Evangelical Lutherans Re-Elect Hanson as Head

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson was overwhelmingly re-elected Tuesday as presiding bishop of the nation's largest Lutheran denomination.

After falling two votes short of being re-elected on the first ballot, Hanson won the second ballot with 888 out of 1,022 votes cast at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)'s Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. Hanson will serve a second six-year term.

ELCA is the second largest member church of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which claims 66.7 million members in 78 countries. ELCA's membership, however, has continued to drop including a 1.6 percent decline between 2005 and 2006 to 4.8 million. Moreover, only 30 percent of the members attend worship weekly, Hanson noted in a sermon on Monday.

Hanson, also president of LWF, said he feared shrinking membership and differences over homosexuality would lead the ELCA to become a "settled church."

"Sometimes I wonder even worry that for far too many of us ELCA stands for 'Expectations Low. Climbing Anxiety,'" said Hanson during the opening worship on Monday, according to the ELCA News Service. "A church body with low expectations for what the Holy Spirit is doing and can do in our lives and through our ministries. A church with climbing anxieties that our differences - especially over human sexuality - inevitably will lead to divisions. A church body that views declining membership as a prelude to almost certain demise. Such a church body will be tempted to become a settled church."

Delegates at the Aug. 6-11 Churchwide Assembly are expected to debate human sexuality and whether the church should ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians. Although the 2005 assembly had voted to maintain its ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, a third of the ELCA's regional governing bodies, or synods, want the ban lifted and have pushed to place the homosexuality issue on the 2007 agenda.

The controversy over homosexuality has not reached a point of division in the ELCA, said Hanson, who stressed ongoing churchwide conversations on the issue.

Hanson urged Lutherans to be a "sent church" rather than a settled one, emphasizing evangelism as a central theme this week.

"Members of a sent church are prayerfully discerning the variety of spiritual gifts given to each of the baptized. Shaped by living memory of the past, they are giving generously and constantly asking how God's money might serve God's mission for the sake of the world," he said. "As a sent, scattered people, we will be gathered each day around the means of grace [this week], speaking the truth that it has not gone as well as God desires, for we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves."

The 2007 biennial Churchwide Assembly is being held at Navy Pier's Festival Hall with about 2,000 people, including more than 1,000 voting members. This year's theme is "Living in God's Amazing Grace: Thanks be to God!" and participants will acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the ELCA.

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