Traditional Lutherans Mull Alternative Path

More than 1,200 Lutherans disaffected by the recent vote favoring openly gay clergy have assembled in Indianapolis on Friday to begin creating an alternative fellowship for conservative Lutherans.

"We intend to initiate a process that we hope will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism," said Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran CORE and the retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod. "The convocation is for all who care for the future shape of orthodox Lutheranism."

Lutheran CORE is leading the Sept. 25-26 convocation. While the group has served as a coalition for reform for conservative Lutherans within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it is now shifting its focus from efforts to reform the ELCA to efforts to enable traditional Lutherans to work together both within and outside of the denomination.

The shift is in response to last month's vote by ELCA's chief legislative body 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 that acknowledges the lack of consensus on the issue of homosexuality and also recommends that the denomination commit itself to finding ways to recognize same-gender relationships.

Following the votes, the coalition reported that individuals and churches have been joining their renewal efforts "at a rate with which we can barely keep pace."

The Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa., director of Lutheran CORE, pointed out that they are not leaving the ELCA. Rather, the ELCA has left them, he said.

"Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians," he stated. "The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years."

Former presiding bishop the Rev. Herbert W. Chilstrom urged CORE members against taking hasty actions that would maim the mission of the ELCA.

While calling dissident members to slow down, Chilstrom asked "Why is human sexuality a more church-dividing issue for some than any of these other equally complex questions?" such as war and health care. He indicated that homosexuality was not a matter central to the proclamation of law and Gospel and called for a resolution that would allow Lutherans to "live with diversity."

But the disagreement is not about sexuality, Chavez of Lutheran CORE clarified. It is rather about the source of authority in the ELCA, he said. Conservative Lutherans believe the ELCA has abandoned scriptural authority.

This weekend, Lutherans attending the convocation will consider a proposed constitution that will change the name of the ministry from Lutheran Coalition for Reform to a coalition for Renewal and also establish the group as a "free-standing synod" that will carry out ministries apart from the ELCA.

Other proposals being considered include initiating conversations among like-minded Lutherans toward a possible "re-configuration of North American Lutheranism, whether through existing or newly created structures."

Participants do not expect to make any major decisions this year and want to take time to discuss future actions before making any.

Earlier this week, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson urged the denomination to refrain from making decisions that may separate members from one another. He urged members to engage in continued conversation with honesty and respect.

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