CHICAGO – The presiding bishop of the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination warned Wednesday that withholding financial support to protest a recent gay clergy vote would be "devastating" to the church.
Bishop Mark Hanson laid out his concerns in a letter to leaders of the 4.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is based in Chicago. The ELCA churchwide assembly voted last month to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy, dropping a requirement that gay clergy remain celibate.
Hanson's letter comes on the eve of a meeting in suburban Indianapolis of conservative ELCA group Lutheran CORE, which has urged supporters to "direct funding away from the national church" because of the vote.
Withholding funding would hurt the mission of the Chicago-based denomination, Hanson wrote.
"Although these actions are promoted as a way to signal opposition to churchwide assembly actions or even to punish the voting members who made them, the result will be wounds that we inflict on ourselves, our shared life, and our mission in Christ," he wrote.
The Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, said the gay clergy vote was the devastating event — "a departure from God's clear word." He called Hanson's letter "an attempt to shift the responsibility of this devastation and crisis within the ELCA away from the people who presided over it and are responsible for it."
Lutheran CORE says 1,200 people have registered for this weekend's conference, which organizers say will start the process of forming an "alternative church fellowship" for traditionalists within the ELCA.