Wis. Lutheran Church Embroiled in Lawsuit Over Affiliation

While some Protestant churches deal with divisions within their congregations, one Wisconsin church will be taking its affiliation dispute to court.

About 70 members of Grace Lutheran Church of Eau Claire are asking a judge to declare their church exclusively affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

An initial vote taken by the congregation to disaffiliate from the ELCA and join the more conservative Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ failed, but in April Grace Lutheran’s church council then decided to have their church be affiliated with both groups.

As a result, pro-ELCA members have sued to overturn the council’s decision. Until the matter is resolved, many of them are worshipping at the ELCA-affiliated First Lutheran Church of Eau Claire.

“This is a constitutional issue that requires people to follow the governing documents of the church,” said Pastor Scott Miller of First Lutheran to The Christian Post.

“The vote to disaffiliate from the ELCA failed. However, the church council, refusing to accept that outcome, declared that Grace Lutheran would be both ELCA and LCMC, a clear violation of the constitution. ”

Bishop Duane Pederson of the ELCA’s Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, the Synod Grace Lutheran belonged to, also said that the church was in violation of its constitution.

“[I]t is my understanding that the Council of Grace Lutheran Church has not abided by their constitution,” Pederson told CP.

Pederson also mentioned that the 70 members who are suing are not the only ones in the congregation who disagree with Grace Lutheran’s decision.

“The number of plaintiffs who decided to bring suit against the Council of Grace Lutheran should not be equated with the number who wish to remain in the ELCA,” said Pederson.

“When Grace Lutheran voted to disaffiliate from the congregation, 44 percent at that time voted to remain in the ELCA, a number that is significantly more than the nearly 70 who are apparently plaintiffs in the lawsuit.”

The vote to split took place because of what some church members saw as the denomination’s liberal direction away from scriptural teachings. The ELCA voted in 2009 to allow partnered gays and lesbians to be ordained, causing many congregations to sever ties with the denomination over the last two years.

Grace Lutheran Church was unable to respond by press time.

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