Grace Church votes to stay with ELCA

Published 11:44 am Monday, April 23, 2012

Grace Lutheran Church voted not to leave the ELCA Sunday. Some members of the church were unhappy with the ELCA not following Biblical law closely enough.

Grace Lutheran Church will stay with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after a vote to leave failed to garner a two-thirds majority Sunday.

The vote fell short at 64–78, according to Grace’s Council President Brad Johnson, deciding a dispute between members of the congregation over the administrative role the organization plays.

“We’re satisfied that it was fair,” said Bill Young, a member of the church’s council who supported the split. Members can try to leave the church body again after a year, he said.

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“We are not done yet,” said longtime church member Lavona Johnson. “We are not totally defeated.”

Supporters of the split have not yet made plans to try again.

“We haven’t talked about whether we want to do it or not,” Young added.

Young pointed out the minimum one-year delay last month as part of an in-depth description of the process he wrote for Grace Church’s newsletter. The article prepared congregation members for the scenarios, including which church body Grace Church would look to join in place of the ELCA.

The ELCA has been the presiding body for Grace Church since 1988.

“It was decided after much deliberation to have the vote,” said Grace Church Pastor Jeff Forbes on Friday.

Forbes remained neutral on the subject, saying Friday that anything he said about the issue would be misconstrued. He added that the congregation took the vote seriously. Forbes declined to comment for this story.

Part of the reason supporters of the split cited for leaving surrounds concerns that the ELCA believes itself to hold a higher authority than the Bible.

“In our nearly 500 years of the Lutheran church we have held the Bible — the word of God — to be the sole authority for what we believe,” said former church council members Gene and Jean White in a letter to members of the church. “In good conscience we cannot support or be part of a church which denies the Bible.”

Johnson, a member of the church for the last 51 years, agreed. She said there is a trend among churches across the nation of leaving the ELCA, as part of a “tremendous movement to get back to the Bible.”

“We truly believe in the preaching and teachings of Martin Luther,” she added.

In addition to the question of authority, supporters of Grace’s separation from the ELCA expressed concern about the presiding body’s allowance of non-celibate homosexual pastors, which the organization voted to allow in 2009. While Grace Church itself has not had a homosexual pastor between then and now, some of its members disapprove that the ELCA adopted that policy.

“We have long held that celibate homosexual persons can be pastors,” the Whites’ letter said. The controversy, it said, was over actively homosexual pastors. “How can a practicing homosexual hold to a higher standard and be an example to the men, women and children of the congregation?”

In order to vote at Sunday’s meeting, attendees had to be confirmed members of Grace Church and have both communed and given to the church in the previous 12 months, according to Young’s newsletter entry. Members also needed to ensure they met those requirements before the day of the vote. They did not have to be 18 years old.