Obituary for the Residential Seminary

There’s lots of talk around the Twin Cities about what’s going on at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. The largest seminary of the ELCA, Luther’s president and CFO resigned late last year after disclosing a $6 million shortfall in 2012 (our of a $27 million annual budget). More recently, the interim president announced big cutbacks:

  • 18 of 125 staff were laid off immediately
  • 8 of 44 faculty members will retire this year and not be replaced
  • 5 more faculty will retire next year
  • The Masters of Sacred Music degree was terminated
  • No new PhD students will be admitted for at least 3 years

 
What exactly went wrong at Luther has not been disclosed, but the trends can no longer be ignored. Inside Higher Ed reports,

The changes at Luther have been unusually swift and dramatic. But the trends driving them are the same ones that seminaries are facing across the board. Enrollments are falling. Costs have increased, while student debt has become a bigger concern. Many Christian denominations, seeing their own ranks shrink, are providing less financial support than in the past. And as Americans as a whole become less religious — almost one-fifth of adults now have no religious affiliation — seminaries face an uncertain future.

The ELCA is indeed shrinking. As The Lutheran magazine reported in January,

[Read more...]

Former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA Confronts His Catholic Peers about Gay Marriage

Herbert Chilstrom

Herbert Chilstrom is the retired presiding bishop of the ELCA, and before that he was a bishop in Minnesota.  In his work, he developed strong ties with the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, a group that is currently fighting to constitutionalize a prohibition of same sex marriage.  And Chilstrom doesn’t get it:

Over my 35 years as an active and retired bishop I have come to know hundreds of gay and lesbian persons. I have yet to meet even one who is opposed to the marriage of one man and one woman. After all, they are the daughters and sons of such unions.

What they cannot understand is why church leaders would oppose their fundamental desire and right to be in partnership with someone they love and respect who happens to be of the same gender and sexual orientation. They don’t understand why they should not enjoy all the rights and privileges their straight counterparts take for granted.

Read the rest: Lutheran leader confronts state’s Catholic bishops over gay marriage | StarTribune.com.

Mainline Churches Continue their Decline

File this under, “Same Ol’ Same Ol’.”  The National Council of Churches released their annual yearbook last week and announced that the Catholic Church holds steady, Mormons are on the rise, as are Pentecostals.  And, no surprise, the mainline denominations continue their long, slow fade:

Mainline churches reporting declines in membership are United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.61 percent to 2,770,730 members; the Episcopal Church, down 2.48 percent to 2,006,343 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 members; the American Baptist Churches USA, down 1.55 percent to 1,310,505; the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), down 1.08 percent to 2,312,111 members; and the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members.

via National Council of Churches USA.

Hot Button Issues and Theological Polarization

Over Duke’s Call & Response Blog, sociologist Mark Chaves has posted an interesting graph and some reflections on it.  American politics has become more polarized of late, and sociologists attribute that not to a change a people’s viewpoints, but to the fact that the two political parties have placed hot button issues at the center of their agendas, thus forcing the electorate to once side or another.

Chaves wondered if, in the three mainline denominations dealing with homosexuality, the same thing was happening.  And, sure enough, it is.

Chaves writes,

In short, it seems that in the Episcopal Church, the PC(USA), and the ELCA, churches that lean in the conservative direction on homosexuality may have been pushed by national developments within these denominations to declare themselves to be more theologically conservative, even though their views may not have become more conservative over the last decade. If people within a denomination now are more likely to sort themselves into congregations based on those congregations’ stand on homosexuality, this could produce fewer churches with theologically middle-of-the-road identities. If churches are forced to choose sides on an issue, people will be more likely to choose churches based on which side they are on.

This seems a very reasonable conclusion to draw.

For me, that produces some sadness.  The church in which I was reared, and then served for seven years, was a yellow church.  “We’re centrist,” I heard from the pulpit several times when I was a pastor there, “Not the mushy middle, but centered on Christ and not thrown off course by one theological topic or another.”  And yet, I know that the pastor who preached that and the one who followed him were both asked the litmus test question, “What do you think about gays?” during the interview process.

That church is, once again, searching for a senior minister.  And, if Chaves is right about there being less centrist mainline churches, I bet there are also less centrist clergy candidates from which to choose.


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