ELCA Board Commends New Gender-Neutral Worship Resource despite Criticisms

The board members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are backing a new worship resource conservatives say counters the Word of God.

The “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” is the outcome of a five-year project initiated by the ELCA Church Council in 2000 to “renew the worship life” of the five-million-member denomination.

During the biennial Church Council meeting on Nov. 11-13 in Chicago, the ELCA board of directors commended the new worship resource as an “enriching addition” to the church.

Since 2000 when the church council first started the project, staff members have collected more than 700 hymns, songs and service music pieces that reflect 10 different musical settings for Holy Communion. Members of the church are encouraged to “discuss, explore, review and engage with new worship materials” before the new book is published.

Conservatives in the ELCA have largely criticized the worship resource and rallied against moving further in the project. According to reformed leaders, the worship book introduces changes in the language that are “contrary to Christian beliefs because there is a radical feminist agenda behind it.”

One such change is the gender-neutral references to God.

“The renaming of God is just a direct assault on the orthodox faith and the church” said Mark Chavez, director of the Word Alone Network.

This may also lead to other “misuses” of the book, according to Chavez, such as presiding over same-sex marriages. Since the new provision does not instruct a “man” or “woman” but rather “this couple” or “that couple,” the text would be open to use in such services.

During the 2005 Churchwide Assembly – the denomination’s highest legislative authority that meets once every two years – conservatives brought up their concerns but the assembly passed a resolution to move forward with the project.

The Evangelical Lutheran Worship book is still in progress, but once printed, it will be the third-ever musical resource to be released by the denomination and will follow the two volumes, “This Far by Faith” and “Libro de Liturgia y Cantico.”

Funds for developing the new project are allocated through churchwide spending budgets. However, the worship book’s printing costs will be covered by the individual congregations that choose to buy it.