Monday, September 2, 2013

Biggest Church Split in America's history? ELCA break-up

The endorsement of homosexual behavior by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which has been said is no longer evangelical nor Lutheran, has precipitated the biggest church split in the history of our nation.  At least that's what this author says.  I don't know if there were similar size splits over slavery or other issues.  But 500,000 is losing lots of people.  I'm sure going from a $88 million budget to $40 million at the national church headquarters has gotten their attention.  And here in Minnesota Luther Seminary had to lay off a third of their people.
  • When the ELCA was formed in 1988 they had 5.2 million members, but they are now down to only 4 million members–a staggering loss of over 1.2 million members, or 23% of their membership.  They have also lost 1,500, or 13%, of their congregations, from approximately 11,000 to 9,500.  As they “celebrate” this year the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, the fact is that during that time they have lost more members and congregations than make up many entire denominations!
  • Of these losses, over 500,000 members and 1,000 congregations have left the ELCA in just the last four years, triggered by their endorsement of homosexuality beginning in 2009.  This is actually the biggest denominational split in American church history, and is directly attributable to that decision.
  • Another measure of the ELCA’s decline is that in 1988, 2.1% of all Americans were members of the ELCA, but by 2011 that figure had fallen to 1.3%.  The National Council of Churches reports that the ELCA has “the sharpest rate of membership decline” among all mainline Protestant denominations.  Like Avis car rental which used to advertise “We’re Number 2–But We Try Harder!” the LCMS has historically always been the second-largest American Lutheran church body.  However, at the ELCA’s current rate of losing members–nearly 6% in 2010–in just a decade the LCMS will surpass the ELCA as the largest American Lutheran church body, and a few decades after that the ELCA will cease to exist.
  • Even among those congregations remaining in the ELCA average weekly worship attendance from 2003 to 2011 dropped 26%.  The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has 2.3 million members and the similarly conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has 300,000 members, yet even with our smaller combined membership of 2.6 million the LCMS and WELS have more people actually sitting in the pews each Sunday than the ELCA with 4 million members.
  • Donations to the ELCA on the national level were $88 million in 2008 but plunged to only $40 million in 2011.
  • Luther Seminary, the ELCA’s largest seminary, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced that last year they had a $6 million operating deficit on a budget of $27 million.  This was due largely to a recent sharp decline in donations to the seminary, reportedly including a couple that for many years had given $1 million a year to the seminary but stopped their donations after the ELCA’s endorsement of homosexuality.  The seminary was forced to cancel many of its programs and lay off a third of the faculty and staff.
  • Since the ELCA’s endorsement of homosexuality, many other Lutheran church bodies around the world have severed their historic ties with the ELCA, and are instead seeking new relationships with the LCMS.  This includes many of the largest and fastest-growing Lutheran church bodies in the world, such as the Lutherans in Ethiopia with over 6 million members–nearly as many as all American Lutheran church bodies combined.  The center of world Lutheranism is shifting from Europe and America to Africa, Asia, and South America, and the LCMS is becoming the theological leader of these growing Lutheran church bodies.  While the ELCA is becoming increasingly isolated in world Lutheranism, at our national convention this month the LCMS will enter into formal fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church of Togo.
Will the hemorrhaging soon end?  I don't know but I would doubt it.  When any organization jettisons its principles, people will leave simply because the organization doesn't stand for anything. I've always thought liberal church bodies tend to be parasitic in nature.  They can take over a living body but can't survive on their own.

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