ELCA elects St. Paul Area bishop national leader
Mark Hanson chosen to head nation’s largest Lutheran church body
Voting members at the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly elected St. Paul Area Synod Bishop Mark Hanson presiding bishop of the 5.13 million member church body on August 11 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Hanson emerged from a crowded field of over 150 candidates and overtook a field of six other finalists. He becomes the third national leader to head the largest Lutheran church body in North America since the ELCA’s inception in 1988.
After the first of five ballots, Dr. James Nestingen, a member of the faculty at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, led the field. Nestingen was the candidate favored by supporters of WordAlone, a Twin Cities-based protest group within the ELCA.
Nestingen’s support was not sufficient, however, to keep his name from being eliminated from the final ballot, which matched Hanson and ELCA Council of Bishops chair, Bishop Donald J. McCoid, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Hanson’s margin over McCoid was a slim 51.6-48.4%.
The bishop-elect told the assembly he saw his election victory as a divine call. Alluding to the closeness of the final vote, he promised to work to heal divisions within the ELCA.
One sign of that division was a spirited debate over whether to permit exceptions to a recently-adopted agreement. It requires ELCA bishops to participate in future clergy ordinations. The “exception clause,” allowing ordination by other pastors “in exceptional circumstances,” was favored by WordAlone. It passed by a narrow margin, achieving 67.4% approval. A 66.6% margin was required for passage.
Supporters included retiring Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop David Olson and Luther Seminary President David Tiede.
Voting members also struggled with, but turned down, a proposal, brought by irregularly ordained ELCA pastor Anita Hill, of St. Paul, Minnesota. It would have amended an ELCA Church Council resolution, and would have led the church to change its rule forbidding ordination of gay and lesbian persons living in committed relationships.
Voters decided instead to study the question further.