Segregation instead of unity

In the largest Lutheran church in the USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the fronts have hardened in the conflict over sexual ethics, homosexuality and biblical interpretation: Some Lutheran congregations this week founded a new church, the North American Lutheran Church.

The trigger for this split is a decision by U.S. Lutherans last August to open the way for openly lesbian and gay theologians to enter the pastorate. That made the move to a new church inevitable, said Pastor Mark Chavez, one of the coordinators of the founding assembly Thursday and Friday in Grove City, Ohio. The engine behind the new church is the Coalition for Renewal, an association of conservative Lutheran clergy and congregations. More than 1.000 worshippers expected at church plant. The North American Lutheran Church sees itself as a counterweight to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is said to be too liberal and distant from the Bible, and which emerged from the merger of three churches in 1988.

Small portion of congregations want to follow The new church embodies the "center of Lutheranism in America" and holds fast to the authority of Scripture as the "sole source and norm for faith and life," Chavez explains. Of course, the new church starts small numerically, he concedes. Even before the founding of the church, a good dozen congregations had already declared their membership. He was impressed, Chavez says, that hundreds of the 10.300 Lutheran congregations to consider leaving the "mother church". John Brooks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said the church regrets resignations. So far, however, they have been limited. About 200 of the more than 10.000 congregations have left their home church and joined Mission for Christ Lutheran Fellowship because of the decision to open the pastorate to clergy living in same-sex partnerships, he said. Anglicans in the U.S. have also had heated controversies over their treatment of homosexual clergy.

Four major Lutheran churches There are four major Lutheran churches in the U.S.: the 4.5 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the theologically conservative Missouri Synod (2.4 million) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (400.000), as well as the Lutheran Community Mission for Christ, which unites some 500 congregations and is characterized by "flat hierarchy" without a bishop. Opinions differ on the significance of the new North American Lutheran Church. Lutheran church historian Martin Marty (82) views split-offs with skepticism on principle. One split often leads to another as pastors and congregations claim the truth for themselves. The controversial ie of homosexuality and the pastorate has been discussed for years in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Marty told epd. That's why it can't be said that liberal church leaders have forced reform on congregations.

Membership in Lutheran World Federation sought Unlike the two major conservative Lutheran churches, the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod, the North American Lutheran Church wants to admit women to the pastorate. The new church will have one or more bishops, according to Chavez. The new church will also seek membership in the Lutheran World Federation, he said. The church is not interested in serving on the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches in the United States. Church historian Marty expects few committed congregations to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He points out, however, that churches in the U.S. often have difficulty retaining members. Marty attributes this to the "open market" in which believers decide in favor of this or that church congregation.

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