The Dakotas have seen more than their share of anti-ELCA sentiment since the actions of the ELCA church wide assembly in 2009 (CWA09).  I don’t have the actual statistics, but it is my impression that the percentage of congregational departures from the ELCA is higher in the three Dakota synods than nationally (South Dakota synod, Eastern North Dakota synod, and Western North Dakota synod).

The public debate has shifted recently from the CWA09 pro-gay policies to a pending ELCA social statement on genetics.

First, a bit of background about social statements.  Since the birth of the ELCA in 1988 as the result of merger of prior church bodies, the ELCA has adopted ten social statements on subjects such as abortion, race, health care, and most recently in 2009, human sexuality.  The process begins with an enabling resolution arising from a church wide assembly or church council and typically continues over several years of discernment, discussion, and drafts and culminates in a document presented to a church wide assembly for ratification, which requires a 2/3 majority.  For example, the recent human sexuality statement process began with an enabling resolution in 2001 and was ratified after a lengthy discernment and discussion process.

Social statements are developed through a participatory process over a 5-6 year period. In particular, this social statement involved a broad and reflective process of study, discussion, prayer, and dialog engaging the entire church beginning in 2002. It involved three studies and over 30,000 responses to those studies. In 2008, 111 synodical hearings took place. Forty-two synods adopted memorials to the churchwide assembly, some calling for its adoption (37) while others called for its rejection (5).


Now back to the current discernment process for the pending statement on genetics.  The enabling resolution that began the process came from the 2005 church wide assembly, and the final document will likely be presented to the next church wide assembly for consideration and possible adoption in 2011.

Seems those who would wish the ELCA ill are spreading false information about the draft document in the Dakotas, and one congregation has publicly stated that its vote to withdraw from the ELCA was based in part on its perception that the statement was anti-farmer.  According to a Christian Century article:

A rural North Dakota church has voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, not only to protest its recent policies to allow gay clergy but also its proposed statement on genetically modified foods.

Members of the Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church near Sheldon, N.D., interpreted the ELCA’s draft statement as saying farmers who use genetically modified seeds are “pretty much sinners,” said church council president Jill Bunn.

The North Dakota church has joined the more conservative Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ [LCMC], which attributes most of its growth to departing ELCA churches.

Eastern North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy and others have jumped to the defense of the ELCA by attempting to correct the misinformation that is spreading.  The Fargo Forum newspaper has a series of news articles and op-ed pieces; unfortunately, their articles are quickly archived and require a payment for access.  Yesterday’s op-ed piece by local farmer and agronomist Sarah E.H. Lovas included the following comments [emphasis mine]:

I am a farmer from Hillsboro, N.D., and my farm enjoys biotechnology on 100 percent of the acres we farm. My day job is as an agronomist where I sell seed and monitor crop acres for farmers. The majority of the seed I sell is biotech and I use biotech in many of my agronomic recommendations.

Last summer, the infamous Dakota Farmer article was used as an instrument of fear in my congregation. My response was to read the ELCA Draft Statement on Genetics, pray and reflect on what the statement contained … I did not find any place in the document where the ELCA bans the use of GMO technology in farming. It does not outline specific farming practices at all. As a matter of fact, I found the document actually telling me to use GMO technology, but in a responsible manner

I suggest that if you are a member of an ELCA church and this topic affects you, read the draft statement and respond. You do not need me or anyone else to tell you what your opinion is. Formulate your own. Make sure to read the draft statement, as there is a lot of misinformation floating around.

Thanks, Sarah, for offering more light and less heat to the discussion.

Meanwhile, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a post from the synod blog reports:

The South Dakota Synod is pleased to announce that a new ELCA community of faith is coming to life in the far northwest corner of Sioux Falls.  A new sign stands tall on the land that the Sioux Falls Area Strategy Task Force chose years ago.  And as the new overpass off I-90 at Marion Road opened this week, the area is poised for growth.  Today, however, there are nearly 10,000 people in the area…without a gas station, a grocery store…or a church!

Westside LutheranIn September, the synod called Roe and Pat Eidsness to be lay mission developers, and they have literally moved into the neighborhood!  They are currently meeting with prospective members in their home, even as they search for a larger, temporary meeting place.  They have been visiting area congregations and meeting with Crossroads pastors to create awareness of the new mission start and to seek partners in the mission.

Our prayers and best wishes go out to Roe and Pat and the others behind this new start.