National Lutheran News

During its third day, ELCA churchwide assembly passes historic malaria initiative

At the opening worship of the 2009 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, preacher and presiding bishop Mark Hanson said, “When you and I do not name the fears we hold, then too often our fears end up holding us captive. We then become our fears and fear — not faith — becomes our witness.”

The voting members of the assembly quickly faced into any fear of diversity of opinion and, perhaps, division during the discussion of the rules at the first plenary session. With an agenda including “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” a proposed social statement on human sexuality, and a set of implementing resolutions to proposed changes in candidacy and ordination of people in same-gendered, covenantal, monogamous relationships, outside interest was intense.

But voting members were prepared to address other issues at the assembly as well, including a statement of full communion with the United Methodist Church, a proposal for a social statement on justice for women, and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI). Perhaps participants found some hope in the wide array of topics to address.

As Metro Lutheran went to press, voting members overwhelmingly passed a resolution (989 to 11) committing the denomination to prioritize the LMI, a cooperative effort of the ELCA, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran World Relief (LWR). LMI’s program goal will be $75 million, with the ELCA committing to develop a way to raise roughly a third of that amount, according to the Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, coordinator of the LMI. “Thirty percent of the funds would be distributed through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria,” she explained. “The remainder would be intended to be distributed through companion synods.”

Originally, the United Nations Foundation approached LWR, encouraging the relief group to use a multi-million dollar grant to mobilize Lutherans to combat malaria. Malaria deeply impacts sub-Saharan Africa, according to Elizabeth Gore, executive director of the United Nation’s Partnership Alliances. The LMI would seek to eliminate malaria there by the year 2015.

Although the vote on the LMI reflected a strong consensus, voting members had already experienced differences of opinion. Immediately after the opening worship, voting members were required to approve the rules of the convention.

Opponents of “Gift and Trust” and its implementing resolutions put forward motions to alter the rules established by the ELCA Church Council by requiring a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, for passage. After lengthy and civil debate, voting members voted down this proposed rules amendment with 57 percent.

As voting members prepared for the sexuality debate later in the week, Hanson reminded them, “Human sexuality does not define us as a church, so it should not divide us.”