It would be a "blessing" if the actions taken at the assembly of the largest Lutheran church body in America were not implemented, said the head of the second largest.
For many years, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has worked cooperatively with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its predecessor church bodies through many inter-Lutheran agencies such as Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran Services in America.
"It is our desire to be able to continue to provide Christ-centered ministry through such agencies, always doing so in faithfulness to the doctrinal positions of our church," LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and the ELCA Conference of Bishops.
But the leader of the 2.4 million-member denomination suggested the recent decision by ELCA's chief legislative body to allow non-celibate homosexuals to serve as rostered leaders threatens to damage and even destroy their relationship.
"Bishop Hanson and Conference of Bishops, I share this letter with you to confirm what I have already stated, namely, that this is a very serious matter, one that we cannot ignore," Kieschnick wrote.
In August, during the triennial gathering of ELCA's Churchwide Assembly, delegates voted 559-451 to approve a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained.
Delegates also adopted a new social statement on human sexuality with exactly the number of votes (676 or two-thirds) needed to pass it. The statement, which emphasizes two principles – trust and bound conscience – addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality, including social structures, cohabitation, sexual exploitation, abuse, and homosexuality.
Since the gathering, the 4.7 million-member church body has sparked a flurry of remarks from across denominational lines, including criticisms from other U.S. Lutheran groups and the United Methodist Church, which last year approved a full communion with ELCA.
Some congregations are even considering parting ways with ELCA as many feel the denomination is abandoning the authority of Scripture. A few have already started the process.
"The bottom line is the church has walked away from the word of God. They left us. We didn't leave them," the Rev. Kurt Rau, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Evergreen, Mont., recently told a local newspaper. Rau's congregation voted Sept. 13 to disjoin from ELCA and plans to realign itself with LCMS.
In his letter Thursday, LCMS leader Kieschnick reiterated comments he made during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, when he brought greetings from the LCMS.
"I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend," Kieschnick had said. "The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies.
"The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm," he added.
Despite the incompatibility of ELCA's decision with the Word of God, Kieschnick said the LCMS would continue following the past recommendations made by the denomination's Praesidium (president and vice presidents) that no change be made in the working relationship between the church bodies.
The LCMS will reevaluate its cooperative working arrangements with ELCA during its next triennial convention, scheduled to be held July 10-17, 2010, in Houston.
"We in the LCMS have a genuine concern for the people whose lives are impacted, both temporally and eternally, by the cooperative ministry of the many inter-Lutheran agencies that currently exist," Kieschnick wrote Thursday, as Hanson and the ELCA Conference of Bishops opened their meeting in Chicago.
"Out of deep concern for the people who receive ministry from such organizations and for the continuation of those ministries, I share with you this letter and pray that it will be received in the spirit of fraternal, collegial dialogue with which it is sent," he concluded. "May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
The ELCA Conference of Bishops will conclude their gathering on Oct. 6.