A Message from the ECC Board of Ordered Ministry

CHICAGO, IL (January 21, 2018) — The Evangelical Covenant Church is unreservedly committed to ministry to the LGBTQ community. Each and every person is created and loved by God. God, and we as God’s people, stand ready to embrace anyone because of the redeeming work of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s love meets us without pre-conditions and God’s grace leads us into newness of life. Because of this the Covenant offers pastoral care to anyone regardless of race, gender, creed, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.

Like many faith traditions, the Covenant restricts its clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages. A pastor’s credential is not one’s own. It is extended in trust by the Covenant to serve under the auspices of the Covenant.

Recently, the Board of the Ordered Ministry (board) engaged with two circumstances where pastors did proceed to officiate. In both cases, their ministerial credential has been suspended for their action. Named with their permission, one is Judy Peterson, campus pastor at North Park University, and the other is Steve Armfield, a retired Covenant pastor. Judy officiated at a wedding of a former student. Steve officiated at the wedding of his son. We readily identify the very real pain of mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; brothers, sisters, neighbors. We recognize the great challenge in providing pastoral care at the intersection of ministerial considerations.

Suspension of credentials means that any ministry a person may engage in is not undertaken under the auspices of the ECC.

A suspension is always extended with the hope of restoration where possible. One mark of a pathway towards credential reinstatement is ongoing observance of current guidelines and practices. Both Judy and Steve have been invited to the next meeting of the board in June for further conversation and discernment.

Judy is an employee of North Park University, currently on sabbatical. Continuing employment considerations are a matter between her and the university. Steve is not currently in a ministry position.

The board acknowledges the efforts throughout the Covenant to develop practical resources to strengthen ministry to the LGBTQ community. The Covenant, regional conferences, and local churches continue to provide an array of workshops and other resources. Additionally, the Make and Deepen Disciples mission priority recently completed a special consultation to identify further resource-development opportunities.

With this, the board also understands the importance of better and fuller conversation and engagement concerning ministry practice. We are committed to developing opportunities for such with all Covenant constituencies.

While we continue to wrestle with these complicated realities, we believe it is possible to hold our biblically discerned position while upholding the dignity of everyone as created in the image of God. We see good ministry happening throughout the Covenant. Our desire is not to fight a culture war but to love people.

The Board of the Ordered Ministry is comprised of 24 members, reflecting ethnic, gender, and regional representation. The board invests in the professional and personal development of Covenant clergy. One aspect of its work relates to the care and discipline of those holding Covenant credentials.

Steve Wong, Chair of the Board of the Ordered Ministry

Richard Lucco, Interim Executive Minister of Develop Leaders

 

 

 

 

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35 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed with sadness the gradual drift of the ECC from its founding, “where-is-it-written” approach, to a more rigid, doctrinaire, and controlling one. The most wrenching example of this is the recent suspension of the ministerial credentials of two pastors, not for denying their Christian faith, but for practicing their Christian faith.
    There is no need here to go into detail; 5,000 respondents have already voiced their concerns.

    More to the point, among all the vast changes transforming our society, there is one that directly impacts the LGBTQ issue. Scientific evidence has confirmed what many have already known intuitively: being gay is not a choice.

    In my long life I have had frequent contact with people who were gay: classmates, friends, students, teachers, church members, clergy, business acquaintances, administrators, relatives and co-workers. I have been advised and mentored by some, and been an advisor and mentor to some. A number of them have become lifelong friends.

    No matter what internal and emotional, or external, social and professional pressures were brought to bear, I cannot recall a single instance where one changed, or was able to change, their sexual orientation. (“Do you think I would choose this lifestyle?”) But I do see the deep commitment on the part of those who are Christian, as they live out their lives in worship, service, and witness.

    In all the churches I’ve attended or been employed by, there were members who were gay. Everyone knew who they were; they were accepted and active in the church, even serving in leadership positions. And the interesting thing is: no one cared.

    Well-known Christian conservatives and religious leaders of different denominations (Dick Cheney, Tony Campolo, Mark Achtemeier, Daniel Kirk, Jack Rogers, David P. Gushee, Peter Gomes, Ken Wilson, Republican Senator Rob Portman), when faced with a gay family member, also came to the realization that being gay is not a choice.

    I look forward to the day, when, after prayerful consideration, personal emotion and agendas are set aside, and the doors of the ECC are opened wide to a suffering and searching world. And may this be the new Christian Standard: Faithfulness in committed relationships, celibacy in singleness.

    Grace and peace,
    Paul Paige
    NPU ’54

  2. “Because of this the Covenant offers pastoral care to anyone regardless of race, gender, creed, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.”

    Apparently, pastoral care does not include weddings.

  3. Let’s not trivialize the decision that has to be made by the board. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they have given much thought and prayer to this issue. Whatever they decide, it seems like they could go wrong either way.
    Do we allow gay marriages, thereby going against scripture that suggests that physical homosexual unions are wrong? Or do we not allow gay marriage, thereby going against the scripture’s teachings of love and inclusion that demand dignity of LGBTQ people?

    In seeking obedience to God, sometimes–and particually in this issue–you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I do not envy what the board and the decision it has to make.

    (I have my thoughts on the matter, but I’ll leave them out for the sake of opening dialogue.)

  4. ECC BOOM,
    Thank you for continuing to reach out to all people, love all people, but recognize the boundaries God has given us in His Word. Thank you for your consideration of restoration where and when appropriate. Thank you for valuing faithful servants.

  5. We affirm the centrality of the word of God.
    We affirm the necessity of the new birth.
    We affirm a commitment to the whole mission of the church.
    We affirm the church as a fellowship of believers.
    We affirm a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.
    We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ.

    I just wanted to remind the board of these affirmations. I don’t see an exclusion of those who love someone of the same-sex anywhere in those affirmations. Unless you are telling us that the board’s interpretation of the Bible is the only one, which would go against the last two affirmations. I believe the last two affirmations, which we all agree to as Covenanters, firmly support Judy and Steve. There is no basis in our affirmations for the suspension of their credentials. I am frustrated and confused by the top-down proclamations from the Covenant Board and lack of true, meaningful discussions with everyone, including LGBTQ believers. I pray for all of those who are being excluded by the Covenant. We don’t look like Jesus and so we are just another stumbling block to Jesus. Shame on us.

  6. “Like many faith traditions,” …look, we’re mainstream, it’s not just us. We must be right.

    “the Covenant restricts its clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages.” …we own you. You MUST follow our rules, or else.

    “A pastor’s credential is not one’s own.” …we own you. You are under our thumb. Leave if you don’t like our rules.

    “It is extended in trust by the Covenant to serve under the auspices of the Covenant.” …the trust is one-way. Trust us, we’re wiser than you are.

    “We readily identify the very real pain of mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; brothers, sisters, neighbors.” …but not LGBTQ people, your experience, your voice has no sway here.

    “The Board of the Ordered Ministry is comprised of 24 members, reflecting ethnic, gender, and regional representation.” …but not LGBTQ souls, there is no room at this table for you.

  7. This is another issue where “Hate the sin; love the sinner” theology need be applied. As a parent, you do not allow your young child to play in the street. Why? Because it is dangerous. In the same way God loves us and give us His law to guide us that we might living under His blessing and stay away from danger and darkness. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, she was to be stoned according to Jewish law. But Jesus superceded the law and taught the spirit of the law when he asked, “Who among you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.” But we cannot forget the rest of the story. Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”(John 8:11) Jesus clearly loved the woman, did not judge her, extended His grace to her, yet told her to turn from her sin. Our God is loving and merciful, but He does not ignore sin, nor does His morality change. Many people think that love means overlooking sin. However, true love is willing to love someone enough to keep them from danger. God’s standard for sexual behavior is between a married man and woman. Anything outside of that is sin. That does not change regardless of how unpopular it may be in culture. We cannot condone sexual behavior that God states is wrong and harmful. Love does what’s best for a person, even if they don’t like it. We must hold to God’s standard, even when the world around us may hate us for it. Thank you for listening to God. May we love everyone and love them enough to teach the truth for their blessing.

  8. If theology is harmful over and over, like anti-LGBTQ theology has done, then it’s not good to theology. No other arguments really need to be made. Love does no harm.

  9. The ECC’s policies and behavior concerning these 2 cases are what keep patients coming through my doors. I feel sorry for my North Park friends who have been part of the ECC. It is not a faith tradition that should be proud of itself. I am a clinical psychologist and see many patients who are tortured by feelings that they are unacceptable, unworthy of love, etc. As an earlier commenter indicated, it is the height of hypocrisy to say you are ministering to the LGBTQ community but to deny its members leadership roles in the church. I’m a 1964 graduate of the college.

  10. “The board acknowledges the efforts throughout the Covenant to develop practical resources to strengthen ministry to the LGBTQ community.” I hear us/them thinking in this statement (and others like it) that misses the fact that many members of the LGBTQ community are members of the Covenant and followers of Christ. As members of the church, who confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, they are with us now, at the communion table and altar, as brothers and sisters in Christ. I think we can adjust to the work of the Holy Spirit in ways similar to how the early church stretched to include gentiles. They weren’t “other” any longer. Covenant pastors see Jesus in His followers at the table and at the marriage altar; that’s the only way any of us have a place there.

  11. As with Abraham: tested of God; found to be faithful: stayed by an angel from the slaughter of his son, Isaac – you, as our Board of Ordered Ministry, have been tested and found to be a shining example of faithfulness to an ancient, biblical attitude forged into a biblically discerned position.
    In my opinion, the light Jesus brought to bear on the O. T. law is, today, needed to be brought to bear on even the apostle Paul’s pronouncements that view and condemn LGBTQ realities as a disobedient choice. In view of a comment by Jesus in Matthew 19:12, “…for some are eunuchs because they were born that way…”, your truly sharp sword of scripture should be stayed and prayed through yet again in the light and spirit and love that Jesus has for all persons.

  12. Very disappointed in this. As a member of the ECC, North Park alum, NPU staff member for 8+ years, and financial supporter of both, I’m praying that NPU will reinstate Judy, and that hearts within ECC leadership would be open to what God is doing.

  13. I should have been an easy sell for sanctioning gay marriage. I come from a background in the arts, originally very liberal in my politics, employed as a social worker, strongly anti-fundamentalist. Yet when I carefully excise the insults and the question-begging from the arguments the LGBTQ advocates make, both formally and informally, I find there is very little left. Please consider: people are listening very closely, but you are making terrible arguments.

    1. The only argument that needs to be made is that if the theology causes damage over and over again, as anti-LGBTQ theology has done, then it’s not good theology.

  14. Praying that our Covenant leadership will remain strong and committed to the Biblical standards on which the denomination is founded. The Word of God is our only absolute. The one remaining true light in an increasingly dark world. Let us be upholders of that truth and carriers of that light!

  15. You try to sound so nice with your words, but the truth is, you still treat LGBTQ people as second-class citizens. LGBTQ face increased rates of depression, substance abuse, homelessness, bullying, and suicide…especially in places where they aren’t fully accepted. These rates decrease in places where they are accepted. Your theology and practice is the problem. Your theology and practice is toxic, no matter how nice you make your words sound. You are complicit in the oppression and marginalization of the LGBTQ community…of my community.

    Signed,

    A former ECC member

    1. Thanks for sharing this link. Hopeful that we might move in this direction. “RPF eventually created a working document released last July that everyone agreed to. It includes the following statement: “As RPF, we are not taking an official position to endorse either the ‘affirming’ or ‘traditional’ side of this controversial and disputable matter. Rather, we seek to create a space where those with differing perspectives can learn to honor, serve and encourage one another in our desire to find and follow God’s will.”

  16. For those of us who believe one can be faithfully LGBTQ, it feels hypocritical of the ECC to state we are “unreservedly committed to ministry to the LGBTQ community” when the current stance excludes LGBTQ people from covenant relationships and official ministry capacities. This is a decidedly reserved commitment.

    You “believe it is possible to hold our biblically discerned position while upholding the dignity of everyone as created in the image of God.” Others do not believe you are upholding this dignity when you tell LGBTQ people that they cannot fully be who God created them to be without sanctions and exceptions and exclusion.

    As a start, can we allow that biblically discerning people have come to different positions on this issue? Is our resolution on human sexuality an essential of the faith, or can we offer one another theological and personal freedom on this issue where faithful Christians have a variety of interpretations of the biblical record?

      1. David Wyman, I’m a bit confused by your choice of terms. I, for example, am not genetically predisposed to heterosexuality; I’m heterosexual. I’m not predisposed to be attracted to women; I just am. It’s inherent in my identity, and I would argue it’s how God made me.

        You may have a different logic in understanding your own sexuality in relation to how God made you, and you’re welcome to share that logic, but your different conclusions don’t make mine “bad.” It’s very hard to seek mutual understanding and a way forward if the initial response, rather than seeking to understand, is condemning the other party’s thinking as bad.

    1. I agree, Darrell. The verbal cue here that reveals the hypocrisy is the reference to ministry “to” rather than ministry “with,” as if LGBTQ persons were NOT already ministering faithfully from within Covenant Churches.

    2. I agree that “unreservedly committed” is immediately contradicted in this letter by what follows and by the actions of the Board of Ordered Ministry toward Judy and Steve, no matter how carefully other words are chosen to say otherwise. The actions of ECC leadership speak clearly of what the unreserved commitments are.

  17. Being a long time covenant church member, please hold steadfast to what is right as God does not change and neither should the Covenant. Those two individuals were wrong in what that did, period.

  18. What is the context of “We readily identify the very real pain of mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; brothers, sisters, neighbors” – I don’t understand this statement and its relevance to the point of this message.

    1. Because this is hard on them too. They know these people and their families and know the pain this causes.

  19. I would think it would be helpful to point out that the authority of the board of ministry over Covenant clergy does not extend to the local church. A church can set its own policies quite apart from its pastor. Is this not so?

  20. “The Board of the Ordered Ministry is comprised of 24 members, reflecting ethnic, gender, and regional representation. ” It would seem important to have representation from the LGBTQ community. Do you plan to make the changes so that happens?

    1. I am not a theologian, but I will weigh in here. You may wonder why the youth are walking away from the church. You cannot preach love, justice, forgiveness out of one side of your mouth and judgement, mean-spirited, unforgiving out of the other side. The Pharisees were rigid in their rules. Where did that get them with Jesus? And do you understand the science of homosexuality?
      I know Steve Armfield. I will visualize him standing beside Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks AND Jesus. Yes, Jesus who primarily hung out with sinners.

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