ELCA NEWS SERVICE
July 22, 2010
Lutheran World Federation President Pleads for Unity Despite Differences
STUTTGART, Germany (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), appealed to delegates at the LWF assembly here to hold together and avoid splits in the face of differences over issues of sexuality, according to Ecumenical News International (ENI).
"It is not the time for further traditions of Lutheranism to emerge in the world. We have to find unity," said Hanson in his address to delegates July 21.
The LWF Assembly is the organization's highest legislative body. It is meeting here July 20-27. The LWF is 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Christians worldwide.
Hanson was speaking after conflicts had surfaced between some churches from the African continent and Western churches on the roles of people who are gay or lesbian in the church, ENI reported. In recent months, the LWF's second-largest member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, has stated its opposition to same-sex marriage and churches that support such unions, the report said.
Hanson diverted from his prepared speech to appeal for unity. "I am deeply concerned that we are on the precipice of a time where the rich tradition of Lutheran theology is used to divide Lutherans among themselves," said Hanson.
Looking ahead to 2017, which will celebrate the start of the Reformation 500 years ago and the role played by Martin Luther, Hanson added, "As we approach 2017, it should not become a celebration of division but of our rich diversity."
Hanson expressed his concerns about the Lutheran world community in a time when churches in the Southern Hemisphere are continuing to grow while churches in Europe and North America are losing members, the ENI report said.
Speaking about the ELCA, he said that 95 percent of its membership is white, and does not mirror the multicultural society of the United States. The average age of the church members is well above the average for the population as a whole, Hanson explained.
"This radically inclusive communion will face the challenge of supporting churches in the South, (and) developing accessible and contextual models of leadership development for their rapidly growing churches," said Hanson.
"Northern member churches can learn much about how important the training of lay evangelists and catechists is to the growth and renewal of the church," the LWF president told 400 delegates and other guests. "We need you to teach us."
Hanson was elected president of the LWF in 2003. His successor is due to be elected at the Stuttgart assembly.
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