On Feb. 7, the ELCA News Service reported that “the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) is severing its relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Church of Sweden and ‘those churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage.’”
The EECMY has been associated with the Swedish church for over 150 years and with the ELCA for more than 5o years.
As a result of the split, EECMY churches will no longer serve communion to pastors and leaders of these church bodies, nor will they receive communion from them. Representatives from these groups will not be invited to preach or participate in any spiritual ministries in EECMY churches.
Representatives from the denomination expressed sorrow and dismay over this schism. The article notes that the ELCA consistently kept its Lutheran companion churches informed about the process that led to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly decisions, which included the adoption of a social statement on human sexuality. When the decision was made, they wrote to the EECMY to express the commitment that they would not impose their actions but would respect the policy and practice of the Ethiopian church.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop said, “Our own statement on human sexuality acknowledges that the position held by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is also held by members of the ELCA. We are not of one mind, but we are one in Christ, in faith and in baptism.”
Hanson also indicated that he hopes for reconciliation, stating, “Reconciliation is not an option. It is given in Christ, and we stand ready to engage with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on what this gift of reconciliation might mean for us now.”
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As I have said on this blog before, I respect the way the ELCA has gone about this matter, taking a different approach from other mainline groups that is not always appreciated. Recognizing the deep divisions that exist between brothers and sisters in the same faith community about these issues, the denomination sought to produce decisions that would intentionally include people from conflicting sides within a broader context of Christian truth, morality, and love.
Of course, sometimes when you try to walk a middle ground like that, you make everyone unhappy.
Nevertheless, I think it is worth the effort. After all, if we have to choose, which is the greater theological value: taking a stand against certain forms of sexual practice, or making a commitment to maintaining unity in Christ and persevering in trying to work out our differences? I want to side with Bishop Hanson here. I’d like to think we could be one in Christ, faith, and baptism without necessarily being of one mind about every issue. To withhold communion or refuse to take communion over such a matter seems over the line to me. We are either Christians or we are not.
However, the EECMY made their choice.