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ELCA Presiding Bishop says war is a moral choice, not a political strategy

The Rev. Mark Hanson warns against ELCA’s military policy

The Rev. Mark Hanson shared a conversation with the editor of Metro Lutheran during a visit to the Twin Cities on February 10. Here are portions.
Some Minnesota Lutherans took strong exception to your stance that the Bush administration’s proposal to invade Iraq would not qualify as a “just war” as Christians have historically defined it. Have you changed your mind about that?
I have grounded what I’ve said in the social statement of the ELCA, “God’s Peace for the World.” That statement recognizes we may have to resort to war, but for me war is always a moral question, not a military strategy. Historically, we are not a pacifist church. And, bishops don’t bind the consciences of the faithful. Scripture does.
We are called to use our reason to decide how to re-spond to a very complex issue. This may be the first time we’ve had a chance to use moral deliberation about a war before it breaks out.
Saddam Hussein is a horrific dictator, but he has been contained. We must ask: Who will be the casualties if we go to war, or if we don’t? Will we destabilize the Middle East?
Our global Lutheran partners are asking how the United States can justify expending all these resources for a war in Iraq when there are so many other pressing issues in the world! You might not believe all the messages I’ve received from other world Lutheran leaders about this — all of them cautionary.
As we move toward the 2005 Churchwide Assembly, there’s increasing interest in the ELCA in what [that Assembly] might decide about church policy concerning gays living in committed relationships. What’s your sense of the mood of the church about this, and do you worry about a split in the church over this issue?
I’m worried that large segments of the ELCA are choosing not to have conversations about these issues. Most of us grew up in homes where we didn’t talk about sexuality, and now we’re going to fumble through with this new challenge.
Sex is now defined by the culture, which trivializes it. Now we — the ELCA — have a chance to define sex in the context of Christian values.
If most of the church just holds its breath and waits for a church-dividing vote, we may get a division. But if we deliberate with prayer, we may come to a consensus, even though we’re not of one mind.
Contrary to rumor, ‘Chicago’ doesn’t have this all figured out in advance with a plan to manipulate a result.
I want to invite our whole church into this conversation. If the premise is that we should distrust the church’s leaders, then it will be difficult to find a solution with which we all can live in harmony.
A lot of ELCA lay Lutherans in Minnesota say it’s hard enough to feel connected to their synod bishop, much less the presiding bishop. Are you finding it difficult to feel connected to pastors and congregations in the church?
Yes, that’s a challenge. Nowadays, the primary relationships in people’s lives are the close-at-hand-ones. And, the historical “glues” no longer hold as well — common liturgies, institutions and the like. And, many perceive the wider church being de-fined by issues that divide us.
Many Christians today approach church like consumers. They come and go. It’s hard to build relationships under those conditions.
An LCMS pastor in Wisconsin wrote to the editor of his denomination’s leadership letter, Reporter, arguing the gulf between his denomination and the ELCA was so wide, fraternal talks among leaders of both churches is a waste of time and money. Does he have a point?
The ELCA Constitution says we will be in altar and pulpit fellowship with all Lutheran groups willing to share it. The conversations are imperative for us. LCMS says we’re “heterodox” [other than orthodox — ed]. That complicates things. But we have common concerns to address with other Lutherans. We do this now, through agencies like Lutheran World Relief, Lu-theran Disaster Relief, and Lutheran Services in America.
What has most surprised you about what it’s like to serve as presiding bishop?
The great challenge of the complexity of the call. You have to tend churchwide staff, synod staff, be concerned about parishes and their leaders. The complexity of it all makes me ask: How do I make time-use decisions?
Do you find it wearing?
It’s more exhilarating than wearing. In many ways, this is a wonderful time to be the body of Christ. People are hungry for so many things. We have the food they need!