The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America plans to affirm to an overseas bishop that the U.S. church is committed to the centrality of the Word of God.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson will share the statement when he meets with presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Rev. Alex G. Malasusa, in May, according to the ELCA News Service.
Malasusa had recently rebuked the ELCA for its liberal direction on homosexuality.
"I will share with Bishop Malasusa the ELCA's strong commitment to the centrality of the Word of God in our faith and witness. We join all Lutherans who affirm that the central message of the Scriptures as the good news of God's love and saving work in Jesus Christ," said Hanson.
In an Easter sermon, Malasusa said Lutheran churches in the U.S. and Sweden have strayed from the Scriptures. And he stressed that same-sex marriage is "in direct contravention of God's word," as reported by The Citizen, a newspaper based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
"It's time Africa preached to the rest of the world and remind them of God's word because it seems they have forgotten what the Bible says," he stated, according to the local newspaper.
The sermon was in response to the Lutheran Church of Sweden's support for same-sex marriage and the ELCA's decision in August to approve the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians. The U.S. church had also adopted a social statement on human sexuality that recommended the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
Malasusa urged Lutherans in Tanzania to strive to become financially independent so that the U.S. and European Lutheran churches "don't use their money and wealth to threaten us."
"We should leave them with their money and stick to the word of God," he said, according to The Citizen.
Hanson rejected the claim that the ELCA uses financial resources to "coerce global companions."
"Rather," he said, "we share a commitment to proclaim to the whole world the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, to serve our neighbor, and to build a world of justice and peace."
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania is one of the largest Lutheran bodies in the world with 5.3 million members. Membership has continued to grow over the past several years. The Church of Sweden has 6.75 million members and membership in the ELCA is currently at 4.6 million.