NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. – The split over gay clergy within the country’s largest Lutheran denomination has prompted a conservative faction to begin forming a new Lutheran church body separate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Leaders of Lutheran Coalition for Renewal said Wednesday that a working group would immediately begin drafting a constitution and taking other steps to form the denomination, with hopes to have it off the ground by next August.
“There are many people within the ELCA who are very unhappy with what has happened,” said the Rev. Paull Spring, chairman of Lutheran CORE and a retired ELCA bishop from State College, Pa.
At its annual convention in Minneapolis in August, ELCA delegates voted to lift a ban that had prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian pastors from serving as clergy. The new policy, expected to take effect in April, will allow such individuals to lead ELCA churches as long as they can show that they are in committed, lifelong relationships.
Opponents, led by Lutheran CORE, said that decision is in direct contradiction to Scripture.
At a September convention, Lutheran CORE members voted to spend a year considering whether to form a new Lutheran denomination. However, its leaders said Wednesday that a heavy volume of requests for an alternative from disenfranchised congregations and churchgoers prompted them to hasten the process.
John Brooks, spokesman at the ELCA’s Chicago-based headquarters, said Lutheran CORE’s move was not unexpected.
Neither Brooks nor Lutheran CORE leaders would guess what kind of numbers a new denomination might attract. Lutheran CORE leaders believe there is deep opposition to the new policy among rank-and-file churchgoers, but said some may not be willing to actually depart the ELCA over it.
So far, five congregations nationwide have voted to leave the ELCA, Brooks said.
More have started the process, with 87 taking a first vote to leave the denomination. Of those, 28 did not achieve the two-thirds vote necessary to leave the ELCA. In all, there are 10,300 ELCA churches in the country with about 4.7 million members.
If a congregation passes the two-thirds bar on its first vote, it must then wait 90 days before taking a second, final vote that also requires a two-thirds majority.