ELCA NEWS SERVICE
August 24, 2009
Lutheran World Leader Says Body of Christ 'Not Ours to Dismember'
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- The Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Geneva, recalled on Aug. 22 that The Third LWF Assembly met in Minneapolis 52 years earlier to the day under the theme "Christ Frees and Unites." Noko applied that theme to the 2009 Church Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, met here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people participated, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly was "God's work. Our hands."
"Fifty-two years ago, the relation between and among the Lutheran churches was marked by suspicion. We were not even able to share the Lord's Table with easiness," Noko told the assembly.
"Yet, it was in the midst of all those doubts, suspicion, and fears among them that the Lutherans rediscovered anew what unity means. That true unity is a gift. It is a gift rooted in the proclamation of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments."
"This gift is God's own work. And our hands are to serve that unity. They understood that we, therefore, cannot use our hands to pull apart God's costly work," Noko said.
Earlier in the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voting members approved a social statement on human sexuality by an exact two-thirds majority. The day before Noko's address the assembly decided to open the ministry of the ELCA to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional church workers living in committed same-gender relationships.
During debate before and conversation after the decision several voting members suggested they may leave the ELCA.
In 1957 "our forebears in faith decided to do the most sensible thing to do under those circumstances, and that is to stay together. They did not forsake one another," Noko said.
"They understood that the Church is the Body of Christ, a creature of the gospel and, therefore, not ours to dismember. They have therefore left behind for us, from this city of Minneapolis, a legacy for us to stay together."
Noko is a Lutheran theologian from Zimbabwe in southern Africa. He plans to retire at the end of October 2010 after 16 years as LWF general secretary. The LWF is a global communion of 140 member churches in the Lutheran tradition in 79 countries, representing 68.5 million Christians. The ELCA is a member of the LWF.
"I believe that the whole Christian Church will be served well if Lutherans can provide an example of living together in love, speaking truth, confessing the faith, and sharing one another's joys, challenges and conflicts. We are making an effort to carry this out in relation to the difficult issue of our times today, the one issue that occupied this assembly intensively during the last days," Noko said.
The LWF is engaged in a five-year study of the ethical issues of marriage, family and sexuality. Lutherans around the world "are requested to conduct this discussion in an open, decent and respectful way. Your work at this assembly is one such aspect in the process," he said.
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A video of the Rev. Ishmael Noko's address to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly is at http://www.ELCA.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Secretary/ELCA-Governance/Churchwide-Assembly/Multimedia/Webcasts/Saturday.aspx on the ELCA Web site.
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