Fargo's Atonement Lutheran Church is leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. By a vote of 211 to
14, Atonement's congregation confirmed on Sunday an earlier decision to secede from the 17-year-old Lutheran
organization. The 1,500-member congregation has been distancing itself from the ELCA for years, because it is
becoming more hierarchical in structure and less traditional in beliefs than members prefer, said the Rev. Dale
Wolf, a pastor at Atonement.
The change also means the church will be able to avoid messy upcoming debates in the ELCA about topics like
ordaining non-celibate gay clergy, Wolf said. "Instead of focusing on the battles within the ELCA, we will be able
to focus on God's ministry here at Atonement," he said.
No other church in the ELCA's Eastern North Dakota Synod has taken such a vote before. "There is some
disappointment with that (Atonement's leaving), but on the other hand, they have the right to do that," said Rev.
Randall Schlecht, associate with the synod's bishop, who attended the meeting.
Sunday's decision follows a January vote during which 85 percent of those casting ballots favored leaving the
organization. To pass, the resolution needed two votes receiving a two-thirds majority 90 days apart. Only one
person spoke during the open debate portion of the meeting. John Carlson said he had known for 10 years he
wanted to leave the ELCA, which he said no longer reflects the church he grew up attending. "It doesn't change
anything today – I'm still going to be a Lutheran," Carlson said to applause.
Church members should see few day-to-day differences with the change, Wolf said. Already, the church has
joined another association – Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – which fits better with church
members' beliefs, Wolf said. Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ is a "looser" organization, where
decision-making authority lies with each church, he said. By contrast, the ELCA has entered into "full
communion" with the Episcopal Church USA, which emphasizes the authority of bishops, Wolf said. The debate
about homosexuality, though one example of how the ELCA is becoming more liberal, is not a "driving force"
behind the split, he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Joy Anderson at (701) 241-5556.
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