Lutherans Go Gender-Neutral for Worship

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gave the green light to a new prayer and hymnal book that would give more options for contemporary worship and less emphasis on the masculine images of God.

During the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Fla., delegates approved 740 -250 to develop the hymnal, which is due in October 2006.

The hymnal was one of several controversial topics tackled at this year’s assembly, which ended last Sunday, but was overshadowed by the louder debate over homosexual ordinations. Nonetheless, conservatives had warned about the gender-neutral text of the hymnal, and had rallied against it even before going into the assembly.

Mark Chavez, director of Word Alone Network, explained that the hymnal could be misused in many different ways because of its elimination of the male imagery of God.

“There is a radical feminist agenda behind it,” explained Chavez. “Some of the marriage services could be used for same-sex couples because the new version never instructs a ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ but rather ‘this couple’ and ‘that couple.’ If you believe in homosexual unions, you can use this for that kind of service.”

One of the options conservatives supported was a proposal to keep the current Lutheran book of worship, which was published in 1978, and delay action on the new hymnal until 2009. However, after two hours of debate, delegates approved the original resolution.

“This is an important moment,” said Bishop Marcus Miller of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, which has about 93,000 members in 208 churches, according to Religion News Service. “I’m happy. I’m convinced it will be a great blessing to the church.”

The book must be approved by the denomination’s Church Council.

The 4.9 million Lutherans are not required to use the new book, but it is expected to be used widely by the 10,600 congregations. The denomination as a whole does not have to pay the price for printing since the cost of printing will be borne by the churches that buy it.

According to Chavez, “the problem is that a lot of pastors will be saying it’s a great hymnal, and after you use the hymnal enough, you may start to believe it as well.”

Some of the changes that will be made is gender-neutral language. For example, it replaces “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” with “Holy Eternal Majesty, Holy Incarnate Word, Holy Abiding Spirit.” It also changes the reference to Jesus in the Apostle’s Creed from “His only Son” to “God’s only Son.”