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New Lutheran body to form after Gay pastor vote
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New Lutheran body to form after Gay pastor vote

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The divide over Gay clergy within the country's largest Lutheran denomination has driven a conservative faction to begin forming a new Lutheran church body separate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Leaders of Lutheran Coalition for Renewal (CORE) said November 18 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.

During its annual convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota 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 will allow Gay and Lesbian pastors to lead ELCA churches as long as they can show that they are in committed, lifelong relationships.

Opponents of the new policy, expected to take effect in April, said the decision to let sexually active Gays and Lesbians be clergy is in direct contradiction to Scripture.

At a convention in September, Lutheran CORE members voted to spend a year considering whether to form a new Lutheran denomination. However, CORE leaders said that a heavy volume of requests for an alternative from disenfranchised congregations impelled them to accelerate the process.

John Brooks, spokesman at the ELCA's Chicago-based headquarters, said Lutheran CORE's move was not unexpected. He expressed hope that church members would ultimately opt to stay in the denomination, as it strives to be "a place for all people despite any differences we might have on any issue."

All in all, Brooks says five congregations nationwide have actually voted to leave the ECLA. However, out of 10,300 ELCA churches in the country, 87 have started the process to leave. The ELCA's membership is estimated at 4.7 million members.

In order for a congregation to leave the ELCA, they must pass a two-thirds bar on its first vote. It must then wait 90 days before taking a second, final vote, which also requires a two-thirds majority.

Lutheran CORE has also urged supportive congregations to stop paying mission support funds that help supplement the ELCA's operating budget.

Ryan Schwarz, the Lutheran CORE member leading the organizing effort for the new denomination, said a committee would begin work immediately on drafting a constitution, building a budget and other steps needed to form the yet-unnamed denomination.

"Many of us have spent years now struggling to call the ELCA to remain faithful to the Orthodox Christianity of the last 2,000 years," said Schwarz. "While this is of course a wrenching decision, there is also a sense of hope in refocusing on our true mission, which is evangelizing the Lutheran faith."

The ELCA isn't alone when it comes to Christian denominations splitting over the Gay clergy debate. In 2003, the 2 million-member Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly Gay bishop, a move that many say alienated American Episcopalians from its worldwide parent, the Anglican Communion. That divide led to the formation of Anglican Church in North America, a 100,000-member conservative splinter group.

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