Mission Friends for Inclusion

President Emeritus Glenn Palmberg on First Covenant Minneapolis

Glenn Palmberg, President Emeritus of the Evangelical Covenant Church (1998-2008), shares this statement regarding involuntary removal of First Covenant Church Minneapolis ahead of the Annual Meeting in Omaha.

The agenda for the 2019 Covenant Annual Meeting includes a recommendation for the involuntary removal of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis (FCCM). The time constraint of the Meeting will allow only a few of the over 600 delegates and resource persons to address the meeting on this important issue. I am therefore posting my thoughts here in the hope that a few delegates will read them.

I am opposed to the recommendation that the people who comprise the congregation of FCCM be involuntarily removed from the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).

The Annual Meeting officers, in a document sent to delegates on May 31, 2019, made it clear that on the recommendation to remove FCCM from the Covenant, delegates will be voting on only one thing. “The question before the ECC Annual Meeting is not finding, it is whether dismissal from membership in the ECC is the appropriate remedy”. That is all the delegates are voting on. We are not voting on whether or not we agree with the ECC statements on human sexuality. We are not voting on whether we believe FCCM is guilty or innocent of the accusations. We are not voting on whether we feel the process was appropriate or not. We are only voting on whether or not we believe dismissal from membership in the ECC is the appropriate remedy.

As a delegate to the annual meeting, it is not inappropriate or disloyal or unCovenant to vote in opposition to a recommendation from the Covenant Executive Board. A full one/third of the Executive Board itself voted against this recommendation. Such recommendations frequently have dissent and sometimes are defeated or amended. It is not distrustful of the Executive Board to have a difference of opinion especially on an issue of this importance. The highest authority in the Covenant is the Annual Meeting comprised of delegates elected by member churches.

If the AM were to pass this motion, it would mean the people who constitute the FCCM congregation are removed from the ECC by vote of their fellow Covenanters. This dismissal would include people who have found new life in Christ during the revitalization of this historic church. They will be told that their brothers and sisters in Christ from the Evangelical Covenant Church had just voted to involuntarily remove them from their larger church family. It would mean that the former Dean and President of North Park Theological Seminary, Covenant professor of New Testament at Our seminary, Professor of Church History and Covenant History for many years, seasoned pastors who have served on multiple boards including chair of a conference board, a Covenant chaplain, a career Covenant missionary, Covenant church leader, Covenant authors, would all be involuntarily removed from the Covenant by vote of their fellow Covenanters. As a friend of mine said to me, “When you excommunicate a church you are not excommunicating a building. You are excommunicating the people.” Now I have heard it said, “We are not kicking people out of the Covenant. They are free to join another Covenant Church.” The congregation to which I belong is my church family. My pastors are the people I call in times of need. I committed to this faith community. To tell me I can just find another Covenant church is to not understand the significance of the local body of Christ to which I belong.

If this Annual Meeting were to pass this motion, I believe it would send yet another painful message to many in the Covenant’s LGBTQ community and to their families and friends. How many ways and how many times do we need to say to people you are not welcome.

The Annual Meeting officers use the word “remedy”. We are voting on whether this proposed action is the “appropriate remedy”. I fear the adoption of this motion is more likely an acceleration of the polarization in our denomination than it is a remedy. I still believe that there are a significant number of people in the Covenant who want to come together and work on ways we can stay together and respect the differences in our understanding of Scripture and ministry in each of our contexts. I still believe we are better together.

At the 2008 Covenant Annual Meeting we adopted a Covenant Resource Paper entitled: The Evangelical Covenant Church and the Bible. I believe this paper would receive overwhelming and perhaps unanimous support if it were being considered for adoption in our church today. This paper addresses Biblical authority. It addresses Covenant freedom and boundaries on that freedom. It certainly does not support freedom to believe whatever we want. It does not support one side of our current debate over the other. I believe the following quote from this paper addresses our current issue…”the record of misreading in Christian history is cause for humility in our own reading of the Bible. It should cause us to pause before we make authoritative statements about a particular interpretation of a passage, especially if it is an interpretation on which Christians authentically disagree. Simply put: we sometimes get it wrong.”

It takes humility to respectfully work together while we disagree.

Glenn Palmberg 
President Emeritus, 1998-2008,
Member of First Covenant, Seattle

As published on his Facebook page