Three more Lutheran churches leave ELCA
Three more conservative churches split recently from the largest Lutheran denomination in the country and formed their own church, amid the more accepting position that has been taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America toward gay clergy, and their recent ordination of gay bishops who are involved in committed relationships.
The First Lutheran Church in Philip, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Long Valley, and Trinity Lutheran in Midland, who form part of the Lutheran Coalition of Renewal voted by an overwhelming margin of 98 percent to 100 percent to leave the 4.5-million strong ELCA and create the North American Lutheran Church, the Rapid City Journal said.
Meanwhile a fourth church, Deep Creek Lutheran Church of Midland/Hayes has already voted 12-0 to part ways with ELCA, and has its second vote scheduled for Sept. 5, the Rapid City Journal said.
Other churches that are set to break ties with ELCA are the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran church in Lead, and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitewood, whose first votes also showed vast margins, the Rapid City Journal said.
Lead’s second vote is scheduled on Sept. 26, while Whitewood will have its second vote on Oct. 10. Rev. Frezil Westerlund, pastor of the four churches said, “We are not divided on this at all. We just feel renewed, like the Holy Spirit is moving among us,” the Rapid City Journal said.
While NALC opposes the gay clergy directive that ELCA passed in its convention last year, they say their focus is less on sexuality and more on returning to Lutheran traditions while the gay issue was simply the last straw, the Rapid City Journal said.
Bishop Paull Spring, who will head NALC, cited for example ELCA’s incorporation of language that eliminated male references to God such as “Father” and “Son,” and instead using gender-free words like “Creator” and “Savior,” the AP said.
Spring said, “The broader issue [was]: Which is the authoritative voice of the church today? Is it holy scripture, which Lutherans have always confessed, scripture alone, or is supposed to be some combination, that as well as some mood of the times?” AP said.
In general, churches leaving ELCA perceive a gap with local congregations, and many departing churches would have left even without the 2009 gay clergy policy, the Rapid City Journal said.
So far 199 churches have left ELCA after two congregational votes, with another 136 who only need a second vote before it becomes official. There are 10,239 ELCA churches totaling 4.5 million members. Over the last 20 years some 500,000 church members have left ELCA but many individual congregations also prospered proportionately, that share the sentiments of NALC, the AP said.
Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE said, “The average person out there who’s interested in a Christian church wants the real thing. They want Jesus. They want the gospel. They don’t want something else,” the AP said.