Tanzanian Lutheran Leader Backtracks On U.S. Donations

06/29/2010 07:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • By Wayne M. Anderson Religion News Service

By Wayne M. Anderson
Religion News Service

(RNS) The leader of the largest Protestant church in Africa, after saying he would refuse money from U.S. Lutherans who support homosexuality, appears to have backed down after meeting with leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"I hope there will be time to discuss it," said Presiding Bishop Alex Malasusa, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, in an interview. "We have been with the ELCA for a long time, so we hope there will be room for discussion."

The 5.3 million-member Tanzanian church--the largest Lutheran body in Africa--had said in April that it would reject the "money" and "support" of those who support the "legitimacy" of same-sex marriage.

Malasusa had also told The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania that "It's time Africa preached to the rest of the world, and remind them of God's word."

Last summer, after years of debate, the ELCA voted to lift its ban on non-celibate gay clergy and also allowed congregations to bless same-sex unions. The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, the world's largest Lutheran church, has approved similar measures. After meeting with ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson on May 18, Malasusa appeared to back down saying, "Well, I can't say that. I can't really commit to anything."

Hanson declined to comment on the meeting, but had said before the summit he expected "honest and open conversations." ELCA missions staff had also promised to be "respectful of local policies and practices" with partner churches overseas.

The 4.6 million-member ELCA is the largest contributor to the Tanzanian church, giving slightly more than $1 million in the 2009 fiscal year.

"I can't see how anything but the money could be influencing their position," said the Rev. Jaynan Clark, president of WordAlone Ministries, a conservative group that assists ELCA congregations that want to leave the ELCA or stay and work for reform.

Clark, a former missionary to Tanzania, warned against taking "blood money."