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Fact check 1988


approved, bringing to fruition work started by the ALC, LCA and AELC. But some other aspects of what had been life in our previous church bodies would prove difficult for the ELCA.

Culture shifts

“I was surprised in those first years how long it was taking to grow out of the mentality of our predecessor church bodies,” said Bishop E. Roy Riley of the New Jersey Synod, one of the first bishops elected after the ELCA merger. “There was excite- ment about the new church, but the ‘new’ didn’t really take root quickly.” Hafften, who worked outside the

ELCA before joining the church- wide staff a few years after the merger, said, “Some of the barriers that I thought would break down, didn’t break down. But I thought that it would be easier for people to set aside who we had been in favor of the new church. “The congregations I moved in and out of those years weren’t as excited about it as I was.” Although Riley said he “began to appreciate the cultures of those previous church bodies,” at the same time he “saw why it was difficult to let go of some of that history and perspective.”

For Bob Elliott, a former ELCA

staff member who lives in Chicago, “those of us who were urban under- estimated how conservative the rest of the country was.” He said the ELCA was perceived as being “too progressive in many ways” by those in rural and semi-rural areas around the country. The ELCA also was buffeted by

the difficulties facing churches and American society in the 1990s and beyond.

All of the predecessor church bodies had enthusiastically engaged such social issues as racism, sexism,

economic injustice, and war and peace. The ELCA contin- ued this engagement by adopting “social statements” intended to be “teaching documents” to help pastors and lay- people consider a Christian response to social problems and to guide ELCA officials in addressing public issues.

Number of AIMs 733


Fact check 1988


Total number of female bishops


Some were controversial. A 1991 statement on abortion attempted to chart a path between the staunchly “pro-life” position that would ban almost all abortions, and what was seen as a too casual an approach to abortion. But many of those on the “pro-life” side of the issue disagreed with the statement’s implications. Other social statements addressed the role of the church in society and the death penalty (1991); care for the environment (1993); racism, ethnic- ity and culture (1993); peace (1995); economic life (1999); health care (2003); education (2007); sexuality (2009); and genetics (2011). A proposed statement called “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” is to be discussed at the Churchwide Assembly this year.

Sexuality proves divisive Though the topics were wide- ranging, it was the issue of sexuality that would have seis- mic effects on the ELCA. Discussions about sexual-

Sexuality dominated the debate at virtually every

Churchwide Assembly leading up to the historic 2009 deci- sion. Jane Ralph was one of

about 100 in 2005 protesting the assembly’s rejection of a

proposal that would have made room for partnered gay and les- bian leaders on the roster.

MICHAEL D. WATSON August 2013 23

Fact check 1988


Total mission support by congregations as a percent of regular

giving by congregations 10.46% 5.83%

ity were raging throughout society and we had addressed the issue long before the ELCA merger. An editorial in The Lutheran reviewed the positions taken by the previous church bodies (March 1987). Later that year two seminary professors would write articles about the Bible and homosexuality, and some openly gay seminarians in California sought ordination and were refused. In a meeting early in 1988, the Conference of Bishops said gay and lesbian pastors could be ordained but would be expected to be celibate. The debate went on in congrega- tions, synods and churchwide as we prepared a social statement on sexuality, which was approved at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. The

Fact check 1988

2011 Number of congregations 11,120 9,638

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