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ECC Responds to FCCM’s Open Letter Ahead of Annual Meeting

CHICAGO (June 1, 2019)–A long history of unsuccessful efforts between the Evangelical Covenant Church and First Covenant Church of Minneapolis to come to into harmony on the Covenant’s communally discerned position on human sexuality has culminated in the recommendation by the ECC Executive Board to dismiss the church from the roster of churches.

This is a decision that has been made with sorrow and after conversations spanning five years with First Covenant Church Minneapolis, or FCCM. Delegates to the Annual Meeting at Gather 2019, to be held June 27-29 in Omaha, Neb., from Covenant churches across North America will vote on the Board’s recommendation. We encourage all delegates to review the materials carefully and prayerfully seek the guidance and clarity of the Holy Spirit in this process. Please note:

  • The conversation extends beyond non-salvific matters. In the ECC, salvific matters are not the only litmus test for conduct. Through many years of debate and discourse, the Covenant has arrived upon convictions that, while not being salvific, maintain core Scriptural issues with which the Covenant has chosen to align. FCCM’s actions demonstrate they are in opposition to this alignment.
  • The actions and decisions of the church in credentialing its own pastor in objection to the Board of the Ordered Ministry’s decisions demonstrate that they acted contrary to the processes established by the governance of the ECC.
  • Although we love our brothers and sisters at FCCM deeply, their decisions and actions have led the church towards a direction that is contrary to the communally discerned positions of the ECC—positions that were affirmed by the Annual Meeting, the highest governing authority in the ECC and made up of representatives across the entire ECC.
  • While FCCM says it is not asking the ECC to change its discerned position, in reality they are asking the ECC to refrain from holding churches accountable to live by the discerned position. Such a posture does not place a high value on group discernment.

We pray all may seek the wisdom, clarity and discernment of the Holy Spirit in this difficult process and encourage every Covenant church to prioritize sending delegates to the Annual Meeting. In the midst of disagreement and discussion, may we show grace to one other and bring the shalom of Christ to every conversation.

After the Evangelical Covenant Church announced the recommendation of its Executive Board last week to involuntarily dismiss First Covenant Church Minneapolis from the roster of Covenant churches, FCCM posted an open letter in response to the reasons why the Board found the church out of harmony. In the spirit of clarity, the ECC would like to respond to FCCM’s open letter.

The Executive Board found FCCM to have contravened the communally discerned position of the ECC in these areas:

1.The ECC’s standard of marriage by eliminating its heterosexual nature;

2.The ECC’s prohibition of clergy officiating and participating at same-sex weddings;

3.The ECC’s requirement that clergy adhere to a personal behavioral standard of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage;

4.The Covenant’s guideline and expectation that a congregation refrain from hosting same-sex weddings and related events; and

5.The determination of the ECC’s Board of Ordered Ministry by locally credentialing a pastor.

From FCCM:

In addition to recognizing marriages that take place elsewhere, the congregation at First Covenant imagines a time when a same-sex wedding will take place at First Covenant and/or be performed by one of its ECC credentialed clergy. First Covenant holds a similar sexual ethic as the ECC: celibacy in singleness, and faithfulness in marriage.

ECC Response:

The communally discerned position of the Evangelical Covenant Church is “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage.”  By eliminating the heterosexual nature of a biblically ordained marital union, FCCM has disseminated an edited version of the discerned position of the ECC and cannot claim alignment.  Such dissemination is also deceptive and misleading to those who may not be completely familiar with the ECC’s written position.

The issue is not about “recognizing” marriages; rather, it is about the ECC’s discerned, well-founded and re-affirmed position on human sexuality and the biblical (as opposed to the secular or governmental) meaning of marriage as between a man and a woman.  FCCM most certainly does not hold a “similar” ethic on human sexuality and marriage – the omission of “heterosexual” before “marriage” changes the ethic entirely in clear opposition to the ECC’s position, which its member churches are, and should be, bound to uphold and follow.

FCCM:

First Covenant leaves up to each clergy and staff member to decide which weddings to officiate. No ECC credentialed clergy employed by First Covenant has performed a same-sex wedding. When a staff member who is not credentialed by the ECC performed a same-sex wedding at a private venue (not at First Covenant) in 2014, the ECC did not yet have a written policy stating that such staff were expected to abide by the same rules as ECC credentialed clergy. It was shortly after the wedding in 2014 that the ECC changed its written rules to include clergy who are not otherwise subject to any oversight by the Board of the Ordered Ministry.

ECC Response:

In its response, FCCM demonstrates its unwillingness to hold ECC credentialed pastors accountable to the denomination’s behavioral guidelines to pastors for living within the discerned position.

It is wholly inappropriate to tell FCCM clergy and staff they are free to determine whether they will officiate or participate at same-sex weddings. The ECC’s pastoral ethic, in keeping with the discerned position on human sexuality and marriage, forbids that activity and Covenant churches are not, and should not be, free to contravene at will and undermine that pastoral ethic.

The ECC expects staff to live in harmony with our theological positions.  If a staff member wanted to officiate a wedding between three people, would the church say to that staff member, “Well that’s none of our business…?”  It’s implied explicitly and implicitly that staff walk in harmony with our discerned positions.

FCCM:

As stated in #1 above, and in its “Love All” statement, First Covenant does not believe in holding LGBTQ+ persons to a stricter sexual ethic than those who are heterosexual persons. The ethic of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage applies to all persons, regardless of their sexuality.

ECC Response:

FCCM has stepped outside of the ECC discerned position by refusing to hold clergy accountable to stated ethical principles. The ECC requires that its clergy adhere to the discerned position of “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage.” If pastors are free to ignore those requisites, the discerned position on human sexuality and marriage is a combination of empty words, signifying nothing.  If pastors could conduct themselves in opposition to that discerned position, it would only lead to cynicism and disaffection among abiding clergy and laity.

FCCM:

Until now, no same-sex wedding or event has been hosted at First Covenant. The church imagines a time when such an event may take place, but it has not happened yet.

ECC Response:

It is not a question of whether a same-sex wedding has yet been held at FCCM.  FCCM has plainly stated its willingness to host such a ceremony and “imagines” a time when that will indeed happen.  FCCM’s clearly articulated oppositional position is squarely at odds with the ECC’s guidelines for and expectations of its member churches based on the discerned position on human sexuality and marriage. In addition, the ECC’s Constitution states in Article IV, Section 4 that member congregations can be out of harmony through “decision or practice.” By imagining a same-sex wedding would take place at FCCM, it is out of harmony through decision.

FCCM:

Pastor Dan Collison was suspended for preaching a sermon (i.e. doing his job). This suspension did not only preclude him from preaching, but also from carrying out any of his duties, which at the time included hiring a new Executive Director for MetroKids (the early childhood education center housed within and founded by First Covenant), and advocating with public and private officials to close on the affordable housing development that is now being built on First Covenant’s parking lot. Church leadership reiterated Pastor Collison’s call to the church, and issued a document for his tax purposes—similar to what a church may provide to a recently called and/or yet to be licensed pastor when that person is hired.

 ECC Response:

FCCM contends against the reasons for Pastor Dan Collison’s suspension in May 2018, as publicly disclosed above. Dan Collison was suspended for leading his congregation to a place of being out of harmony with the ECC through multiple acts and statements over a number of years. Pastor Collison has ignored and defied the authority of denominational leaders and of the ECC’s Board of the Ordered Ministry and its disciplinary process for clergy. FCCM has openly encouraged and supported that insubordination and defiance. Such conduct undermines the very fabric of the Covenant, makes effective governance untenable, and leads to chaos and foments disrespect for established, accepted protocols and processes.

In addition, a suspension restricts a pastor from pastoral or sacerdotal acts. A suspension does not remove a call. A suspension does not impact IRS status; it is not a removal of standing as a pastor but rather a suspension of duties. It is clear that FCCM is unwilling to hold Dan Collison accountable to the authority of the ECC’s Board of the Ordered Ministry.

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