February 16, 2009

More on Darwin, and the ELCA

Filed under: Church,Science — Bob Gifford @ 12:53 pm

As a follow-up to yesterday’s evolution post, here are some thoughts on denominational views on Darwin. Pew has assembled statements by major religious denominations on the compatibility of evolution with their religious doctrines. It seems most Christian denominations are cool with evolution, as well as Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and even some Muslim religious authorities. The Lutheran denominations are split, with the smaller and very conservative Missouri Synod opposed, and my denomination, the larger more moderate ELCA…um, well, it’s not really clear.

I have to laugh. In classic ELCA inclusive, Minnesota-nice, don’t offend anyone style, the ELCA statement is, shall we say, non-committal:

The ELCA does not have an official position on creation vs. evolution, but we subscribe to the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, so we believe God created the universe and all that is therein, only not necessarily in six 24-hour days, and that God actually may have used evolution in the process of creation. In fact, to deny the possibility that evolutionary processes were used is seen by some as an attempt to limit God’s power.

So the ELCA doesn’t take a position on evolution, but concedes that God may have used evolution. And that denying evolution is seen by some (but one would assume, not by others) as constraining God’s power. My paraphrase of this statement is that evolution may be true, unless it isn’t.

I love it. Yes, this is an example of Olympic-level waffling, but the ELCA is loath to ever get ahead of its membership on anything. There is a strong congregationalist strain in the ELCA that views the full-time ELCA synodical and headquarters staff as serving, and therefore subservient to, local churches. This can be very frustrating, as in the battles over gay clergy, but it is also a good thing. The ELCA does not shove down pronouncements from on high when there is not an existing consensus among its members.

But there is an exception to this ELCA mindset when it comes to ministry. No one in Chicago will waffle when it comes to our call to help the poor and destitute here in the US and around the world. If a church is to only take a stand on what’s truly important, it seems the ELCA has chosen well.

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