In pastoral letters, policy statements, and other forms of witness, Lutheran bishops and other leaders have spoken out in favor of marriage equality and/or against changing state consitutions to prevent marriage eqaulity.
Bishop Thomas Aitken, Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA
Bishop David Brauer-Rieke, Oregon Synod, ELCA
Bishop Peter Rogness, Saint Paul Area Synod, ELCA
Bishop Lawrence Wohlrabe, Northwestern Minnesota Synod, ELCA
Statements in Support of Marriage Equality
Bishop Chris Boerger, Northwest Washington Synod, ELCA
Bishop Wayne Miller, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA
Bishop Roy Riley, Jr., New Jersey Synod, ELCA
Bishop Ann Svennungsen, Minneapolis Area Synod, ELCA
Bishop Richard Graham, Metropolitan DC Synod, ELCA
Statements on Church Policy
Synod Council of the New England Synod, ELCA
Bishop Margaret Payne, New England Synod, ELCA
Bishop Robert Rimbo, Metropolitan New York Synod, ELCA
Bishop Marie Jerge, Upstate New York Synod, ELCA
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)
Bishop Thomas Aitken
On April 17, 2012, Thomas Aitken, bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod (ELCA), sent a pastoral letter to the synod. Below is the letter in full.
A Pastoral Letter to the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA
“Bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.”
These words are some of the most helpful Christian instruction for us to live by in our journey into God’s mission. I have used them in conversations, teaching occasions, Online Reflections, and sermons throughout our synod. They are imperatives from Scripture that we, as a church, lifted up and used in careful discussions, prayer, and then in resolutions regarding same gender couples. I have witnessed firsthand how these words have brought healing, understanding, civility, and new insights as ELCA Lutherans. To “bear with one another,” to “respect the bound conscience of another,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are actually the joyful marks of being a disciple of Christ. As we practice them, the followers of Jesus bring a new tone to the discussions we continue to have as a church and as a culture with regard to same-gender relationships and the issue of the marriage amendment that will be before us in November here in Minnesota.
We are to be a community that can count on each other for support as sisters and brothers in Christ in the midst of complexity. Our ELCA Social Statement: Human Sexuality; Gift and Trust says this well, “Within the last decades, this church has begun to understand and experience in new ways the need of same-gender-oriented individuals to seek relationships of lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments...We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity.” (p. 18)
We still have differing understandings and convictions about marriage as a church and we have named them with transparency. In our Social Statement on Human Sexuality, we named the various positions taken by faithful ELCA Lutherans who love their Lord, who read Scripture, and understand the complexities of interpretation. Some believe the term marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman, and others with an equally strong understanding of marriage, family, and social protections for families conclude that “marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships.” (Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, p.18) They believe that such accountable relationships also provide the necessary foundation that supports trust and familial and community thriving. No matter where one lands on the Minnesota marriage amendment issue, it is a fact that we as a culture need to focus more on deep and abiding relationships of mutual love and fidelity, whatever one’s sexual orientation may be.
We are called now to life together with deep respect, even if in disagreement, for the conscience bound belief of both those who restrict marriage to male/female relationships, and those who think it can apply to same-gender couples. Some congregations in our synod, in their faithful discernment, will bless faithful, life-long, same-gender couples utilizing the highest legal authority. Others will choose not to, again based on faithful discernment. Yet, all can find themselves united in the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s mission. In keeping with our decision to allow congregations to make up their own minds on how to hold all couples accountable, the option for exercising a ministry of marriage with what a congregation regards as appropriate should not be curtailed. A respectful way forward for both patterns of ministry should be kept open. I would add, that we are also called to continue in mutual, kind, intelligent, and faithful conversation. It’s what Luther called the “mutual conversation and consolation of the saints.” A good resource has been developed by the Minnesota Council of Churches at this website.
Whatever individual Lutherans may believe about the term marriage, we have clearly stated that we “oppose all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation.” As a church we support “legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services,” and have called upon congregations to “welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families and to advocate for their legal protection.” (Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, p. 19)
Proposed Marriage Amendment - Minnesota, November 2012
I have already publicly stated that the ELCA does not tell its members how to vote in the public arena. It is worth noting that we Lutherans live well in paradox, able to hold prayerful convictions in respectful tension all the time. We recognize that faithful Christians, tending to Scripture and confessions, live together with differing understandings of capital punishment, war, and genetics, just to name a few ethical issues. We’ve made a commitment to live together with diversity. Since life will continue to present us with complexity and grey areas, I prefer to live into the future together with respect for this diversity, while focusing on Christ and the gospel as our theological core. The proposed Minnesota marriage amendment would preclude some congregations in our synod from providing a ministry of marriage they regard as appropriate and may well deny equal treatment to couples under the law. Therefore, I will vote against it. That doesn’t mean you have to. We stand firm on the principal of honoring the bound conscience of each other. As I see it, a vote opposing the marriage amendment is not the same as taking a “side” on whether you believe marriage is only for a man and a woman. You may believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and still vote against the marriage amendment because it cuts off one avenue of ministry we’ve agreed as a church to keep open. Let’s remember that “this church on the basis of the bound conscience will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.” (Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, p. 19-20)
Love is the way: Going forward, I encourage us as a synod, to grow together in mutual love and understanding. The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians at Corinth who held deeply diverse understandings on several levels, encouraged humility and love:
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:11-13)
Bishop Tom Aitken
Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA
Bishop David Brauer-Rieke
In a February 14, 2013, letter to members of the Oregon Synod, Bishop David Brauer-Rieke wrote:
“Lutherans have a unique understanding of marriage and the laws that support it. Martin Luther was clear during the Reformation that God gave the Church certain responsibilities, and that God gave the State other responsibilities. The Church is called to proclaim Christ. We are called to invite, forgive, welcome and heal. We do this through what we say and how we serve our neighbor. The State, on the other hand, is called to provide for the safety, equal protection and the fair treatment of its citizens. Marriage, Luther insisted, resides as a responsibility of the State because it involves the protection of children, issues of inheritance, debt and social recognition . . . .
“The legislation being proposed for the State of Oregon is about the protection of children. It is about the protection of children because without the benefits of same gender marriage, children in these households are not granted the same benefits, protections or regard that children with opposite gender, married parents receive.
“Marriage equality laws are about equal protection under the law for all citizens. As Oregon law stands, those in same gender relationships are denied rights to certain physical protections, hospital access, financial benefits and legal standing granted to those in legalized, opposite gender relationships –i.e. marriage.
“Marriage equality laws also maximize societal benefits that come from the protection and stabilization of families in general. In a day when marriage is being spurned, disrespected and ignored by so many, it is a gift to have people actually seeking to honor and pursue strong, marital, relationships. We want to support that.
“Protection of children is a value of mine. Fair treatment under the law is a value of mine. The support and respect of marriage as a central, societal institution is also a value of mine. I hold these values because I have been taught them by my church. I hold these values because every statement of my church, from 1970 to the present, speaking to issues of same gender relationships, has held that no matter how we might struggle around questions of sexuality and personal morality, we are all united around the need for fair and just laws that protect all people equally and work to stabilize society.”
See the full text of the letter here.
Bishop Peter Rogness
On April 23, 2012, Peter Rogness, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod (ELCA), sent a pastoral letter to the synod. Please see the letter in its entirety. Below are found some excerts.
On pastoral leadership:
"We look to those we call into the public leadership of the church--bishops and others--to offer teaching that is grounded in the Scripture and the theology of our tradition. Our moral teaching ought to build up the faith and witness of the body, not to demand obedience or compliance. However, we do look to pastors to connect the faith and life, looking to Scripture as authority and valuing what Martin Luther called the "mutual conversation and consolation of the saints" —in other words, listening well to each other."
"No matter what position various churches may take on the amendment, we should stand together to undergird and support the gift of marriage and the importance of stable families for children and society. Marriage preparation, marriage enrichment, marriage counseling--these have been and will continue to be mainstays of the church's ministry. But it is now widely accepted that same-gender attraction is not a choice, it's an orientation, and "marriage" between two same-gender partners only seeks to provide the same depth and richness in their relationships as good marriages do among heterosexual couples. If anything, more open support for same-gender, life-long committed relationship (which is the nature of the relationships acknowledged by the ELCA 2009 statement) enhances stability in our society by including the homosexual community in its affirmation. affirmation. . . . Allowing for the possibility of life-long, committed same-gender relationships poses no threat to faithful heterosexual marriage or healthy settings for our children."
On the proposed constitutional amendment limiting marriage freedoms in Minnesota:
"I do not support this amendment that prohibits the marriage of same-gender couples. I believe such a position is consistent with the work our church has done on these matters. We recognize that neither our church nor our society is of one mind. Our church has said both understandings and practices should continue to exist, side-by-side, both held by the conscience of faithful people. We affirm differing patterns of ministry and response to same gender couples. Some congregations have seen it as faithful and appropriate to offer support to what we have called "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." This amendment would appear to preclude these congregations from offering that ministry and that support. More broadly, the amendment removes the possibility of our coming to an increased understanding of and support for such life-long, committed same-gender relationships as a society. It puts into the constitution one view which denies equal treatment to some couples under the law. I don't believe it is either a conclusion to which our social statement leads us or a compassionate way for us to shape human community in this state."
Please see the letter in its entirety.
Bishop Lawrence Wohlrabe
On May 4, 2012, Lawrence Wohlrabe, bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod (ELCA), sent a pastoral letter to the synod. Below are some excerpts. See the full text of the letter here.
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“I would like to clarify what our church body has said about this matter in our 2009 social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. I hope to offer a thoughtful contribution to this debate that might inform ELCA members as they discern and discuss with one another and with other citizens of [Minnesota].
“As members of a church body that has committed itself to respecting one another’s consciences in this less-than-ultimate matter, we will want to avoid making comments or claims that effectively deny others the opportunity to disagree with us”
“As we draw upon the resources of our faith, we also exercise our reason—another one of God’s good gifts. So, let me share some questions I am pondering as I prepare to vote in November—questions that arise from my own reasoned attempt to understand the issue:
• Why exactly have Minnesotans been asked to consider this constitutional amendment at this time? Given the fact that same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in our state (by virtue of a state law already on the books), why did state legislators believe it important to still bring forward this constitutional amendment? What are the behind-the-scenes political issues and realities in all of this?
• Is it wise for people of Minnesota to decide such questions via constitutional amendments rather than the political process that involves all three branches of our state government (the Legislature, the Governor, and the Supreme Court)?
• Is this constitutional amendment really only about marriage? Does the phrase “shall be valid” (in the proposed amendment) indicate that the amendment, if passed, could preclude any consideration of future legislation allowing for domestic partnerships or civil unions for same-gender partners in Minnesota? Could the “shall be valid” phrase be invoked in the future to deny certain rights that gay and lesbian citizens of our state already enjoy?”
See the full text of the letter here.
Statements in Support of Marriage Equality
Bishop Chris Boerger
Bishop Chris Boerger, ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, testified on Monday at a public hearing of the Washington State Senate Committee on Government Operations and Tribal Relations & Elections, saying that he was in favor of LGBT couples being able to have legally-recognized marriages that are equal in the state. Bp Boerger's statement to the hearing:
"Mr. Chairman, I am Chris Boerger, the bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Church in America. In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to commit itself to find ways to allow congregations who choose to do so to support and hold publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same gender relationships. That's quite a mouthful: publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. One of the people who had questions about our doing this said, 'Bishop, isn't that marriage?' And my response is, 'Well, in everything but name.' The reality is, the Lutheran church has always held that it is the state that defines what marriage is; it's the church that then blesses people who enter into that relationship. We have now stated our desire to bless those who are publicly accountable in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. We can't call it marriage--you can. That's why I am here today to say there will be those in my church who will not participate; we understand that freedom. There are those who want to, and we ask for that freedom."
Executive Director Emily Eastwood said, "We thank Bp. Boerger for his courageous witness. His statement reflects the fine line of the ELCA social statement which allows freedom of choice for those pastors and congregations wishing to perform marriages for same-gender couples in states where such are legal. The Northwest Washington Synod has long supported full participation for LGBT people in the life of church and society. Bp. Boerger's statements reflect the views already expressed by the synod. Nevertheless, by taking these views to the legislature and, therefore, into the media, Bp. Boerger has acted for justice. Our thanks are due."
Bishop Wayne Miller
In February 12, 2013, Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod sent letters to the Illinois Governor and legislative leaders in support of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. This bill, if passed, will make Illinois the tenth state to legally recognize and support the loving commitments and family relationships of all couples.
The letter included a copy of the synod's 2012 resolution, which had received overwhelming assembly support and had empowered Bishop Miller to communicate “that the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, meeting in Assembly, urges the Illinois Legislature and Governor to extend the protections and dignity of marriage to all persons and to protect the freedom of religion for all faith communities and religious organizations.”
In his letter, Bishop Miller indicated that the Synod Assembly is the highest governing authority in the synod, which geographically comprises Cook, DuPage, Kane, and Lake counties, and includes voting members from 200 congregations representing 100,000 baptized members. He was presenting the resolution for the attention of the lawmakers “in the hope that it will assist you in making a wise and just decision concerning the pending legislation to permit marriage for same-gender couples in our state.”
Previously, Bishop Miller had added his signature to that of 300 other clergy in an open letter to lawmakers supporting the bill, and has signed on as bishop to the amicus brief in the judicial challenge for the freedom to marry.
Bishop Roy Riley, Jr.
Roy Riley, Jr., bishop of the New Jersey Synod, ELCA, and two other faith leaders wrote a letter in support of the marriage of same-gender couples, published by NJ.com on February 14, 2012.
A faith-based case for marriage equality
By Mark M. Beckwith, Matthew D. Gewirtz and E. Roy Riley Jr.
In making it clear that he will veto the marriage equality bill now making its way through the state Legislature, Gov. Chris Christie has ensured that the debate over the morality of gay and lesbian relationships will be with us for months to come.
As representatives of faith traditions that struggled for decades with this issue, we know that attitudes about homosexuality do not change easily. Still, it pains us that so many opponents of marriage equality invoke a handful of scriptural texts — open to a variety of interpretations — to deny their fellow citizens equal treatment under civil law.
To be clear, we are well aware that there are verses in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that some scholars and believers are convinced prohibit sexual relations between members of the same gender regardless of the context. But other equally reputable scholars and devout believers argue that these verses refer to particular sorts of exploitative relationships and do not pertain to the subject of same-gender marriage, which was unknown in Biblical times.
These contested verses are dismissed by still other scholars, who point out that the world has long disregarded many seemingly definitive scriptural prohibitions — such as the ones against divorce or taking interest on a loan. It is also true that we no longer condone actions that the Scriptures explicitly endorse, such as stoning a disobedient child.
In the face of disagreement about the meaning of holy texts, many in the Christian tradition have turned for guidance to the example of Jesus, whose movement was open to the most marginalized people in his society, and ask why we should not follow his example.
Many in the Jewish tradition reflect on the principle referred to as b’tselem elohim — the understanding articulated in the first chapter of the book of Genesis that all human beings are created in God’s image — and come to realize that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people express something of God’s nature as surely as heterosexuals do.
Scripture and theology are not the only resources we draw on in supporting marriage equality. We see same-sex couples every day driving their neighborhood car pool, volunteering in schools and youth sports leagues, supporting local businesses and gracing the houses of worship wise enough to welcome them with their talent and their energy. What possible interest can the state have in drawing a distinction between the relationships of these committed couples and those of their heterosexual friends?
Like the religious leaders who oppose marriage equality, we too form our consciences by studying scripture and the lessons that our ancient traditions have taught us. Like them, our opinions flow from our faith. Yet we arrive at different conclusions on the issue of marriage equality, and about the role that religion should play in our current debate.
Thanks to the wisdom of the First Amendment, differing theological notions about the nature of marriage will continue to flourish across our diverse religious landscape. But a state has neither the right nor the competence to promote one of those theological understandings in opposition to others — particularly when doing so deprives some citizens of the rights enjoyed by others.
The governor has said he is “not someone who changes positions with the grace of a ballerina.” Yet at the deepest level, no change is required. He has pledged to perform his duties “impartially and justly.” It is our prayer that the state’s legislators will find the wisdom to act with the same impartiality and justice.
The Rev. Mark M. Beckwith is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark; Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz is senior rabbi of Temple B’Nai Jeshurun inMillburn; the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr. is bishop of the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Bishop Ann Svennungsen
On August 23, 2012, Bishop Ann Svennungsen, ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod, joined over 150 members of clergy to urge fellow Minnesotans to vote no on the freedom-limiting marriage amendment that appeared on the ballot later that year. If it had passed, the amendment would have put a ban on marriages for same-gender couples into the state constitution. Bishop Svennungsen addressed the assembled crowd and members of the press:
"As Lutherans, we believe it is possible for people of faith to arrive at different positions on this issue and to respect the bound consciences of others. I believe it is incredibly important that we speak with love and respect, especially when we disagree.
"Indeed, one of the greatest concerns if we pass this amendment is that it forecloses the kind of conversation we need in our world--informed, respectful conversation often lacking in this polarized society.
"We Lutherans also believe that the Biblical vision of justice also calls us to protect civil rights and prohibit discrimination of all people.
"We believe that God works through the wonderful structures of marriage and family for the common good and that we are all called to support relationships of lifelong fidelity and trust--support that is often lacking in the 21st century."
Bishop Richard Graham
Bishop Graham, bishop of the ELCA's Metropolitan DC Synod (which includes parts of Maryland) along with many other faith leaders in Maryland, took part in a rally on February 13 at the Maryland capital in favor of marriage equality. The rally was sponsored by Equality Maryland and included visits with state legislators.
Statements on Church Policy
Since the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust was adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2009, several bishops and synod councils have issued guidance about ELCA pastors performing marriages between same-gender couples in states where such marriages are legally recognized.
New England Synod Council and Bishop Margaret Payne
The Synod Council of the New England Synod, ELCA, writes:
“Since ordained ministers desiring to live in publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous relationships are told that both church and community are part of the public within which he or she is accountable, and that public accountability for an ordained minister includes compliance with state law recognizing such relationships if available in the state where he or she resides, it seems to us that we should also expect and support the same compliance from lay couples, and allow their congregations to host their marriages and permit their pastors to serve as solemnizers on behalf of the state. Recognizing that faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about what constitutes responsible action in such circumstances . . . the New England Synod Council recommends that pastors who choose to do so may, in accordance with the laws of their state, serve as solemnizer for same-gender marriages. Since any pastor may already decline to solemnize any marriage, this guidance does not place any requirement on any pastor or congregation to act against conscience.”
About the synod council’s decision, New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne writes:
"This decision was not taken lightly, nor with a sense that it should be a direction for the entire ELCA, but as a practical and pastoral guideline for the unique mission context in this synod. Please remember that it is merely guidance; not all pastors will want to avail themselves of it. We continue to live together with a variety of viewpoints on issues of sexuality with mutual respect and without condemnation for differing interpretations of scripture.
“I am aware that this [guidance] document pushes against our ELCA understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. My own prayer journey for the last two years as this step has been considered by our synod council has been one of questioning: How do we fully support same-gender couples in faithful relationships? How shall I shepherd this process? How do I participate in this decision as a bishop of the ELCA committed to seeking unity in the church when I know that this decision will cause pain and division? How do I feel that God’s revelation in Jesus Christ informs this decision?
“This step was not taken self-righteously, but with a love for the church that regards this kind of welcome in our setting as necessary for evangelism and consistent with God’s will for inclusion. So finally I chose to give my support to this document in the belief that my role and leadership as bishop must combine adherence to traditional understandings with occasional reverent resistance.”
Bishop Robert Rimbo
Robert Rimbo, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod, ELCA, writes: “Lutherans are always caught in the middle, living with ambiguity and paradox, seeking to be faithful to God and to others. It is part of our character, even our vocation: we are both catholic and evangelical, proclaiming both law and gospel, always saints and sinners. Because Lutherans do not hold marriage to be a sacrament, though there are, certainly, sacramental overtones, in thirty-five years of officiating at marriages, I have understood my role as a pastor to be, principally, an agent of the state. I believe it could be argued from liturgical history that Luther himself would agree: marriages at which Luther officiated were more often than not held outside of the church building and then celebrated in a service blessing God inside the church building.”
Taking care to note that his statement represents neither an official policy nor set of synod guidelines, Bishop Rimbo said, “I believe that pastors who are invited to officiate at the marriages of same-gender couples in the State of New York should do so. I also believe that pastors who cannot, following their bound conscience, officiate at same-gender marriages should not in any way be forced to do so. . . .”
“Our worship books do not offer a rite specifically worded for a same-gender marriage; in fact, the language is very much that of husband and wife, man and woman. However, because of our Lutheran freedom to adapt liturgical resources and the fact that our worship books are recommended for our congregations as opposed to being imposed, I believe it is rather easy to make necessary adjustments.”
Bishop Marie Jerge
Marie Jerge, bishop of the Upstate New York Synod, ELCA, writes: “Nowhere does the social statement authorize ELCA pastors to perform same-gender marriages, but it does say that there can be recognition of same-gender unions (which New York State now calls marriage). It was agreed that this is a matter of pastoral care and authority in the local congregation. . . . I take local pastoral authority seriously and therefore encourage pastors to act on the basis of their convictions (or bound conscience). I am not planning to discipline any pastor who chooses to preside or congregation that chooses to host when recognizing a same-gender marriage. I will likewise not discipline any pastor or congregation who refuses to consider it. As we continue to live in a time where there remains disagreement, I would hope that we can be in dialogue across congregational lines and that we will be both tolerant and forgiving of one another. . . . Pastors have the same rights and responsibilities in regard to same-gender unions as they would with any heterosexual marriage. They can say yes or no.”
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
In July 2011, delegates of the 13th Biennial National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) approved the following policy statement:
“It is the policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada that rostered ministers may, according to the dictates of their consciences as informed by the Gospels, the Scriptures, the ecumenical creeds and the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, preside at or bless legal marriages according to the laws of the province within which they serve. All rostered ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are encouraged to exercise due diligence in preparing couples for marriage. All rostered ministers serving congregations are encouraged at all times to conduct their ministry in consultation with the lay leaders in the congregation and with sensitivity to the culture within which the congregation serves.”