Ethiopian Church Severs Ties With Lutherans Over Homosexuality

An Evangelical denomination in Ethiopia has recently announced that it is severing ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and it sister church, the Church of Sweden, because of its position regarding homosexuality in the church.

The denomination, known as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, also announced that it will not be affiliated with any churches "who have openly accepted same-sex marriage," and from this point onward may not accept Holy Communion from ELCA pastors, nor are they allowed to distribute Holy Communion to ELCA members.

Another stipulation of this severing is that any leaders affiliated with the ELCA will not be invited to speak at the Mekane Yesus church, nor may they accompany the church on spiritual ministries.

According to The Lutheran magazine, leaders of the Mekane Yesus church have vowed not to visit any ELCA dioceses or synods without permission from the head office of the Ethiopian church, effectively ending ties with Northwest Washington, Southwest California, Pacifica, LaCrosse Area and Southeastern, five ELCA synods which have connections to the African church.

"The ELCA is very saddened by this decision," the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said in a statement.

"The ELCA and its predecessor church bodies have been walking with the people of Ethiopia for more than 50 years, and our sister church, the Church of Sweden, for more than 150 years. In this journey, we have learned from one another, we have deepened and extended the bonds of fellowship and partnership in the gospel," Padilla added.

This decision to sever ties with the ELCA, which is composed of a nearly 4 million member congregation in the U.S., was ratified after a general convocation meeting that took place from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.

The decision to sever ties with the ELCA was originally introduced in a July 2012 initiative implemented by the Mekane Yesus Church council.

In 2009, the ELCA held a national church-wide assembly, which voted to allow congregations to ordain homosexuals in monogamous relationships as clergy to the church.

The ELCA also adopted a social statement titled "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," which supports families headed by same-sex couples.

This decision received criticism from its partner church, the Board of Evangelical Mekane Yesus Fellowship in North America, which issued a press release in October 2009 declaring "disunity" from the ELCA, and stating that "it would not be in good conscience able to commune and partner with ELCA Church that has willfully disobeyed the word of God and regrettably departed from the clear instructions of the Holy Scriptures."

Although the Ethiopian denomination has chosen to separate from its Lutheran partner, the ELCA asserts that it has not completely closed its door to the Mekane Yesus Church.

"As the ELCA, we are always standing ready to open the door of conversation for the sake of reconciliation and our shared commitment to proclamation and service," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, said in the statement.

"Reconciliation is not an option. It is given in Christ, and we stand ready to engage with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on what this gift of reconciliation might mean for us now," Hanson added.

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