Letter from the Covenant Regarding Decisions Made at the Annual Meeting
July 3, 2019
Dear Friends and Family in the Evangelical Covenant Church,
We write today with a sad heart in the wake of the difficult decisions we made last week at the 134th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church. As you may have already heard, First Covenant Church of Minneapolis was dismissed from the ECC’s roster of churches after being deemed out of harmony with regard to its position on human sexuality and pastoral credentialing after a vote for involuntary dismissal by delegates surpassed a two-thirds supermajority. Delegates also surpassed a two-thirds supermajority in removing the ordination standing of two pastors who contravened the ECC’s communally discerned position on human sexuality. We were aware that these votes, whichever way they went, would neither bring a permanent solution to our differences nor a balm to our pain; nevertheless, we sorrow for the necessity of coming to this place of separation and the resulting broken relationships.
There is much yet to be known in the aftermath of these hard and controversial decisions. We are, of course, responding to many phone calls, e-mails and social media posts, as well as seeking to manage the fairness of media stories, though we cannot control the public reaction to them, especially given the current social and cultural milieu around same-sex marriage. Just as we have never dismissed a church for being found out of harmony before, we have never found our way through the resulting aftermath. In doing so, we continue to trust in the Lord’s leading and in the wisdom of our people.
The following are some thoughts to help us and our congregations in processing and praying as we live into the next days and weeks:
- We are not haters. We are not anti-LGBTQ. Rather, the ECC is pro-people, as is Jesus. It is true we have much yet to learn as a movement about formal ministry to LGBTQ individuals and communities; however, most of our Covenant pastors already have and are doing ministry with LGBTQ individuals in the context of their local churches. LGBTQ people continue to be welcome in Covenant churches. This has not changed. And we do have local churches doing excellent and effective LGBTQ ministry against the background of a traditional understanding of marriage.
- There is really no “us and them”. As people of many orientations and backgrounds make their home in Covenant churches in the U.S. and Canada, it is important to realize this conversation is about us and our life together within our communally discerned and biblically grounded positions.
- We recognize that many churches have not sought to learn and discern around these important societal movements and the attendant new language and understandings. To that end we direct you to the Embrace resources (covchurch.org/embrace) developed by our Make and Deepen Disciples mission priority. The breadth of understanding and spirit of compassion in these materials is reflective of our collective heart and desire to do better in essential conversations and to disciple all people in their flourishing.
- The dismissals of the pastors and the removal of a congregation is not a judgment upon the effectiveness or reach of their ministries past or present, nor is it about whether or not the ECC cares about LGBTQ people. We realize this seems to be the understanding for some of the decisions made by the Annual Meeting and the Ministerium. However, these actions were about whether the ECC has a right to discern its own religious beliefs about what constitutes marriage. A dissenting minister or congregation is free to engage in good-faith discussions about the ECC’s position but not to supplant the ECC’s right to decide, for itself, its position on same-sex marriage. The Executive Board and Covenant leadership has taken seriously the requests for clearer processes around freedom and responsibility and will be discussing ways to communicate what this looks like to our congregations. For those who feel they cannot serve within the communally discerned positions of the ECC, the pathway to voluntary removal is always open.
Lastly, the decisions of the Annual Meeting, while difficult relationally and disappointing in the public perception of our movement, does not compromise our ability to minister effectively in these sensitive areas.
In an article by Andrew Marin* published in April by the Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), which was adapted from his book, “Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community,” LGBTQ individuals responded that the following “would influence you to return to your faith community”:
- Feeling Loved (12%)
- Given Time (9%)
- Faith Community’s Change in Theology (8%)
- No Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (6%)
- Authenticity (5%)
- Support of Family and Friends (4%)
Marin notes in the ESA story, “A Spiritual Homecoming for LGBT People?” that in “comparison to the extreme cultural perception of what continues to keep the LGBTQ and faith communities apart, our findings are quite subtle. With the exception of the eight percent of participants wanting to see a change in their faith community’s theology, most are not asking for dramatic ecclesial overhauls.” Marin also found the “LGBTQ community is asking that faith communities be what they say they are: loving (#1), patient (#2), realistic (#4), authentic (#5) and supportive (#6).”
These are also the same values and characteristics any follower of Jesus wants in faith communities. At our best, we are the congregations in which all of our people can worship, find community and thrive in every manner.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1, the Apostle Paul encourages us, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Church, we acknowledge we are a broken people needing a Savior, and so we lean yet again into the Word and into the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom. We pray for God’s guiding light to direct us in the months and years going forward. We pray we can move forward in hope, unity and a recommitment to love and care for one another as we seek to be obedient to God’s call on our lives —and to love God and each other unconditionally.
May God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in and through us together.
President of the ECC
Chair of the Evangelical Covenant Church Executive Board
Executive Minister of Develop Leaders and the Board of the Ordered Ministry
Executive Minister of Start and Strengthen Churches (and the Official Bass Player of the 2019 ECC Annual Meeting)
*This letter was updated on July 5, 2019, to clarify the attribution and sourcing for the article and survey by Andrew Marin that was published by the Evangelicals for Social Action.