Aaron Johnson

Covenant Freedom, Clergy, and the role of LGBT persons in the ECC

Aaron Johnson
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January 2, 2015

Reverend Gary Walter

Reverend Mark Novak

8303 W. Higgins Road

Chicago, IL 60631

Dear Rev. Gary Walter and Rev. Mark Novak,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are all Covenant pastors – colleagues in this fellowship of mission friends – writing to you out of a deep love and concern for the church. Specifically, we are interested in the way the leadership of the Covenant is addressing the role of LGBT Christians in our churches. We are concerned that formal denominational discipline and potential policies under consideration will present a significant threat to the hallmark tradition of theological freedom that lies at the heart of the Covenant identity and experience.

We are concerned about recent, unprecedented threats to ministerial standing that have been directed toward local congregations and pastors, in both church plants and established churches. We believe that any and all formal actions by Covenant leadership on this matter must follow a transparent process as the denomination considers policies regarding sacramental practice, ordination, membership, and church leadership qualifications.

This distinct freedom affirmed in the Covenant is both difficult and essential to maintain. In 1976, the Covenant Doctrines Committee wrote “Historically, Covenanters …have understood – if not always accepted the fact – that God’s word is sovereign over every human interpretation of it, including their own. And understanding this, they have been free to allow for differences of opinion where the biblical record itself can be read differently.”

We, the undersigned, do not all agree on all specific theological and ecclesial issues regarding the role of LGBT Christians in the church. However, we do affirm the value of Covenant freedom and the need for transparent communication. It is our prayer that we not surrender to internal or external pressure, but fearlessly live out our inspired heritage as the Evangelical Covenant Church – a people fiercely committed to Christ, but not a theologically exclusive people.

We are aware that Covenant leadership has established two task forces that are seeking to interpret what it means for clergy to "faithfully dissent" and for local congregations to be "out of harmony" with Covenant policy. Understanding these task forces are still in process, we remain concerned that, among many things, there are discussions about prescribing local church policy around membership and leadership – a major shift from our congregational polity. Further, while we agree that clergy should abide by existing ethical guidelines, we reject any culture of fear and intimidation that suggests articulating a different position is grounds for discipline. Covenant clergy should be able to articulate and teach the Covenant’s position on homosexuality and, at the same time, not live in fear if they also hold and articulate an alternate position arrived at faithfully.

We are deeply committed to this denomination and truly believe that we are in it together and better together. We long for the Covenant to be that courageous place where a fevered gospel passion is combined with a zeal for companionship with all of God’s people.

To that end, we ask you to consider a clearly-outlined, denomination-wide, consultation in the ministerium on the role of LGBT persons in the church, where speakers and advocates from all sides are heard and engaged. No further formal policies should be put in place until we have engaged in careful study and sustained, engaged conversation together.

In the end, we wish to continue to struggle together, and have the courage to not let go of each other.

We welcome your thoughts and look forward to the ongoing conversation. Any and all replies can be sent to Rev. Peter Hawkinson, Winnetka Covenant Church (1200 Hibbard Road, Wilmette, IL 60091,) and he will disseminate as appropriate.Please know that you are in our prayers as you lead us through this extremely important moment in the life of our denomination.

In Christ,

(See attached pages)


Rev. Richard Lucco, Executive Director of Ministry Development

Rev. Curtis Ivanoff, Regional Field Director, Alaska

Rev. Jerome Nelson, Central Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Greg Yee, Pacific Northwest Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Howard Burgoyne, East Coast Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Garth McGrath, Great Lakes Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Garth Bolinder, Midsouth Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Tammy Swanson-Draheim, Midwest Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Paul Wilson, Pacific Southwest, Superintendent

Rev. Mark Stromberg, Northwest Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Robert Owens, Southeast Conference, Superintendent

Rev. Jeffrey Anderson, Canada, Superintendent

Rev. Robert Peterson, Board of Ordered Ministry, Chair

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