give us what we need to navigate these stormy waters currently in church and world. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance, may we as a church in our local, synodical, and churchwide expressions, draw deeply on these riches for our healing and for the healing of the nations.

With hope in Christ Jesus via the leading of the Holy spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman


Sierra Pacific Synod Background Information

From Churchwide
A Message from Presiding Bishop Eaton (English) / (Spanish) RE: Disciplinary Process Initiated
Sierra Pacific Synod: Bishop’s Report to the Church
Presiding Bishop Eaton Listening Session Statement (English) / (Spanish)

From Sierra Pacific
A Letter from Synod Vice President, Gail Kiyomura
Bishop Rohrer Resignation Post (Facebook)
Council Response to Churchwide (Facebook)
Open Letter to DE-MD Synod
Letter from Bishop Rohrer after External Review

From the Listening Panel
Statement from the ELCA Listening Team (English) / (Spanish)

From the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA
O Lord How Long Shall I Cry for Help - Response (Facebook)

From Our Synod
Bishop Ortiz Initial Letter - December 2021
Bishop Ortiz Letter to Rostered Ministers - March 2022

Other Sources
What Happened In the Sierra Pacific Synod - Compiled Resource Page
Washington Post Resignation Article (6/7/2022)
Pastor David Hansen Summary Post (Facebook)
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Response
Bp. Bill Gohl's Statement at the DE-MD Synod Assembly
Bp. Bill Gohl’s Letter to the DE-MD Synod
Bp. Mike Rhinehart’s Blog Post
The Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson Letter to the Elders of the ELCA