ELCA losing Lutheran members after gay vote, but…

I have received plenty of feedback from area clergy since my post (and followup email) last week on the gay issue.

One thing to clarify: as was noted to me several times, not all Presbyterian or Lutheran churches have voted to accept gay and lesbians into the church.

As the Rev. Robert Kitchen noted to me in an email, among the Lutherans, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to bless, ordain, and install pastors who are in what they call “committed, monogamous relationships.”

The Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, and North American Lutheran Church (NALC) Christians, among other Lutherans, do not take such a liberal position.

“It is my observation that there are more Lutherans moving toward orthodox scriptural positions than those who are ignorant of the issues and their implications, therefore choosing to stay where they are,” Rev. Kitchen added. “Membership statistics among various Lutheran bodies tend to indicate the truth of this statement.”

I decided to look up the numbers to see if that statement is true.

According to the ELCA and Wikipedia, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran body in North America by far, with 4.3 million members. The Missouri Synod is second with 2.4 million members. The Wisconsin Synod is third with about 400,000 members.

The NALC was established in 2010 in response to the more liberal positions of the ELCA and has picked up about 125,000 members since then. Several central Pennsylvania congregations have moved to the NALC, including St. Paul (Ziegler’s) Lutheran Church in North Codorus Township and St. Jacob’s (Stone) Lutheran Church in Codorus Township.

SO the ELCA is still tops, but Mr. Kitchen is correct that recent trends show some dissatisfaction with the organization’s 2009 decision to admit gays.

Fifteen years ago, the ELCA boasted a steady membership of 5.2 million. That’s a lot of members lost. In 2010 alone, the ELCA lost 340 congregations and nearly 6 percent of its membership.

However, a closer look is revealing. First of all, the ELCA had been losing members prior to its controversial vote, as all mainline churches are. It’s 2008 membership stood at 4.6 million.

Secondly, the immediate loss of congregations and members was to be expected. But it isn’t likely to continue at that rate. The gay issue is not one that requires much deliberation — either you are for it or against it.

I would expect that any church that planned to leave the ELCA over this issue, would have done so already. And as time goes on, history tells us that more and more people are going to adopt a liberal view on the gay issue. Just look at generational polling data. For young people under 30, this isn’t an issue.

Do you agree that opposition to gay issues will fade over time?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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2 Responses to ELCA losing Lutheran members after gay vote, but…

  1. Rev. J. Thomas Shelley says:

    ” Just look at generational polling data. For young people under 30, this isn’t an issue.”

    I’m not so convinced.

    Zion (Shaffer’s) United Lutheran took its second and final vote to depart from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on December 19, 2010.

    The vote was 39 – 1.

    The voting members included four young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

    • Jess says:

      Good riddance, honestly. Proud to call one of the only churches left that actually cares about what Jesus taught us my HOME. Go ELCA!!!!

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