Breakaway Lutheran church forms in Geneva

  • Some members of Geneva Lutheran Church, above, have formed their own congregation stemming from a disagreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

    Some members of Geneva Lutheran Church, above, have formed their own congregation stemming from a disagreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Susan Sarkauskas

Published: 4/4/201 12:01 AM

A new Lutheran Christian church is starting in Geneva, following a disagreement with the nation's largest Lutheran organization.

New Hope Lutheran Church's 24 members had their first worship service March 15 in an organizer's house. The congregation now meets at 9 a.m. Sundays at Sunset Community Center, 710 Western Ave., Geneva.

"We were unhappy with the direction the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is going," said Burt Andrews, a volunteer for the new church.

Andrews and several other leaders are former members of Geneva Lutheran Church. That congregation remains affiliated with the ELCA, after a February resolution to leave failed to garner a needed two-thirds majority vote by congregation members. The pastor at Geneva Lutheran Church was not available for comment.

The ELCA's national conference last summer adopted several controversial stances on doctrinal issues, including the acceptance of gay clergy.

Andrews said that wasn't the issue that caused New Hope to form; "having a homosexual clergy would not bother us," he said.

Instead, the leaders are displeased with ELCA's preaching on the doctrine of "bound conscience," he said.

"We're unhappy they changed their theology in order to get a certain answer they wanted," on issues including gay clergy, Andrews said.

According to a document on the ELCA Web site, "conscience is the power to make moral judgments about action," and conscientious convictions can be wrong. But compelling a person to act against their conscience attacks a person's "integrity as a moral agent" and could hurt his or her faith; so, ELCA decided, all members should respect decisions made by other members who feel bound by their conscience to believe a particular thing.

That encourages people to believe, "I don't need to confess this (action) because I know it is OK," Andrews said. He said that conflicts with the Bible and historical Lutheran belief that only God can determine what is, and is not, sin. "It encourages people to exclude part of their life" from confession, Andrews said.

Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metro Chicago Synod of the ELCA, to which Geneva Lutheran belongs, said he thinks "in our society, there is little distinction between conscience and personal opinion," and that people are confusing the two.

"While I certainly completely respect people's need to follow their conscience ... that is not the same as quitting an organization because you have a difference of opinion," he said. Miller had not heard about the new Geneva congregation until being informed by a reporter Friday.

The doctrine was cited to support a change in ELCA's rules to allow gay people who are in committed, monogamous relationships to become clergy (before that, only celibate gay people could be clergy). Some Christians believe the Bible indicates homosexuality is a sin.

New Hope is affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Missions for Christ, which has 324 congregations. More than 160 joined since the August 2009 ELCA conference.

The LCMC and the ELCA differ on the ordination of noncelibate gay pastors, Scriptural authority, and ecclesiastical authority.

Hosanna! Lutheran Church in St. Charles, which has more than 2,000 baptized members, left the ELCA in November 2009 over those issues. However, Miller disputes that, saying the congregation did not follow proper procedure and so still belongs to the denomination.

New Hope's first service was led by the Rev. Martha Uecker Nelson, a guest pastor from Hosanna! More than $1,400 was collected in offerings, of which $140 was given to Lazarus House shelter ministry in St. Charles.

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