By Linda C. Hoops
The 2011 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), meeting Aug. 15-19 in Orlando, Fla., adopted a social statement on genetics and a series of resolutions from an ELCA task force charged with recommending options for the future of the church body.
Under the theme “Freed in Christ to Serve,” 1,025 delegates considered 97 memorials submitted to the assembly from its 65 synods.
The assembly adopted a social statement “Genetics, Faith and Responsibility,” its 11th such statement, by a 942-34 vote. Per Anderson, co-chair of the ELCA task force on genetics, said the statement is designed to understand the science and ethics of genetic manipulation in view of advancements in medical and agricultural research.
“What is God doing in and through genetic science and technology? What does it mean and how should we respond?” Anderson asked.
“The statement,” he added when introducing it to the assembly, “engages these questions inclusively and comprehensively, because genetic science and technology have the potential to change human life and other life on earth quickly, widely, significantly and permanently.”
“Social statements are important documents for us as a church,” ELCA Presiding Bishop Rev. Dr. Mark S. Hanson told the assembly. Social statements “guide us as we ‘step forward as a public church’ because they form the basis for both this church’s public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop,” he said.
Delegates also adopted a series of resolutions derived from its Living into the Future (LIFT) task force and report. Commissioned by the ELCA Church Council, the LIFT task force developed and recommended options for the future of the ELCA “in light of its identity, changes in its environment and its call to God’s mission.”
According to an ELCA press release, the resolutions “address the role of the ELCA’s churchwide organization to accompany congregations and synods, build capacity for evangelical witness and service, strengthen interdependent relationships, promote God’s vision of a multicultural and multiethnic church, coordinate global mission and relief work, and lead in new ways theological reflection and deliberation on the identity and mission of the ELCA.”
“We are grateful for the leadership of this Churchwide Assembly in adopting the LIFT implementing resolutions, and we look forward to the renewal envisioned in the report and recommendations,” said the Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA executive for administration.
Delegates also voted to:
- launch an ELCA Malaria Campaign, in cooperation with Lutheran churches in Africa, with a goal of raising $15 million over a four-year period. This is a separate campaign from the Lutheran Malaria Initiative that is supported by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
- support immigration reform and the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act).
- encourage ELCA members, congregations, synods and agencies to seek ways to achieve a deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, affirm the ELCA’s commitment to non-violent responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and consider making positive economic investments in those Palestinian projects and businesses that peacefully strengthen the economic and social fabric of Palestinian society.
- approve a 2012 current fund spending authorization of $61,792,900, and approved a 2012 ELCA World Hunger income proposal of $18,500,000. This vote included approving a 2013 current fund income proposal of $61,939,400, and a 2013 ELCA World Hunger income proposal of $18,500,000.
- adopt a series of resolutions put forth from the Memorials Committee regarding the expansion of multicultural ministry, addressing the “International Year for People of African Descent” and concerns surrounding bullying, harassment and related violence.
Delegates also voted 817-169 to change the frequency of ELCA assemblies from a biennial to a triennial cycle, starting with the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The assembly heard greetings from Presiding Bishop Rev. George Walker of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which is the ELCA’s newest ecumenical partner; the Rev. Joseph Livenson Lauvanus, president of the Eglise Lutherienne d’Haiti (The Lutheran Church of Haiti); Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, national director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Islamic organization in the United States; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA; and the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Geneva, Switzerland-based Lutheran World Federation.
Delegates saw video greetings from the presidents/CEOs of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Services in America.
Representing the Missouri Synod at the assembly was LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Herbert Mueller, who was introduced to the delegates within a group of other guests. Following the close of the assembly, Mueller told Reporter that he was “thankful to be invited” and found the assembly interesting on several levels.
“The ELCA goes out of its way to ensure that no group is excluded in its discussions,” he said. As an example, he said there was a suggestion that a member of a Native American Indian tribe be invited to bring greetings to “every ELCA Churchwide Organization-sponsored event.” The proposal was referred to the Congregation and Synod Mission Unit for consultations with people involved in Native American missions to find ways of addressing its intent.
Mueller also found it interesting that 13 percent of the voting delegates were youth representatives, and 60 percent were laypeople.
He observed that the real issue between the Missouri Synod and the ELCA is that “we are operating with two different understandings of the authority of Scripture. The fact that the ELCA decided to allow the ordination of active homosexuals at its 2009 assembly is a symptom of this.”
Mueller warned that the two church bodies are in danger of “losing sight of each other. We don’t want this to happen, but we can keep each other in sight only by examining our differences honestly in the light of Scripture as God’s Word.” One of the purposes of the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (a bi-annual gathering of LCMS and ELCA leaders) is to continue this conversation, he said.
Mueller also added that he had many conversations with people at the assembly who were interested in finding out what the LCMS is thinking regarding the ELCA’s 2009 actions, “so it has been good for me to be here.”
The next ELCA Churchwide Assembly is planned for Aug. 12-18, 2013, in Pittsburgh.
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted Aug. 24, 2011