The creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 1987 was supposed to be a move towards Lutheran unity. That was the pitch. But it was a move toward division. The union was pushed by the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a splinter group that had left the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in the 1970s because it adopted wholesale the historical-critical method. It knew it wasn’t viable, and so reached out to the ALC and LCA and said, “We need Lutheran unity; this division is so sad!” (Despite the fact that it has provoked division by its own advocacy of liberalism!). Once the ELCA was founded, there was no doubt about what it would be like. It published in 1992 a “Study Document on Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith” that advocated for gay marriages and ordination of practicing gays and lesbians. It took 20 years for this to be approved by a “churchwide assembly,” but it was clear what the desires of Higgins Road were.
And now further fall-out. Lutherans had worked together, despite denominational divides, in disaster relief, social services, and in endorsing military chaplains. This AP report has some major gaffes (it says they “trained” chaplains together), and reports the apparently major news that no longer will the LCMS and ELCA have a common endorsing agent for the military. We’ll come back to this.
See the document, Principles for Cooperation in Externals 1 with Theological Integrity (2010 Res. 3-03). Some extracts:
The ELCA decisions regarding human sexuality have clearly provided a tipping point, leading people to question any joint work with the ELCA. A legitimate concern is expressed over activities that might confuse the LCMS with the ELCA. In addition, the validity of the concept of “cooperation in externals” is also open to question by many. A question arises: Can we remain faithful in our confession before the world when we cooperate with another church body that has openly repudiated critical aspects of that confession?
They had long made a distinction between cooperating “in externals” vs. cooperation in “Word and Sacrament.” But the line is not always clear, especially in cases like supporting nursing homes (social ministries) that have chaplains on staff (providing Word and Sacrament ministry).
The document provides guidelines, and does not settle any issue.
And the AP is wrong. This does not end common endorsement. The report says explicitly,
The case of military chaplaincy is particularly thorny. It is separate from this question because it involves communio in sacris by definition. Moreover, it involves governmental policies and procedures and involved endorsement procedures. It therefore requires its own, discrete analysis in cooperation with personnel from ministry to armed forces.
So, don’t pay attention to headlines. Read the details. Read the primary sources. And don’t skip the footnotes.