The last weekend in September was pivotal for Lutherans. Six weeks after the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted in Minneapolis to allow gays and lesbians in “life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships” to be ordained, the exodus began.
Some 1,200 conservative ELCA members showed up at a Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal) convention near Indianapolis that weekend and established the group as a “free-standing synod” that will carry out ministries apart from the ELCA, now the largest mainline Protestant denomination to affirm actively homosexual clergy.
The conservatives also are looking to cooperate with other ELCA breakaway groups, such as the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).
“We’re taking a year to think through the reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America,” said Ryan Schwarz of McLean, a member of the CORE steering committee.
That same weekend, the leaders of Lutherans Concerned, a pro-gay group, met in Chicago to talk over how to make sure the denomination carries out “this historic transformation,” as labeled in their press release.
It seems as if I’ve covered this story before.
When the Episcopal Church voted to consecrate an openly gay bishop in 2003, conservatives in the denomination began their slow walk out the door. The most dramatic leave-taking was just before Christmas 2006 when eight churches voted on the same day to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Three more churches soon joined them and for the next year, some of us held vigil at Fairfax County Circuit Court, tracking the Great Lawsuit of 2007-08.
So far, the courts have allowed the dissidents to leave with their multimillion-dollar properties, although the diocese has mounted an appeal. Along with Episcopal Church attorneys, its lawyers will argue Oct. 21 before a panel of judges in Richmond as to why the Virginia Supreme Court should hear the case.
The leave-takers are now members of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV). At their synod last weekend at All Saints, Dale City, about 100 of them discussed the ADV becoming an official diocese of the Anglican Church of North America, which is competing with the Episcopalians to be declared the true voice of Anglicanism on the continent.
The Lutherans aren’t sitting around for three years like the Episcopalians did. For them, the writing clearly is on the wall.
“One of the messages we heard loud and clear from the Episcopalians is that by waiting several years, they lost some of their best and brightest lay people,” Mr. Schwarz told me. “We intend to have our plans in place a lot faster.”
As to why they don’t join up with more established Lutheran groups, such as the Missouri or Wisconsin synods, the tiebreaker here is women’s ordination. The CORE folks would have to dump their female clergy if they joined one of them.
Lutheran CORE folks got some encouragement from one-time Episcopal priest-turned-Anglican Bishop Martyn Minns, who made a videotape for the Indianapolis convention.
“We know the joy and freedom that come when we move away from a church that has frankly lost its way,” Bishop Minns said. “You’re not alone.”
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson worked on damage control this past week, noting that some conservative congregations have threatened to withhold mission funds from the already cash-strapped denomination. Or leave altogether.
On Sept. 27, Community Church of Joy in Phoenix, the denomination’s 10th largest church at 6,800 members, voted unanimously to leave and join up with the LCMC.
Bishop Hanson’s problems may have just begun.
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at email@example.com.