Story Magazine - Fourth Quarter, 2003

Annual Report: Abiding in Hope

by President David Tiede

The theme for this annual report is "Faithfulness in Motion." The Bible is alive with stories of the journey. We are on the move, seeking to be faithful to God. But God never promised a triumphal march from success to success. Abraham not only moved out in faith, but he continued to hope against hope, even when the promise seemed remote (Romans 4:18).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ signals God's ultimate triumph, and those who follow in the way of the risen Lord still encounter trials, sin and death on earth. In the midst of a year of strong progress at Luther Seminary, the difficulties we face draw us to God, beyond our own strengths. Let me name some large challenges and consider how we continue to abide in hope in God.

Luther Seminary Two Years After September 11

Remember the counsel we received two years ago from a trustee in the wake of the calamities of September 11? "Now is when we need Luther Seminary to move ahead." While many seminaries pulled back, we sensed he had spoken the word of the Spirit. We have continued to implement the seminary's plan, Serving the Promise of our Mission, even as the world deals with terrorism, the soul of the nation is tested by warfare, and the value of our endowment declined with the stock market.

In previous issues of Story magazine, we have reported how the seminary has struggled to understand our Christian calling amid armed conflicts in the world, with students, faculty and sister churches from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, the decline in our endowment, averaged over a three-year period, gave us less to work with in this present year and has required even deeper cuts for 2004--2005.

At the same time you, Luther Seminary's Partners and other donors have sustained and increased your giving, even as you have faced financial challenges of your own. There are more of you than ever before. You are a blessing to us! Thanks also to the committed leaders in the churchwide offices and synods, the ELCA has maintained its support while benevolence income has declined.

This past year, we reached critical milestones on the journey to implement our strategic plan, Serving the Promise of our Mission. Our students have caught the vision. We inaugurated a doctor of ministry program in congregational leadership and mission, and our third cohort of students is already signing up. In May, the student government took the initiative to work with the deans in helping assess how well their education is preparing them for leadership in mission. This fall, the enrollment of new students is up by 13 percent. We are deeply encouraged as we meet them in discipleship groups.

Interviews with 30 current faculty over the summer disclosed deep engagement in our shared purpose. All three of our new faculty are experienced pastors and teachers with a calling to the church's mission. Each was already exercising significant leadership where they were. With the support of her congregation, Cross of Glory in Lockport, Ill., Pastor Kelly Fryer accepted our invitation to a new position in congregational mission, dividing her time for the coming year with her pastoral call. Dr. Rolf Jacobson came to us as assistant professor of Old Testament from Augsburg College, Minneapolis. Dr. Richard Bliese, our new academic dean, was Augustana Heritage Associate Professor of Global Mission and Evangelism and director of graduate studies at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, while also serving as a pastor at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Glenwood, Ill. We are blessed by their arrival.

We are abiding in hope, in spite of real challenges. Yes, we are making significant cuts and realigning our programs. Yes, we are dealing with forces beyond our control. As president, if I did not know that this is a faith venture, I could not sleep at night. But the reason for our strength is a humbling and joyful truth. God is faithful. We abide in hope.

The Western Mission Cluster Following the Death of Timothy Lull

Then where was God when our friend and teacher of the church, Timothy Lull, died so suddenly? We were working together with Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and its gifted president toward the full consolidation of all of our work in internships, contextual leadership, clinical pastoral education and cross-cultural studies. This plan was a fruition of several years of collaboration, supported by our Lilly grant which ends this December. In May, our boards adopted our commitment to put all of this in place on July 1. Two days later, Tim, recovering from surgery, died suddenly, apparently from an embolism.

We are all still reeling from his death, especially his wife, Mary Carlton, their children and his family, including his sister, our dean of students, Pastor Patricia Lull. Having known and loved him for 25 years, I find myself reciting the words of the service of burial, "Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the dead." Tim embodied our theme like few others. He was "faithfulness in motion."

What now for the Western Mission Cluster? Both of our faculties, our boards, PLTS's new interim president Dr. Ted Peters, and the Western Mission Cluster Task Force, chaired by Dr. Judy Larsen, are seeking to meet the challenge together. We are providing a higher quality and more efficient educational experience for students and congregations in our contextual leadership initiative. We are reaching out to the broader Western Mission Network with our colleges, synods, camps and congregations. We believe God has called us into a new era of leadership development for the church. Once again, instead of pulling back, we in the Western Mission Cluster are moving forward and "abiding in hope."

Anticipating the 2005 ELCA Votes on Homosexuality

Bishop Mark Hanson led the churchwide assembly in Milwaukee in August with remarkable spirit and skill. His evangelical preaching and inspiring introductions of the five strategic initiatives clarified the calling of the ELCA and focused attention on what role the churchwide organization might best play. The seminaries are especially engaged in the "leadership" initiative, eager for the attention of the church on its leadership needs.
The media, however, focused on the failure of the effort to delay voting until 2007 concerning efforts to change ELCA policies against the blessing of same sex committed relationships and the ordination of non-celibate homosexual candidates. Outside and inside the assembly, rainbow scarves identified advocates of changing the standards "now" as a matter of "justice." The deliberation was respectful, measured and intense. An eastern bishop articulated the contrary apprehension. "How could we be expected to vote responsibly in 2005 on possible changes when the larger study on sexuality would not yet be completed? The next two years are going to be very difficult."

Beware of self-righteousness!
Our Lord's encounters with the Pharisees are etched in our souls as a warning against those who fail to see their own need of God's justification of the ungodly. In a time when our media culture disdains moralism as the control of personal freedom by the unenlightened, a new self-righteousness may emerge: "Thank God I am not a Pharisee!" Confident "we know what justice is" in the complexity of sexual identity and behavior, we rally quickly to "progressive" causes. Soon we are cool, self-assured, and desensitized to hazardous behaviors and values. Unless both this political correctness and the moralistic righteousness it despises are chastened by the Spirit, they will accelerate, what one friend calls, the "casual drift away from our church's biblical moorings."

Seek first the righteousness of the kingdom of God!
Morality and justice are two proper forms of the question of righteousness, with morality more individually focused and justice relating to the neighbor and community. In an era when the house of the culture is on fire with greedy exploitation of sex, the deep scriptural witness to God's righteousness must be heard. While the Bible gives profound witness to our intimate human relationships with particularly sharp condemnations from Jesus against divorce, God's word runs still deeper. God's law is a schoolmaster driving us to Christ and his righteousness. In all of our lives, surely in our sexual lives, none is righteous, not one.

For the most part, we have grasped this in our communion practice. Whether or not they have identified themselves as "Reconciled in Christ," almost every congregation welcomes people with all kinds of sexual identities and practices to the altar without demanding a more stringent repentance from some than others. It is the Lord's table, not ours. In the church, we know that only Christ's hospitality for sinners offers the reconciliation we desperately need.

Do not commit adultery!
When an earlier churchwide assembly debated the social statement on abortion, the deliberation was profound and faithful because we did not succumb to the questions thrust upon us by the politics of the age, i.e. "Are you for the rights of women? Or are you for the rights of the unborn?" Instead, led by sound biblical and ethical teachers, we began with the fifth commandment, "Do not kill!" We didn't waste great effort on hypothetical questions about exactly when life begins, but we pressed ourselves to answer, "God help us, in what circumstances will we terminate human life?"

The wisdom of the assembly was deep with human anguish and faith. A soldier told of killing in war. A woman wept when she recalled her daughter's rape. A man spoke quietly about ending life support for his dying father. God's law was not mocked. No one pretended that abortion is not the termination of human life. In adopting the statement, we confessed together, and we trusted together in the mercy of Christ.

Martin Luther, that old Saxon for whom our tradition is named, had a remarkable capacity for earthy affirmation of sexuality. Where did this former monk find the freedom to rejoice at the blessing of seeing Katie's pigtail braids on the pillow next to his? In a church where celibacy had become a legislated burden, how was he able to understand marriage as an honorable and necessary "estate," in which the whole society has a stake?
The wisdom that objected to "living together without benefit of marriage" knew that the blessing of the ritual was for the community as well as for the persons involved. Luther interpreted the sixth commandment as the biblical protection of marriage. The "estate" of marriage is civil and public. We all know men and women, young and old, who live together without being married, with or without our approval. But we hold our clergy to a public standard of marital fidelity for the community's good.
Is an "estate" possible to bless the committed intimacy of people of the same sex and to protect the community? In 1993, the ELCA conference of bishops found no basis in either Scripture or tradition "for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship." Will this boundary be moved? Without a legitimately recognized estate for committed sexual relationships, heterosexual or homosexual, ordination to the public office of ministry is impossible.

My friends tease me with the nickname, "David the Hopeful." I smile because I know God is the ground of our hope not our optimism. I will admit, however, that it is harder to remain non-anxious when almost every day someone adamantly agrees with the bishop: "The next two years are going to be very difficult."

In mid-September I sat with a group of pastors at the Northwestern Minnesota Synod leaders retreat. We discussed the state of the church and the seminary until late in the night. The conversation about the sexuality discussion was candid, including the quiet distress of a senior pastor who wondered aloud, "What will I do if the church I love leaves me out in the cold?" The primary tone, however, was confident. "I was much more worried two years ago before Dr. James Childs, who is heading the sexuality task force, helped our whole synod assembly discuss the question. We certainly did not agree with each other on many things, but we began to discover that our disagreements did not need to divide us as Lutheran Christians." Someone else praised the fairness and wisdom of the ELCA studies on sexuality, Journey Together Faithfully. "Almost everyone will find their convictions deeply respected in this material. We can understand each other better."

The most promising comment, however, came from a young pastor. "We are going to disagree in this vote. Only the gospel of God's reconciliation in Christ can keep us together. This is the main thing. Keep the seminary focused on preparing evangelical leaders to help us find our way together beyond the vote. This is the main thing."

This is exactly what we must do, and we are prepared to do it.
Many debates will continue on this campus because future leaders need to ground their convictions in the scriptural witness to the gospel and to understand those who disagree with them, but neither this particular debate nor the vote in 2005 is "the main thing." Luther Seminary's strategic initiatives are all built around the church's needs for leadership in the time of mission ahead: biblical preaching and worship; congregational mission and leadership; children, youth and family ministry; world Christianity and Islam; and Centered Life. This is the calling of our mission.

In our financial challenges, we will "pray to God and tell the people" what is needed. We will grieve the death of those we love, but not as those who have no hope. And, because God is calling and sending the church of Jesus Christ into apostolic mission in the 21st century world of many cultures and religions, we will abide in hope.