The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


February 8, 2013

Lutheran church in Ethiopia severs relationship with ELCA

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is severing its relationship with the ELCA, the Church of Sweden and "those churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage." All three churches named are member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, a worldwide communion of churches.

Meeting Jan. 27-Feb. 2 in Addis Ababa, the church's general assembly ratified the church council's July 2012 vote for "all Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus departments and institutions (at every level) to implement this decision."

Minutes from the July 2012 council meeting state that members of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus "will not receive Holy Communion from the leadership and pastors of the (ELCA and the Church of Sweden)" and "the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus will not distribute communion to these churches."

The minutes went on to say that "representatives of these churches at national level or leaders at every level would not be invited to preach or speak at the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus congregations or other gatherings. They should not be invited for any spiritual ministries of this church."

Ethiopian church leaders "at every level will not visit the synods, dioceses, congregations and national offices of churches that have accepted this practice without proper permission from the head office of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus."

Five ELCA synods -- Northwest Washington, Southwest California, Pacifica, LaCrosse Area and Southeastern -- have international companion relationships with the Ethiopian church.

ELCA leaders 'very saddened'

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said the ELCA is "very saddened by this decision. ...The ELCA and its predecessor church bodies have been walking with the people of Ethiopia for more than 50 years, and our sister church, the Church of Sweden, for more than 150 years. In this journey, we have learned from one another, we have deepened and extended the bonds of fellowship and partnership in the gospel."

Malpica Padilla said the while the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is "closing the door to this partnership," the ELCA and the Church of Sweden "are not locking the doors from our side. It is open for when you decide it is time to resume this journey together. It is my hope that in the near future, we will again walk together in Christian love. We will do this not because of doctrinal agreements or consensus, but because the gospel compels us to do so."

Malpica Padilla said the ELCA has consistently kept its Lutheran companion churches informed about the ELCA's process that led to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions, which included the adoption of a social statement on human sexuality.

"We shared the study documents and invited their input," he said. "When decisions were made, we wrote to (leaders of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus) expressing our commitment to not impose our actions and to respect the policy and practice of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in the assignment of mission personnel."

ELCA presiding bishop Mark S. Hanson called the actions of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus "deeply troubling."

"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 said. Hanson said that the relationships between Lutherans in North America and in Ethiopia "has been sustained through periods of oppression, divisions within the Ethiopian church and in times of turmoil among Lutherans in North America. The action of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus church diminishes our capacity together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to serve our neighbors and to care for the creation.

"As the ELCA, we are always standing ready to open the door of conversation for the sake of reconciliation and our shared commitment to proclamation and service. 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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