A prominent Protestant church in Maumee voted overwhelmingly yesterday to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the first in northwest Ohio following the national body's decision in August to be more welcoming to homosexuals.
Members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church voted 250-43 with one abstention - an 85 percent approval ratio - to end its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). On the same ballot, members also voted to join the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.
Yesterday's meeting, held in the church sanctuary, was short and civil, with just a few questions or comments that were mainly procedural in nature.
Kip Keller, congregation president, said the matter had been discussed at length during eight previous forums and there was no need to "drag it out for hours and hours and hours."
It was the 550-member church's second vote to secede, as required by the ELCA constitution.
In December, members voted 83 percent to 17 percent to leave.
Nationwide, ELCA Secretary David Swartling said 308 of the 10,400 total ELCA congregations had held two votes to quit the denomination as of April 7, with 221 approving both ballots.
The departures were triggered by the churchwide assembly's vote in August to recognize and support, but not bless, monogamous same-gender unions, as well as to allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as clergy.
The Rev. Roger Miller, pastor of St. Paul's since 1990, has said he considers the churchwide resolutions to be "line-in-the-sand" decisions that cannot be ignored and are evidence that the ELCA is not adhering to the Bible.
"The main thing is not the main thing anymore," he said.
Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the ELCA's Northwest Ohio Synod, which has 90,000 members in 185 congregations, told The Blade before yesterday's vote that he felt it would be "regrettable" for St. Paul's to leave the denomination.
"Protestantism has the burden of dividing when we don't agree, and most people then will claim the authority of Scripture as the reason for that. Sometimes those decisions make the church look more like a club than the kingdom of God," Bishop Lohrmann said.
He said he did not have adequate opportunities to explain his views on why the church should stay in the ELCA. He had asked to speak to the congregation on a Sunday morning, but was allowed just one Sunday afternoon session that was attended by about 75 people.
"Pastor Miller has provided a good number of presentations about why the congregation ought to leave. In reality, I've had an hour and a half," Bishop Lohrmann said.
He said the resolutions approved by the ELCA in August still allow congregations to choose their own pastors and that no congregation would be forced to choose a gay pastor if it did not want one.
"The resolutions do not ask any congregation to do anything it does not want to do."
He also has said that the ELCA still defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Although the bishop did not get a chance to speak on a Sunday morning before the vote, he will get a chance afterward. Bishop Lohrmann has accepted an invitation to preach at St. Paul's next Sunday morning.
Harlan Billow was one of the St. Paul's members who spoke before yesterday's vote, saying he believes several key questions have not been addressed, such as the status of a pastor when the church leaves the ELCA.
"I just think we're moving too fast," said Mr. Billow of Maumee, who has been at St. Paul's since 1964.
He said debate over homosexuality "is not a reason to leave the church. There are theologians who disagree on this issue."
Mr. Keller said the congregation will lose its tax-exempt status if it does not affiliate with another church denomination soon. Without an affiliation, it cannot call itself a Lutheran church, he said.
The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ in Canton, Mich., describes itself as "rooted and grounded in the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions." According to its Web site, 185 congregations have joined the organization since August.
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