From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans in North America Celebrate the Global Communion

From Brenda Williams <>
Date 28 Oct 1998 14:19:03


October 28, 1998


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Over its 50-year history, the Lutheran World
Federation (LWF) has evolved from a white, male, "Euro-American"
organization "into a 'rainbow' communion where people of different regions
-- women, men, young and old -- all have space in its life and work," LWF
General Secretary Ishmael Noko told a North American conference celebrating
the federation's golden anniversary Oct. 1-5 at the Lutheran School of
Theology at Chicago (LSTC).  Noko is a Zimbabwean who has directed the
daily operation of the LWF since 1995.
     When the LWF formed in 1947, its mission "was to provide visible
expressions of Christian unity, justice, peace and reconciliation in the
face of seemingly insurmountable forces of divisions" in the aftermath of
World War II.  "Rooted in faith and hope," LWF was destined to become "a
Lutheran communion," said Noko.
     The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Lutheran
churches.  It has 124 member churches in 69 countries representing more
than 57 million of the world's 61 million Lutherans.  North American member
churches of the LWF are the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Evangelical Lutheran Church
in Canada and Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Diaspora.  LWF
central offices are in Geneva, Switzerland.
     LSTC, a seminary of the ELCA, hosted the conference, "Prophetic
Voices: Envisioning a Lutheran Communion -- Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century."  Noko's keynote address was followed by a series of
speakers from around the world who addressed the future of LWF as a
communion of Lutheran churches.
     "The common faith and the sense of hope which inspired the formation
of the LWF must be a beacon to guide this communion as we confront
divisions, conflicts and injustices besetting us and the world on this, the
verge of a new century and a new millennium," said Noko.  He said the LWF
agenda will include a Christ-centered millennium celebration in the year
     Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World Young Women's
Christian Association (YWCA), said the challenge of globalization calls
Lutherans to use its elements "to involve ourselves with God's love affair
with the world."  What holds the federation together is a biblical vision
of the one body of Christ coupled with a sense of interdependence, she
     The conflict "in and over the Holy Land is a conflict resulting from
a lack of communication, mis-communication and a fear of having communion
with the other," said the Rev. Mitri Raheb, director of the Dar al-Kalima
Academy in Bethlehem.  The social services the LWF has provided in
Palestine since 1947 cannot be overestimated, he said.  The church, through
dialogue at the grass-roots and individual levels, could transform "the
enemy into a neighbor" as a sign of communion, he added.
     The Rev. Paul Rajashekar, professor of systematic theology at the
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, argued that interfaith
relations had been a marginal issue for the LWF until the past two decades.
He said that, for Christians, "interfaith issues are not just a
sociological or social response" but "theological issues warranting a re-examination of our relationship to God."
       Rajashekar pointed to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of
Justification between the Vatican and LWF, declaring certain 16th
condemnations among Lutherans and Roman Catholics no longer apply, and he
suggested Lutherans also re-examine the condemnation of "Mohammedans" in
their confessions.
     The Rev. Molefe Tsele, director of the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation in South Africa, said he could not "be reconciled
with the movement which came after Martin Luther."  While Luther was a
"fighter through and through", modern Lutheranism has become "quietistic
and conservative," he contended, citing reports of economic disparities
growing, resulting in groups of "have-alls and have-nothings."
     Tsele said the "key issue of disagreement (within the communion) is
not theological but the 'non-community' which exists across the church"
because of economic inequalities.  He called for two initial responses: an
awakening to "the great issue of our time -- economic injustice" and
participation in the search for community "without the comfort of ready-made solutions."
     Dr. Monica Melanchthon, professor of Old Testament at the Gurukul
Theological Seminary in Madras, India, said the role and status of women in
the Lutheran communion involved a wide array of issues -- political,
social, cultural, religious, racial, caste, class, gender and sexual
orientation.  Equality or "assimilation with the dominant is not good
enough," she said.  "Women seek a kinder, gentler, less rigidly 'gendered'
     The Rev. Dr. Wanda Deifelt, professor of feminist theology and vice
rector of the School of Advanced Theological Studies in Sao Leopoldo,
Brazil, said there is a tendency in the church to overlook "conflicts,
divergent interests and broken relationships" exemplified by the acronym
NICE -- "nobody is challenged enough."
     "Life is a mess" and "on the way to reconciliation, there is
awareness of brokenness with one another," said Deifelt.  "Not just
tolerance, but (seeing) diversity as a gift" is a necessary attribute of
the church, she said.  To understand "the other," one must "assume a
partiality on behalf of the other."
     The Rev. Vitor Westhelle, professor of systematic theology at LSTC,
concluded the conference by identifying three stages in the life of the
+ 1947-63 was a period of "dogmatic unity" in which professional and
academic "sages," mainly from Germany and Scandinavia, defined the
Federation's common body of doctrine and its mission.
+ 1963-77 was a period of "prophetic denunciation" where the injustices of
the world were condemned, such as the apartheid system of South Africa, and
where the "sages" took on the role of prophets asserting what ought to be.
+ 1977-98 was a period of "global fragmentation and pluralistic
conversation" in which the voices of Third World and women theologians have
been "brought slowly in," characterized by more democratic participation
and diverse experiences.
     Westhelle concluded that the overall trend of the Lutheran World
Federation has been "toward the recognition of the voice of 'the other.'"

* Dennis W. Frado is director of the Lutheran Office for World Community
which represents the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation at the United
Nations in New York.

For information contact:
Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Director 1-773-380-2955 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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