Evangelical Lutherans to Act on AIDS, Diversity

Some 2,000 people are expected to convene this summer for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)'s biennial assembly, where reports on multicultural ministry and greater involvement in the HIV/AIDS fight are on the agenda.

Under the theme "Living in God's Amazing Grace: Thanks be to God!" the 2007 Churchwide Assembly – representing the 4.85 million-member ELCA – plans to hear reports on multicultural ministries and act on a proposed social statement, an initiative on helping members engage the Bible, and a proposal to commit the church to greater engagement in response to HIV and AIDS through development of a churchwide strategy for the coming decade, according to a news release.

The Aug. 6-11 meeting in Chicago comes as ELCA has upped its efforts to diversify its denomination with more African Americans and other ethnic groups. About two dozen minority-specific campaigns are planned for this year including congregations that are intended to draw worshippers from mainly the minority groups.

Caucasians make up about 97 percent of ELCA, which has seen a continual drop in membership over the years while its counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are flourishing.

"If American society has about 12 percent African Americans, our goal is that the church will reflect that also," explained Everett Flanigan, who handles black outreach for ELCA, according to the Associated Press. Only slightly more than 1 percent of the denomination were African American as of 2005.

ELCA's presiding bishop, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, has continued to address the issue of racism and diversifying the church this past year to get congregants and leaders to confront the matter as well.

"Unless I confront that white privilege every day, I can't expect the church to confront it in its institutional life, its congregational life, in the lives of individuals," said Hanson earlier this year.

Hanson, who may be up for re-election as ELCA head this year, is aiming for integrating cultural groups together to create multicultural churches rather than creating more separate ethnic congregations.

Not on this year's assembly agenda is homosexuality. By a 2001 Churchwide Assembly mandate, the denomination has released three studies to its leaders and lay people to collect a consensus for the drafting of the ELCA social statement on human sexuality.

The 2005 Churchwide Assembly had affirmed pastoral care for all people including those who are gay or lesbian, but did not create formal rites for blessing couples in same-sex relationships. It also rejected the recommendation that would allow the church to ordain, consecrate of commission candidates for ministry who are in life-long, committed same-sex relationships.

A proposed social statement on human sexuality is due to be released early 2009.

Attendants of the 2007 assembly will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the formation of the ELCA as well as the 60th anniversary of the nearly 66.7 million-member Lutheran World Federation.