January 6, 2010

Standing up for the scripture

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

A decision made last August by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) allowing pastors to engage in committed same-sex relationships has caused great unrest for some members of ELCA congregations.
 For one person, Tim Swenson, pastor of Wilmington Lutheran Church in Arnegard and Trinity Lutheran Church in Alexander, that  August decision was the final straw in a line of bad decisions being made by the ELCA which led him to protest against the church.
“The actual vote on homosexuality had very little to do with my decision,” says Swenson. “In my mind, the issue with that vote was the blatant disregard for biblical authority, a disregard that I have been witnessing for the past few years.”
Following the vote in August, Swenson felt that something needed to be done, and after attending a presentation in November, he decided to declare ‘in statu confessionis’.
“Following the presentation in November, my wife, Dale, and I decided that ‘in statu confessionis’ was the right thing for us to do. And in an effort to drive home the point I wrote my book, ‘Stand and Confess,’” adds Swenson.”
‘In statu confessionis’ is a Lutheran term which means to pronounce a state of confessional protest against a churchly entity which has become heterodox, such an entity being in violation of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. This declared critical state of affairs is a public, churchly, and confessional form of protest and is the most potent type of protest that can be made.
“My decision to declare ‘in statu confessionis’ was the result of a culmination of events by the ELCA which lead back to the early ’90s when they began putting biblical authority up for vote in the issue of acceptable names for God,” states Swenson. “After my decision to declare ‘in statu confessionis,’ I wrote the book so I could defend my standing and confessing.”
In his book, Swenson talks about taking a stand against the ELCA, but he also admits that the time for talking has passed and the time to confess is here.
“In the opening pages of my book, I confess that I did not take the agendas of the ELCA seriously enough in the early years,” states Swenson. “I also confess my inability to devote enough time and resources to help change the events of the ELCA. I am also confessing my faith over and against the ELCA’s error.”
Swenson’s decision is a direct result of the actions taken by the ELCA during its Church-Wide Assemblies over the past few years. During those assemblies, according to Swenson, members of the assembly vote on issues like, whether or not God should be referred to as a male or female, what names are appropriate for God and its most recent vote on homosexuality.
“Once the assembly votes, there is no way to object to their decisions because no one is held accountable and you can’t address any of the assembly members until the next meeting two years later,” adds Swenson. “I feel that these votes mean that the ELCA has violated Article Two of its constitution, and that violation means that they no longer meet the definition of a church. If I could speak to the assembly, I would tell them that they have violated their constitution and it’s time to repent this action. However, the assembly doesn’t meet again until August 2011, so I have decided to denounce myself from any ELCA affiliates until this issue is resolved.”
Swenson will continue to be a part of the denomination, but he will stand against it which means ending his ties with those entities that legitimate the ELCA. At the time of his declaration, Swenson was Dean of the Upper Missouri Conference and an internship supervisor. Because those entities are not standing against the ELCA, Swenson has resigned those positions.
Although he has made changes and many of his congregation members have contacted him with concerns, Swenson says that nothing should change at either of his congregations.
“My confessing allows me to stay true to my ordination vows and my call to be the pastor in Alexander and Arnegard, so I will continue to serve there,” adds Swenson. “I am using pre-ELCA worship material at both of my congregations and I will continue to do so until the issues with the ELCA are resolved.”
Remaining in the denomination but standing against it, Swenson will work toward resolutions to the ELCA’s issues until the next ChurchWide Assembly in 2011.
“If that assembly refuses to undertake corrective action, something will have to change,” states Swenson. “At this time I can’t say what I will do. But if corrective action is not taken, my status will change.”
For more information or to obtain a copy of Swenson’s book, he can be reached at 701-586-3340 or tswenson@restel.net.