Lutheran Head Empathizes with Episcopal Church

Evangelical Lutherans have much to empathize with the divided and highly publicized Episcopalians. They are both struggling over diversity and human sexuality, just at different public levels, indicated the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, head of the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation, met with the Episcopal Church’s newly installed presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Tuesday to build on the two body's full communion relationship.

Hanson said the Lutherans "feel the burden" that the Episcopal Church and the new presiding bishop bear in having struggles over diversity and human sexuality played out in a more public way than in the ELCA, according to the Episcopal News Service.

The U.S. Anglican body, which just invested its first woman as head early this month, has been wracked over the issue of homosexuality since the consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003. The media has widely stayed on top of the homosexual issue in the Episcopal Church ever since, and without the exception of the controversial investiture of Jefferts Schori – a supporter of homosexuality.

Homosexual controversies are prevalent in many other mainline denominations including the ELCA, but on a more quiet level. The ELCA is currently conducting studies on its member bodies and congregants nationwide to shape the church's official social statement on human sexuality, slated for 2009.

Last year, the Lutheran churchwide assembly declined a request by the ELCA task force that would have allowed the ordination of active homosexual candidates for ministry.

Recognizing the differences lying within the Lutheran body, Hanson has continued to embrace both diversity and unity, saying differences do not necessitate for division.

Differences between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church were put aside when the two church bodies agreed to a Called to Common Mission agreement in 1999, establishing full communion between them. Both fully recognize each other as part of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.

The two denominations have "only begun to imagine" what work can be done through their agreement, as Hanson put it.