By Anli Serfontein
Religion News Service
STUTTGART, Germany (RNS/ENInews) A U.S. Lutheran bishop on Wednesday (July 21) appealed to members of the Lutheran World Federation to hold together and avoid splits in the face of differences over issues of sexuality.
"It is not the time for further traditions of Lutheranism to emerge in the world. We have to find unity," said outgoing LWF President Mark Hanson, who is also presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Hanson's remarks come in the wake of conflicts between Lutheran churches in Africa and more liberal churches in the U.S. and Europe. The LWF's second-largest member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, has threatened to stop accepting aid from U.S. and European churches over the gay issue.
"I am deeply concerned that we are on the precipice of a time where the rich tradition of Lutheran theology is used to divide Lutherans among themselves," Hanson told delegates at the week-long assembly.
Like other church bodies, Lutheran churches in the Global South are growing while established churches in Northern Europe and North America are declining.
"Northern member churches can learn much about how important the training of lay evangelists and catechists is to the growth and renewal of the church," the LWF president told 400 delegates and other guests. "We need you to teach us."
Earlier, Hanson had said he hoped the LWF legacy will be one of reconciliation.
"In our polarized world, in which the divisive voices of religious extremists seem to dominate, let us as the Lutheran World Federation continue to engage in what just may be the most courageous of all prophetic acts--the act of reconciliation," he said.