ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton and “the cross”
What kind of Lutheran is Elizabeth Eaton, the new ELCA Presiding Bishop?
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson says of her: “She is a wise theologian committed to a strong Lutheran evangelical witness….”
To be sure, she’s known to point to the cross:
“On our own we are helpless and lost. We cannot effect our deliverance. We are, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “like prisoners who must wait for someone from the outside to unlock our cell.” The death of Jesus has done that. That is our core belief. That is the faith. It is Christ and Christ crucified that is the unshakeable foundation of the church.”
“Lutherans have a history of living with paradox. There are some things that are nonnegotiable for us. But there are other things that it is possible for people who love Jesus holding the same faith together, can have very strong, very sharp disagreements, but it does not have to lead to disunity. Things like marriage or the ordering of government or certain political positions, we can and we do disagree, but we agree on the cross.”
Eaton affirms “the cross” and she supports major ELCA agendas, including but not limited to, changing the ELCA constitution in 1999 to require an Episcopal, sacramental priesthood, supporting the 2009 decision to approve gay marriage and families, altering God-language to comply with feminist objections as found in the ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
The problem is:
What is “the cross”? Don’t all Christians “agree on the cross”? Isn’t the cross “the unshakeable foundation” of all Christian churches, not just Lutherans?
Lutheran identity is not a matter of waving the cross more vigorously than Catholics or Baptists.
Rather, Luther rediscovered that salvation is all God’s doing. Now that cuts. It excludes semi-pelagianism in all its pious forms, both personal and institutional. It excludes revelation outside of the cross. It means that the only proper use of the cross is in proclaiming salvation in Christ alone, through the cross alone, by faith alone, through grace alone.
Properly used, “the cross” shows the edges of the gospel, edges which offend modern sensibilities as they did medieval ones. Properly used, “the cross” has necessary, real world consequences that cut.
What kind of Lutheran is Elizabeth Eaton? She’s like her predecessors: Hanson, Anderson, and Chilstrom. Richard Koenig, a prominent LCA Lutheran who died in 2011, put the ELCA problem succinctly:
“The ELCA knows all the Lutheran jargon and recites the epigrams regularly — Christ the center of the Scriptures, Law and Gospel, justification by faith alone, faith active in love — but in stuff coming from the headquarters, there’s no signal that anyone knows how to USE them.”
 The Lutheran, August 2013, p. 50. Bolding added for emphasis added here and hereafter.
 Northeast Iowa Synod Letter, Dec. 15, 2009, Bishop’s column
 Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: ‘Religious’ but not Spiritual” Time, Interview of Elizabeth Eaton by Elizabeth Diaz, August 18, 2013.
 Richard Koenig, www.crossings.org/Thursday/Thur091803.htm.