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Fargo Lutheran church ends ELCA payments

First Lutheran Church in Fargo

One of Fargo-Moorhead's largest Lutheran churches has chosen to withhold money from the national offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on the heels of the denomination's controversial decisions on sexuality.

A resolution by Fargo's First Lutheran Church also states the church "will not participate in the ordination and calling of pastors in same-gender relationships."

First Lutheran Congregation President Richard Burns said financially supporting the national church "was causing a lot of division within our local church."

Money is being withheld, he said, "because many people did not feel right in financially supporting the national ELCA at this time."

First Lutheran, 619 Broadway, is Fargo's second-largest ELCA church, according to information on the ELCA's Web site. Hope Lutheran is Fargo's largest ELCA church.

The unanimous decision by the 24-member council of the 5,300-member congregation follows the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly move in August to allow gays in committed relationships to serve in the clergy. Voting ELCA members also passed a social statement on human sexuality that some see as betraying Biblical prohibitions on same-gender relationships.

First Lutheran's resolution affirms that, "For now, First Lutheran Church will continue in affiliation with the ELCA even as we consider options such as affiliating with other groups or synods holding similar views to ours."

Burns said there has been no decision to leave the ELCA.

"There is not a focused effort on leaving or anything like that," Burns said. "It's really a (situation where we) sit still and look at what's going on and give it attention that way. But nothing is meant to be implied that we are going any further than that at all."

The change in the church's giving relates to the quarterly benevolence payments it makes to the Eastern North Dakota Synod. Normally, 40 percent of the congregation's payments would be passed on to the national offices. Burns said the church will now designate those funds to go elsewhere. This year's annual payment from First Lutheran to the Synod is $110,000.

Burns said the church will continue to support the same mission work it was supporting through the national offices, but in a more direct manner. Funds that would have gone to the internal operations of the national ELCA organization will be redirected, he said.

"What I sense First Lutheran is trying to do is to support the ministries they feel good about without damaging ministries they care about," Eastern North Dakota Synod Bishop Bill Rindy said.

"Congregations are making a lot of decisions right now, and my hope is that they will make decisions that will keep them engaged in doing mission together," Rindy said. "And so, out of the range of decisions they could have made, I'm glad they chose to make a decision that does not undercut mission."

Burns said the diverting of funds isn't intended to be a permanent move and that everyone recognizes that it would not be a "fair relationship" if they were to go on being a part of the ELCA while not contributing. Church leadership will determine those details in the future, Burns said.

The resolution was "not to try to draw a line in the sand or anything like that," Burns said. "It was just to say, we will continue to practice as we were before the assembly ever met, versus what people perceived what we would be after that assembly."