A letter written by the vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is being distributed to the church body’s 4.6 million members in response to the growing dissatisfaction over divisive decisions made this past summer by the denomination’s chief legislative authority.
Since ELCA's Churchwide Assembly adopted a social statement on human sexuality and made it possible non-celibate homosexuals to serve as rostered leaders, a number of congregations have considered parting ways with denomination, which they say has been parting ways with the Word of God.
And some are thinking about ceasing their donations to the church body, which is already facing a significant decrease in its budget.
To the latter group, ELCA Vice President Carlos Peña reminded them of the work their dollars do through the church body.
"Working together, we help alleviate hunger close to home and abroad. Without our help, people around the world would have a harder time recuperating from disasters,” he wrote in his letter.
“They need us and we need each other," he added.
As Peña drafted his letter, ELCA’s presiding bishop, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, delivered a wide-ranging report to the governing body of the Lutheran World Federation, which ELCA is a member, suggesting that the decrease in ELCA’s budget would have an impact on the wider Lutheran communion, which he said faces greater challenges currently and in the future.
"We are experiencing a 30-year trend in decreased membership and giving to support the work of the ELCA beyond its local congregations,” Hanson had reported this past Friday – the second day of the LWF Council’s six-day meeting in Geneva.
“Furthermore, we do not know the budgetary implications of our recent decision on human sexuality," he told council members.
While the Churchwide Asssembly’s controversial decisions are expected to take its toll on the denomination, ELCA VP Peña said he believes the assembly’s actions will be “a catalyst to further strengthen our church and our relationships with each other."
To explain, Peña recalled his experiences of devastation after Hurricane Ike struck his hometown of Galveston, Texas, in September 2008.
"One year later, I can see the benefits of this experience," he wrote. "Galveston is coming back stronger than before and welcoming citizens and businesses, both old and new.
"I feel as though I have experienced a resurrection," stated Peña, who was elected to a second six-year term during the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. “Good things are coming to light out of the chaos and darkness of what seemed like a hopeless situation.”
In closing, Peña said he prays for the continuing efforts of the ELCA, his understanding of people different from him, and the future.
“And I pray for my fellow Lutherans that they may have the strength to commit and weather the storm," Peña concluded.
With 4.7 million members, ELCA is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States and the fourth largest Protestant body.
The second largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), consists of 2.4 million members.