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February 20, 2009

Whither the Lutherans?

The nearly five-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has just released a set of recommendations concerning the "ordination, consecration, and commissioning of people in committed, same-sex unions." The report, produced by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, is the culmination of a long discernment process initiated by the ELCA Church Council.

For the most part, Lutherans are a conciliatory bunch. They typically prefer not to draw attention to themselves, and avoid conflict the way most non-Lutherans avoid lutefisk. Thus, it is not terribly surprising that the task force has recommended what they perceive to be a "middle way" regarding the controversy.

Instead of taking a definitive position on the matter of actively gay clergy, the task force has proposed a "local option" approach, leaving it to the denomination's 65 synods to determine for themselves whether to allow such ordinations. To do this, the ELCA must eliminate language in its existing policies that requires that sexual intimacy for clergy be within the context of heterosexual marriage.

The decision to make no definitive decision is likely to exacerbate the heretofore slow decline in ELCA membership. One need only look at the ongoing disintegration of the Episcopal Church in the United States following its decision to consecrate an actively gay man as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire to see where the Lutherans might be headed.

The task force's recommendations will be debated and voted upon in August by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the biennial legislative body of the denomination. The decisions made by that assembly will go a long way in determining the future of one of the largest denominational bodies in the United States.

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Just a note:

While ELCA is the biggest Lutheran body in the states, and is unfortunately what many think when they hear the word Lutheran, please remember that there are other Lutherans that hold very closely to Scriptures. (I'm one such person!) There are smaller Lutheran bodies that are very conservative, and we often get frustrated at ELCA, just like many other Christian groups.

Steve Rempe

Luke, I'm also one of those "other Lutherans," although I originally come from an ALC/ELCA background. I can assure you that there are many within the ELCA that are just as frustrated with their church hierarchy and its slide towards moral relativism. Here's hoping they can show up in full force this August!

J Hills

Thank you for such a great article!


And while there are some stuck in ELCA who are Christians, it is the apostate liberal denomination. There are other Lutheran synods who still hold to the Bible and the confessions, such as the LCMS, the next largest, the AALC, the Free Lutherans, ELS and WELS, (for that matter, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free and Lutheran Brethren) and numerous smaller synods. That is just in America.

So it is unhelpful to talk about "the Lutherans" when referring to ELCA, just as you wouldn't refer to the PCUSA when referring to Calvinists or Presbyterians, or some self-styled Catholic body which doesn't hold to Catholic teachings as "the Catholics".

What you end up doing is smearing us with there heresies and sins, and then people, hearing that we are Lutherans, attribute those heresies and sins to us. So, please don't.


I'm in complete agreement with your sentiments here. I suggest that the ELCA's choice to leave the gay clergy decision up to local synods and their churches might be more accurately called a choice to allow the mega churches (those in large cities that tend to have more liberal points of view) in those synods to control this decision.

My husband and I chose to leave just such an ELCA church over a year ago for a variety of reasons that can all be explained by what amounted to a meaningless Christianity. Right, wrong, good, bad, Biblical, un-Biblical were all muddied to the point of becoming unrecognizable for the sake of inclusivity, tolerance and acceptance.

Kevin Sam

Hi Steve, I'm glad you wrote this post and got it out there. It sort of reminds me of the debate between states-rights or centralization (our Regent days). Which way is better? It all depends on who is creating controversy. In this case, the ELCA national church's reluctance to make a decision for all the synods could back fire and split the church.


Wow! I didn't realize there were actually other uncloseted Lutherans on the board! Well, yay!

labrialumn, I was under the impression that AALC actually joined ELCA at some point... am I terribly mistaken, or do you have old info? In my circles, usually LCMS (Lutheran Church --Missouri Synod) and WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) come in second and third after ELCA. And, yes, there are many, many other Lutheran bodies!

There's an old joke: If you're uncomfortable in a Lutheran church, wait a year. It'll split in half, and you'll like one or the other!


And Steve, thanks for commenting on those within ELCA who have problems with this; as with any church body, the people aren't monochromatic!

Steve Rempe

Luke, I believe it was the AELC, not the AALC, that joined with the ALC and the LCA to form the ELCA. The AELC was the group that split from the LCMS during the "Seminex" scandal in the early 1970s. (At this point, the eyes of all non-Lutherans reading this are glazing over a bit).

I titled the piece "Whither the Lutherans" because I wasn't sure how many Point visitors would know what the ELCA was. (I almost titled it "Wither the Lutherans," but wasn't sure how many people would get the pun.)

With regard to my former church body, I lament the path it has chosen to this point, and pray for its reform and renewal. I know a great many people in the ELCA--a large percentage of those in the pews (if not even a majority)--who do hold fast to the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Many are actively involved in groups that are working toward this end. It is with these individuals that I am proud to share the name "Lutheran."


Ah, as my wife would say, Alphabet Soup.

I'm very, very glad God looks at the heart and not church affiliation when giving salvation; it's something we talk about often at our church: you can't assume inner heart based on church confession. (Although it's very, very possible to go much in either direction, obviously!)

And I understand the reason for the post's title; just wanted to make sure that anyone reading didn't lump all Lutherans into the same boat. No foul, no harm. Or something like that.


Hope the Lutherans remember their German namesake Martin Luther.

He was not afraid to stand up against some bad practices in the Church...

Hope that each ELCA individual church lets their ELCA leadership know---where their new practices depart from Scripture - in a way where both justice and mercy are balanced correctly.

Steve Rempe

The president of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and the director of the denomination's World Relief and Human Care have issued two very thoughtful responses to the ELCA proposals:

Rev. Gerald Kieschnick (LCMS President) - http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Office%20of%20the%20President/Statement_on_ELCA_Report.pdf

Rev. Matthew Harrison (Director, LCMS World Relief and Human Care) - http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=14818

Also, GetReligion.org's Mollie Hemmingway (another LCMSer--we're everywhere!) seconds labrialumn's frustration with all Lutherans being lumped together: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=8188

Jerry Virden

One can only imagine what Martin Luther would think if he were alive today. He risked it all for his beliefs and to have those beliefs corrupted so would have to be an outrage at least and devestating at worst. For someone who was so dedicated to the truth of God's Word it is amazing how far the church named after him has fallen away from it.

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