The recent decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to ordain active homosexuals and adopt a more permissive attitude toward fornication has put many parish churches in the difficult position of choosing whether to remain in the ELCA. One such church is Prince of Peace Lutheran in Rockton, Illinois, a village of some 5,000 souls located just a little to the north of Chronicles’ hometown.
Prince of Peace is deeply upset by the ELCA’s move. In the church’s monthly bulletin, Pastor Douglas Johnson emphasizes that the “real issue” isn’t sex but “the authority of Scripture and how God’s word in Scripture is rightly interpreted.” The church has assembled a task force to determine its plans. Prince of Peace has two options: It can remain in the ELCA, in a position of confessional resistance, or it can go elsewhere.
The church is seriously considering two other relatively conservative Lutheran bodies. The first is Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal), an umbrella organization that includes several reform movements within the ELCA. At a recent Lutheran CORE gathering on September 26 in Minneapolis, 1,200 people showed up instead of the anticipated 300 to 400. Registration had to close two weeks before the event. Those 1,200 voted to form a freestanding synod, which would strive for the “reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America.”
The second is Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), an association of independent Lutherans and congregations with goals similar to those of Lutheran CORE. A congregation can simultaneously have membership in the ELCA, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, or another church body and still be a part of LCMC. Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona—formerly the tenth-largest congregation in the ELCA—voted on June 28 to disaffiliate with the ELCA and join the LCMC, and other congregations are expected to follow suit.
These movements have the ELCA worried. In response to all the leaving, Vice President Carlos Peña issued a letter on October 23 entitled “Why Lord?” Peña relates his experiences losing his business after Hurricane Ike hit Texas and compares this storm to the one facing the ELCA. After Ike, he says, people came together. They welcomed “new citizens and businesses, both old and new.” His business just had a “grand re-opening,” and it is rolling on even stronger than before.
The ELCA can do the same-—but not if all those pesky churches keep leaving. Peña makes it clear that, like any business, the church cannot operate on goodwill alone: “If you are considering redirecting benevolence, I would urge reconsideration. We must remember that it is our congregations working together through the ELCA that bring about amazing things. Together, we are the church. If your numbers were to diminish, it would lessen our capacity to carry out God’s mission.”
Translation: Don’t leave! We need your money!
The ELCA was formed in 1988 by union of three other bodies—the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America (both of which were combinations of older Lutheran church bodies), and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a collection of Lutheran congregations that had left the Missouri Synod over the latter’s insistence on the inerrancy of the Bible. In an effort to keep such a disparate array of Lutherans together, the ELCA has always gone with the lowest common denominator—the most liberal doctrines.
Across North America, ELCA parishioners are wondering what to do next. Many churches are trying to avoid dealing with the problem, hoping that the new changes won’t affect them. The bishop of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA, the Rev. Dr. Gary Wollersheim, has attempted to reassure objectors: “If you are in a congregation that does not see the need to change your practices in response to these decisions, no one will force you to do so. This will be true of many of the congregations in the Northern Illinois Synod. Specifically, this means you will not be required to interview or extend a call to a gay or lesbian pastor in a faithful committed relationship. You will not be expected to bless same gender [sic] covenant relationships.”
Many ELCA churches may grasp at this hope. They have nice, male pastors who are married to women; they aren’t anticipating the need to call a new pastor anytime soon; and they have no homosexual couples seeking a blessing for sodomy.
For those congregations who anticipate that they will one day have to come to grips with the ELCA’s heresy, the future remains uncertain. Lutheran CORE and the LCMC both accept female clergy within their ranks and even go to some length to defend the practice as biblical. It is the same defense that provided the rationale for the ELCA’s ordination of open, active homosexuals.