The New direction of the ELCA?

I was reading with some interest the large article in the Argus Leader today on Pierre ELCA pastor Dave Zellmer who was just named bishop of this large South Dakota Lutheran denomination. Why? Those in the political arena have heard his name mentioned a bit over the past year or so:

When the South Dakota Mainstream Coalition was initially formed in June 2005, many people, especially Republicans, had lots of questions. Since then, few of those questions have been answered.

The Coalition was founded by seven South Dakota Republican senators: Ed Olson of Mitchell, Tom Dempster of Sioux Falls, Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls, Stan Adelstein of Rapid City, Royal “Mac” McCracken of Rapid City, J.P. Duniphan of Rapid City, and Duane Sutton of Aberdeen.

The group of so-called moderates formed the Coalition because they felt their disagreement with the Republican base on a number of issues was not welcome. According to a report by David Kranz in the Argus Leader, executive director Senator Ed Olson of Mitchell said that the battle over the life and death of Terri Schiavo was the catalyst for the formation of the group. The same article also quoted Olson as saying, "Many of us don't like the idea of putting specific religious beliefs into state law."

Also regarding the formation of the coalition, Adelstein said, “In some ways, it comes down to religion.”

Permanent officers and board members have since been elected: Ed Olson is the executive director, former state rep. Mel Olson of Mitchell is the chairman, and former state senator Arlene Ham is vice chairman. Other members include former state health secretary Katherine Kinsman, former state director for Rep. Bill Janklow David Volk, Dakota Wesleyan University president Bob Duffett, Reverend Dave Zellmer of Pierre, banker Gary Schofield, former state rep. Jan Nicolay, and Reverend Kathryn Timpany of Sioux Falls.

Read that all here. If you think that's just a passing matter of notice, look at the quote in the Argus today from the bishop-elect:
As a bishop, Zellmer also must confront the larger issues that have roiled his denomination in later years.

Everyone in the state dealt with one issue, he said, pointing to last fall's constitutional amendment declaring marriage only between a man and a woman.

"I was not comfortable with the way it was worded," Zellmer said. "Not because of gay and lesbian people but how it might affect older folks. And I have some concerns about heterosexual couples living together without benefit of marriage."
Read that whole article here. He's been elected to a position of leadership for tens of thousands of South Dakotans, and one of the first things he feels he should address to South Dakotans is the gay marriage amendment that was decided last year?

Now, I'm not going to throw stones at this point, but let's just say that the previously expressed agenda of the founders of the MAINstream coalition seems a bit far off from what you would expect of the more devout on issues such as abortion and the definition of marriage.

It also brings into question whether or not this represents a ideological shift in the ELCA in South Dakota towards Democratic Party tendencies at the same time that mainstream Catholicism shifts more towards conservative values and the GOP. I'm convinced that religious realignment such as this signals tons of uncertainty in expectations for traditional political coalitions.

Only time will tell where it all falls out.

*Update* - hold the farm. I had a note from one of the readers, BK - who was there at the election. He notes that I'm not looking in the right place (Argus and MAINnstream Board membership). And that we should instead compare Zellmer to the outgoing Bishop, making this actually a conservative shift for the group.

So, who's correct?


Anonymous said…
So, what the heck is he saying? What did it have to do with "older folks"? I'd be very wary of any member of the mainstream coalition.
Anonymous said…
As a member of this synod who opposes abortion and gay marriage, this election troubles me.

I vote for my values at the ballot box. Not at my church.

I'd want the bishop to concentrate on matters of faith, not his own goofy politics.
Anonymous said…
This is a load of crap. If it is true, then Jesus was a card-carrying liberal with his social agenda.
Anonymous said…
Jesus didn't choose sides. It looks like the new bishop does.
Anonymous said…
I am an ELCA Lutheran who is satisfied with the new bishop. I don't go to church to be told how to vote.
Anonymous said…
I am an ELCA Lutheran too. And I wonder why my bishop is on the steering committee for a special interest group promoting pro-choice politics.
Anonymous said…
If you're an ELCA Lutheran, you must know that the synod's abortion statement says "This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion."

"Because of our conviction that both the life of the woman and the life in her womb must be respected by law, this church opposes:


the total lack of regulation of abortion;

legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances;

laws that prevent access to information about all options available to women faced with unintended pregnancies;

laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions;

mandatory or coerced abortion or sterilization;

laws that prevent couples from practicing contraception;

laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion.

The position of this church is that, in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, where pregnancy results from rape or incest, or where the embryo or fetus has lethal abnormalities incompatible with life, abortion prior to viability should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding of abortions for low income women. On the other hand, this church supports legislation that prohibits abortions that are performed after the fetus is determined to be viable, except when the mother's life is threatened or when lethal abnormalities indicate the prospective newborn will die very soon."

The bishop's work with the Mainstream Coalition is clearly in line with ELCA statements on abortion.
Anonymous said…
I'm an ELCA Lutheran, and I say Thank God for our new bishop! He's going to be a great leader for our synod.

Also 3:02, be careful in assigning political beliefs to Jesus. It goes both ways. President Bush might have to explain his war policies when he gets to Heaven. :)
Anonymous said…
Ive known bishop Zellmer for a lot of years. He is a true conservative on all the social issues, but he also believes, i think, that the church should not be used to spread hate or division.

the man has had the job for what, two days? ease up a little, time will tell either way.
Anonymous said…
It’s a good thing that you are not trying to cast stones, Patrick, otherwise your attempt to apply a political analysis to a nonpolitical sectarian proceeding would seem rather—shall we say Pharisaical. To imply that a Lutheran pastor is ambitious to hold the post of synod bishop shows ignorance to the selection process. One does not ask to run for bishop; unlike a government office, one does not announce a candidacy. To do so would pretty much disqualify that pastor from serving. The synod is divided into several conferences of local congregations which ask pastors to be applicants for bishop. (Applicant is a more proper term than candidate because there’s no campaign team or buttons or signs reading vote for reverend so-and-so because God’s more in his favor.)

I took the opportunity to hear Bishop-elect Zellmer and the other 4 applicants speak. Each has his strengths and spoke well as to the direction that they’d like to see our church go in the future. A Lutheran bishop, unlike other denominations, does not set policy per se. A bishop may propose, recommend, and guide, but the church’s policy on issues is ultimately decided upon by the members at a synod conference.

It is joyful to know that the author of this blog has the divine gift of determining who is devout enough to serve just a small segment of God’s People, but such holy skills usually don’t come alone. What other miraculous powers have you obtained, Pat? Cured any lepers lately?
PP said…
Anonymous 8:38 - did you read my post at all? I hope you atleast put on sneakers before you decided to jump to conclusions.

All I did was point out that the Bishop-elect is on the MAINstream coalition board, the views of that organization, and that one of Zellmer's first comments was on the Definition of Marriage act which passed this past fall, AND questioned whether this indicates a n organizational shift towards the more liberal tendencies endorsed by the MAINstream coalition.

Why is this important? Church attendees have always tended to be #1, conservative, and #2, a hotbed of Republican votes.

I really don't care who the ELCA elects - that's their business. I'm looking at it from the basis of whether or not this indicates a change in this voting bloc, and if that's something that those seeking office will need to respond to.

This kind of thing is actually important to those who try to get people elected. It determines message, approach, etcetera.

MAYBE you should take a moment and actually read something before you decide to criticize it, instead of acting holier than thou.
PP said…
I can follow up and give an impromptu dissertation.... but as mentioned, the traditional monopoly the Democrats have had on Catholics is nearing it's end. (which is a good thing for my side).

But when a different - and very large - religious group seems to have a shift to the left, I think it bears careful watching. If it continues trending that way, it could spell trouble.
Anonymous said…
So it's okay for Catholics to lean to the right but bad when a different Christian denomination leans to the left?

Not all Christians are conservative. And, for that matter, not all conservatives are Christian.
Anonymous said…
I will defend PP and his words, which I believe are appropriate from a political perspective. Zellmer voluntarily joined this group of political "moderates". Why would he do so if he is, as one blogger said, conservative on all the social issues? But I don't think this is any major shift for ELCA, they have always had a liberal slant, and their last bishop, the gal with two last names was hardly a conservative,in my humble opinion.
Anonymous said…
As a lifelong, active member of the ELCA, let me point out one thing. The members of the church, not the bishop, decide what stands the church takes. This runs counter to the Catholic church which has a very top down system. The bishop can make statements and push in certain directions, but he cannot change the position of the church.
PP said…
8:36 - that's a good point. However, I'm not necessarily saying that He's driving it, as much as it might be an indicator.

If there were some valid way to quantify it, I'd love to see a breakdown of the religious denominations on a scale from most liberal to most conservative.

Obviously, this post is getting some knee-jerk reactions because I'm mixing religion and politics. Some people such as 8:38 didn't even bother to read it, and just started ranting.

Whether we like to consider it or not, religion and politics are incredibly intertwined. Those who recognize that are constantly trying to determine how a denomination is going to respond to a political issue.

Remember the fuss that Daschle's people had over the Catholic Bishop? That had important electoral ramifications. As will the Death penalty issue for Republicans when it comes up in the near future with this new Bishop - many will be holding their breath to see where this Bishop falls on the issue.
Anonymous said…
Come on, PP.

You of all people should know what few scraps of a quote the Argus MisLeader chooses to take and print from a lengthy interview. How can you seriously use the Argus as a filter for determining what the Bishop elect thinks should be one of the first things to address?

If you were there, and I was, you'd have heard him speak directly to a number of matters much more important to him than this. And if you'd been around, and I have been, you'd know that the Bishop elect is far to the right of Bishop Andrea. FAR to the RIGHT.

This is a development and a movement TOWARDS conservative policies, both within the ELCA and without.

PP said…
BK - Actually, that's an interesting point in and of itself that I hadn't considered - going off of where they're going based on who had been there before.

I'm going off the Mainstream participation AND the Argus comments.

So, you're saying it's an actual shift to the right based on the leadership of who was there before? If that's the case, how would you anticipate this is going to be expressed from the top?
Anonymous said…
Zellmer is a nice man. It's just too bad he and his church fail to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Abortion and gay "marriage" are not Biblical principles. Quite the opposite.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for reviewing your position, PP.

I would anticipate, based on my knowledge of the Bishop-elect, that he'll have a more (relative to Bishop Andrea) keen interest in public and political affairs, and that we'll see that interest unfold over the years. The public positions he'll take might very well be in some conflict with those of Churchwide as we in the ELCA call it. And I expect him to challenge those positions, which have tended to be very liberal over the 20 years of the ELCA's existence. The Bishop-elect is anything but liberal. Nor is he as conservative as some in our midst.

With respect to his orders of business, I think the Bishop-elect made clear that he has a very keen interest in seeing that the pulpits in Lutheran churches statewide are filled with pastors of the highest sort, called by God and their congregations, to preach to congregations, whose members, filled with the Word, go out and work to spread the Word themselves; that the Lutheran church camps across the state are similarly filled with little Lutherans and kids from other traditions, eager to hear the Word and go out and do great works; that the Sunday and Wednesday schools are filled with children of all sorts, welcomed into a warm and caring environment, and so forth.

I think, at heart, the Bishop-elect is about fundamentals and basics. Preaching, teaching, caring, and making sure that people have the tools to go out and do those things we're called to do.

Thanks for the forum PP. You continue to do good work here.

Anonymous said…
PP, you're still not looking at this the right way. This election had nothing to do with politics. Most of the people who voted for him probably didn't care about whether he was liberal or conservative. They were more likely voting for his perspectives on youth and the differences between rural and city churches in this state.

I don't really see this as a "shift" one way or the other. It's about electing the right person for the job. And if we disagree with Bishop-elect Zellmer on an issue, we're free to vote our minds at the next church assembly.

So Bishop-elect Zellmer is a conservative. So what? That's not going to stop me, as an ELCA member, from supporting things that might be contrary to that.
Anonymous said…
Why do I get the sinking feeling that the "church" that people care about here has nothing to do with faith and more to do with a devotion and worship to a political party.

The longer this thread goes on it becomes clear that It's not about Mark, Luke and John, but Lee, Leslie and Brock...or Scott, Tom and Tim.

For those of the Catholic faith, would it be a good thing or a bad thing if the new bishop agrees with the Pope on issues such as war and the death penalty?
Anonymous said…
Well said 11:03.

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