Egertson to Resign as ELCA Southern California (West) Synod Bishop
5/29/2001 12:00:00 AM
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Paul W. Egertson announced he will resign as bishop of the Southern California (West) Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), effective July 31, one month before his six-year term will end. Egertson made the decision following conversations with church leaders after his controversial role as a key participant in the April 28 ordination of Anita C. Hill, who is not approved for ordination in the ELCA.
Egertson, 66, made his planned resignation known in a May 26 open letter to clergy in the synod and synod council members. The letter was delivered by e-mail and posted on the synod's Web site.
Egertson had earlier indicated he would not be available for re-election when his term ends this summer. A new synod bishop will be elected at the Southern California (West) Synod Assembly May 31- June 2 in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Egertson is a longtime proponent of ordaining gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships. He has told the ELCA Conference of Bishops his son has been ready to be ordained in the ELCA for several years, but a candidacy committee won't allow it because of the church's ordination standards regarding homosexuality.
Hill was ordained in St. Paul, Minn. Egertson joined with retired bishops and clergy in the Hill ordination, despite the fact that the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, bishop of the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, declined to ordain her.
Hill is not in compliance with an ELCA policy that requires pastors who are homosexual in their self-understanding to refrain from homosexual sexual relationships. Following the ordination, Hill was installed to serve in a clergy role at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, but her ordination is not recognized by the ELCA.
BISHOP ANDERSON, CONFERENCE OF BISHOPS RESPOND
After it was announced Egertson would participate in the ordination, the Rev. H. George Anderson, ELCA presiding bishop, said he asked Egertson to reconsider. Following the ordination, Anderson said he spoke with Egertson again. The discussions were private, Anderson said, and he declined to discuss their content.
After Egertson was elected bishop in 1994, members of the ELCA Conference of Bishops expressed concern that he had been involved in blessing same-sex relationships, Egertson told the Los Angeles Times. The ELCA has no official policy on the issue, but the Conference of Bishops advised pastors in 1993 that they do not approve of such ceremonies.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church. Its members are the bishops of the ELCA's 65 synods, the presiding bishop and secretary.
Egertson promised the bishops in 1995 he would resign if he ever felt he must defy church policy, he said in his letter. Anderson, in consultation with the executive committee of the Conference of Bishops, asked Egertson to honor that promise, Egertson said in the letter.
"I believe Bishop Egertson's decision to resign is honorable, because, as he has indicated, he has followed through on a promise he made to the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA," Anderson said in a statement following Egertson's announcement of his intention to resign. "I respect Bishop Egertson's integrity and his beliefs. I do, however, regret that he participated in the ordination of a candidate who was not approved for ordination in the ELCA, and therefore, violated church policy."
The Rev. Donald J. McCoid, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Pittsburgh, and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, said the conference's response to Egertson's role in the Hill ordination was pastoral, because the executive committee asked Egertson to keep his word. The executive committee preferred Egertson resign rather than face disciplinary proceedings, McCoid said, adding that the resignation would close the matter, in his opinion.
"I certainly do not see the need for any discipline at all," he said. "His resignation is a statement."
EGERTSON'S LETTER TO CLERGY, SYNOD COUNCIL
For his part, Egertson said he had received hundreds of messages following the Los Angeles Times' report, and most supported his position. Participating in Anita Hill's ordination was "an act of ecclesiastical disobedience," protesting the ELCA's policy that prohibits ordaining gay and lesbian people in committed relationships, he said in the letter.
The Southern California (West) Synod Council, with whom Egertson consulted following the Hill ordination, adopted a resolution supporting Egertson's position. It also said that if Egertson chose to resign, July 31 would be the preferred date, to allow for an orderly transition to the new bishop.
Despite his disagreement with the church's policy, Egertson wrote in his letter that he could not deny the promise he made to the Conference of Bishops.
"Whatever I said and however I said it, I said it intentionally to gain their trust," Egertson wrote. "That single fact changes the issue for me considerably. It makes this a matter of personal integrity rather than reforming strategy. What's more, in addition to that first promise, I have also publicly pledged to accept whatever penalty is imposed for my participation in the act of ecclesiastical disobedience in St. Paul."
Egertson also offered his understanding of what his resignation means and what it does not mean. In his letter, Egertson said:
+ that his resignation does not mean he recants or wishes to diminish the protest he made by participating in the Hill ordination.
+ that his resignation does not mean it is a precedent to be applied to others who commit acts of "conscientious disobedience."
+ that his resignation does not mean he admits to any particular violation of his installation vows or provisions of the ELCA Constitution.
+ that his resignation means he cannot carry out the responsibilities of the bishop's office to enforce ELCA policies with regard to gay and lesbian people. "I know that I cannot enforce a policy that is so hurtful to people and to this church," he said.
+ that his resignation means that he recognizes his "accountability to good order in the church and my responsibility to assume the consequences of my actions."
In response to supporters, Egertson affirmed the importance of his promise to the Conference of Bishops. "I cannot believe our cause would be advanced by breaking my promises," he wrote. "In the end, the only credibility we have is in the truth we tell and the promises we keep."
Egertson was elected bishop of the Southern California (West) Synod at a special synod assembly in November 1994. The assembly was called to elect a new bishop, following the resignation in August 1994 of the Rev. J. Roger Anderson, who left to become pastor of an Arizona congregation. In the interim, the Rev. Vance R. Knutsen was appointed by the synod council to serve in the bishop's role before Egertson's election.
Egertson earned a bachelor's degree from Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, a master of divinity from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and a doctoral degree from the School of Theology, Claremont, Calif.
Before he was bishop, Egertson was adjunct professor, and later, assistant professor of religion, at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Calif., an ELCA higher education institution. He also served a shared time appointment as pastor at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, North Hollywood, Calif.
For 13 years, he was director of the Center for Theological Study, Thousand Oaks, Calif. Egertson also served as pastor at ELCA congregations in Lakewood, Calif., Las Vegas, Nev. and South Gate, Calif.
Earlier this year, Egertson said after his term as bishop, he intends to return to teaching at California Lutheran University.
The Southern California (West) Synod has 45,955 baptized members in 140 con