Engaging The ELCA In Post-Measure 3 Dialogue

Although I think a combination of Planned Parenthood money and typical North Dakotan skepticism is what ultimately did in Measure 3, the resolution presented as a press release by the ELCA diocese of Western ND did not help matters any.  The resolution may be found on their site here:


It seems to me, from this statement, that the ELCA of Western ND felt caught off guard by Measure 3.  I say this because they alleged “hidden agendas” on the part of those who proposed the measure and also claimed the measure sought to incite fear.  These struck me as somewhat reactionary, which one might expect if they were surprised.  I could well be wrong, of course, but to me, the ELCA document read as though they were caught off guard a bit by the proposed measure.  Additionally, I think we would all do well to accept the ELCA concern for protecting people from abuse as a motive.  All that said, there are a couple of disconcerting aspects.

I think the concern with “inciting fear” came from a misunderstanding of Measure 3.  Measure 3 was actually responding to things on the ground, such as the recent HHS mandate and, before that, the closure of Roman Catholic adoption agencies.  I hope with time and dialogue, the ELCA opponents to Measure 3 and any such future amendment proposal or legislation could come to see that.

The most disappointing thing about the ELCA statement, however, was that it accused supporters of Measure 3 of having “hidden agendas.”    I had to do a double-take on this one.  It is true that the Western ND ELCA statement addressed “those proposing,” but that would basically mean everyone from those who wrote it to those who signed to have it on the ballot.

Therefore, the statement might not apply directly to people like me, since I have simply argued for Measure 3, but I’m not entirely sure.  Am I “proposing” by also “promoting”?  I’m not sure.

Regardless, I think that’s a problematic stance to take as it is disingenuous and inflammatory.   Accusing other Christians of having hidden agendas and conspiring to do something that would cause abuse is wrong.  At least, it’s wrong when no evidence is brought forth.  I had thought it was public knowledge that the ND Catholic Conference and Family Alliance were the main players behind drafting the amendment proposal and getting it on the ballot.  I would therefore suggest that the ELCA leaders of Western North Dakota talk to those two groups to determine whether there was some hidden agenda beyond what those groups have said and experienced (via closed adoption agencies and the HHS).

I think there is legitimate hope that that might yet happen.  In the Bismarck Tribune, Pastor Tim Johnson (one of the authors and signers) said he hopes both sides can now have a dialogue.  I hope so too.  I am going to be bold (perhaps too bold) and suggest that a good place to start would be for the ELCA of Western ND to apologize for the statement concerning “hidden agendas.”  That really isn’t a helpful approach to take toward other Christians.  I am also going to suggest that those of us who were proponents and supporters of Measure 3 need to do a better job of informing others the next time a similar amendment is on the ballot.  If proponents can lessen the “shock” and opponents can slow down and avoid disingenuous and inflammatory public attacks, perhaps headway can be made.

5 Responses

  1. You say measure 3 was a response to things that have been happening, but none that you mention would be affected at all by measure 3.

    Why try and fight a national issue with a state measure? It’s about like saying you have a heart condition so you are going to see a doctor about your eye so it seems like you are doing something without doing anything. The ND Constitution has no effect on an HHS ruling, it doesn’t affect any mandate to provide birth control under Obamacare either.

    As for Catholic adoption agencies closing, that has been their choice in several states. No state has closed them, just the states passed laws that in order to get state money, you can’t discriminate. If you are saying the very purpose of Measure 3 was to allow discrimination, then that is exactly the reasoning opponent gave against the measure.

    1. Andrew

      Very good point, Mary.

      Catholic adoption agencies had THREE choices, not two.

      1) Continue receiving state funding and discontinue discriminating against potential parents based on certain criteria.

      2) Give up state funding and continue discriminating. This would, of course, require the charity to put forth more money (of which the Roman Catholic church is in no short supply) to make up for the lost state money – which, rightfully so – should go towards causes which do NOT discriminate against the state’s residents.

      3) Refuse to end discriminatory practices, refuse to compensate the lost state subsidies with their own money, and close the doors.

      The adoption agencies in Mass and elsewhere chose option 3.

  2. charles

    I think Fr. Herbel meant that Measure 3 was, in part, a response to the type of attitudes that led to the HHS mandate and the requirements that all adoption providers provide services without regard for their religious and moral beliefs. It was not directly in response to those developments since the signature gathering occurred long before those events. Nor do I think that he nor anyone else ever claimed that Measure 3 would have any impact on the HHS mandate.

    1. Thank you, Charles. You are correct. I did not meant to imply that Measure 3 would take on federal law (and didn’t think I had). The point, as you noted, was simply that in light of what the Supreme Court said, these issues now must also be considered state-to-state as well and so the attitudes and concerns are similar. If we keep the medical analogy going, Marv, it would be akin to being told one has some genetic markers for heart disease. One might preemptively decide its best to watch one’s diet (federal concerns) but also add in exercise (state concerns). The ways of addressing such genetic markers are different, but the underlying concern of heart disease is the same. So, too, here. The underlying concern for religious freedom remains, whether at the state or federal level. I am glad to have you and Charles and others commenting on the site. I think more dialogue over these issues could help all of us (myself included).

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