By Peter J. Smith
CHICAGO, August 16, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The departure of several more congregations in central Illinois from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has once again highlighted how the denomination’s decision to approve active homosexual clergy has triggered a slow, steady bleeding of congregations.
One year ago this month at its national convention, the ELCA voted "to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships."
The policy change was decided by more than 100 votes – 559 in favor to 451 against; but since the vote the ELCA has both dropped in members and congregations.
According to Illinois’s News-Gazette, at least three more churches have initiated the process to leave the ELCA, which claims a membership of 10,400 congregations and 4.6 million baptized members. Under the ELCA’s rules congregations that wish to disaffiliate themselves must take two votes passing by a two-thirds majority to leave, with a 90 day consultation period with the local bishop scheduled between the votes. The congregation officially cuts off ties with the denomination upon passage of the second vote.
The journal reports that by the end of June, 462 congregations had cast their first votes to leave the ELCA, with 312 adopting the resolution. Of these, 196 congregations have taken their second vote, with only 11 congregations opting not to leave the ELCA.
The pastors of three Lutheran churches in Illinois told the News-Gazette that they were leaving the ELCA over concerns that the denomination was no longer faithful to the biblical basis of the Church’s teaching, especially when it comes to teachings on sin and salvation.
Rev. Jeffray Greene, pastor of American Lutheran Church in Rantoul, where 94 percent of his congregation voted to leave, told the News-Gazette that he knew from his seminary days that proponents of a homosexualist theology were determined at the beginning of the ECLA’s history to change the church’s teaching.
"Twenty-seven years ago, when I was in the seminary, (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif.), there were two mutually exclusive theologies going on in the ELCA,” said Greene. He added, “The ELCA was formed to be what it is. Three gay guys I went to school with had this as their agenda.”
Pastor James Lehmann of Immanuel Lutheran in Flatville, where 94 percent also voted to leave, told the Illinois newspaper that the ELCA is sending the message that there are multiple ways of salvation rather than through Jesus Christ, and that posed an insurmountable problem.
"I think it's unfortunate that we had to take the vote,” said Lehmann, “but to be true to our faith, we need to do that."
Some of the Lutheran congregations revealed they were considering affiliating with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), which was formed in response to the ELCA’s homosexual clergy decision. There are a number of conservative Lutheran denominations in the United States, such as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, American Association of Lutheran Churches, Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, and others.
Delegates of the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod in July voted to approve a resolution commending two study documents that stated the ELCA’s decision on homosexual clergy both contravened Sacred Scripture and strained relationships between the two churches, by creating the impression that all U.S. Lutherans were in agreement with ELCA’s position.
The LCMS also voted to strengthen efforts to promote fidelity to confessional Lutheranism worldwide as a positive response to the ELCA decision.
See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:
Prominent Lutheran Pastor: Yes, I Struggle with Same-Sex Attraction
US Evangelical Lutheran Church Approves Homosexual Clergy