Evangelical Lutherans Adding More Color to the Pews

Evangelical Lutherans are making efforts to become a national church body comprised of at least 10 percent people of color.

Over the last two decades, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made "very modest progress in becoming a more multicultural church," stated the "Multicultural Ministry Strategy Report" which was directed to the Church Council.

In 1987, the constituting convention of the ELCA adopted the goal "that within 10 years of its establishment its membership shall include at least 10 percent people of color and/or primarily language other than English." At that time, 2 percent of its members were identified as "African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian or Hispanic.

Ten years later, the people of color membership was at about 2.13 percent. This time, they were identified as "African American, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian and Latino people."

In December 2005, the statistic rose to slightly more than 3 percent.

"It's important that we not lose sight of the 10 percent goal but that we look at some of the other things that are happening beside membership," said the Rev. Sherman G. Hicks, executive director of ELCA Multicultural Ministries, according to the ELCA News Service.

Hicks reported progress on five multicultural ministry strategies – the African Descent Ministry Strategy, the American Indian and Alaska Native Strategic Plan, the Arab and Middle Eastern Ministry Strategy, the Asian and Pacific Islander Ministry Strategy and the Latino Ministry Strategy – noting that several units have hired staff "in areas that relate directly to issues that are identified in the strategies."

The report comes as ELCA's head, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson urges more diversity in age and ethnic groups in a church that is predominantly white. While stating that racism remains a problem in the church, he called the church to be multicultural and multi-lingual.

"Without a significant change in the commitment and practices of all the expressions of the ELCA, this church will continue to go without the gifts of people of color or whose primary language is other than English," stated the recent report. With changes being implemented in the denomination, the report noted "a renewed desire for results" and a hope that "more significant accomplishments toward becoming a more inclusive church can be reported."