Delegates from the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod agreed on Thursday to continue its cooperative relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church despite the latter body's latest decisions on sexuality.
While the LCMS believes the ELCA's action last year to allow partnered homosexuals on the clergy roster is contrary to Scripture, the synod approved a resolution, affirming that "cooperation in externals with other Lutheran churches, including the ELCA, continue with theological integrity."
At the same time, LCMS delegates called on the Commission on Theology and Church Relations to "develop more in-depth theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors, determining what would necessitate termination of such cooperative efforts."
The LCMS and the ELCA are the two largest Lutheran church bodies in the country with 2.4 million members and 4.6 million members, respectively. The two have never been in a relationship of "altar and pulpit fellowship" because of doctrinal differences, but they have engaged in cooperative activities to meet physical needs around the world.
The LCMS began to reconsider the relationship when the ELCA's highest legislative body voted last August to allow gays and lesbians in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" to serve as clergy. The ELCA had also adopted a social statement on human sexuality acknowledging that there is no consensus on homosexuality while at the same time recommending that the ELCA commit itself to find ways to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
LCMS leaders raised such questions as "Is the purpose of the joint work fully consistent with the positions, policies and objectives of the Synod?" and "Do cooperative efforts imply doctrinal unity with the ELCA or endorsement of ELCA positions on same-sex relationships or other matters of disagreement with the LCMS?"
LCMS delegates meeting in Houston this week for their 64th regular convention have asked that an assessment of the current state of "cooperation in externals" and a full report of criteria for ongoing assessment be brought to the next convention.
In the meantime, the denomination resolved to give thanks to God for the opportunity to give witness to God's care for all people through such cooperative work.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, responded to the LCMS resolution, stating that they are open to discussing any concern with the LCMS.