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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Bishop puts forth the challenge: Be radical Lutherans

Let us claim boldly, humbly and clearly that we are evangelicals,” Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said in his “state of the church address” Tuesday morning.

Hanson used each of the words in the ELCA’s name to craft his comments on the church’s identity and mission. Four times he asked listeners to turn to one another and answer questions, such as “What is a Lutheran?”

The church is called to be “radical practitioners of Lutheranism,” Hanson said, quoting theologian Gerhard Forde.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the Spirit,” Hanson said, challenging the assembly to be attentive to what the gospel says and what the Spirit does. “You live in a mission field. I do too. As long as there is one unchurched person who doesn’t know the story of Jesus in our townships or workplaces, our classrooms or carpools or families, then we are called to invite that person ... to come and see Jesus.”

There is no other way to be Lutheran than to be evangelical, he added.

The assembly applauded the bishop’s challenge to build on the ongoing Lutheran Reformation that shaped today’s church: “The challenge we face as Lutheran Christians is to build upon the strong foundational themes of the ongoing Lutheran Reformation and be sure that they, rather than the ethnic identities of European immigrant ancestors, become that which shapes our identity as a reforming movement.”

Hanson praised the ELCA’s ecumenical partnerships with five other denominations, and plugged this assembly’s proposed interim eucharistic sharing with the United Methodist Church.

After a reference to the ELCA’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, he said: “The ordination of women is a gift we bring to ecumenical relationships that we pray others will receive.”

On issues of gay and lesbians in committed relationships, Hanson admitted it’s not easy to speak about being faithful stewards of “God’s mysterious, wonderful gift of sexuality given to every human being.” He asked members to respect each other and be open to the Spirit’s leading.

Hanson challenged clergy to be leaders of justice. He said the church’s document Vision and Expectations doesn’t only deal with sexuality, it also expects clergy to work for justice and peace and be stewards of God’s creation.


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