ELCA Elects New Presiding Bishop

I only saw the results of the first ballot, so it kind of shocked me when my wife said there was a new Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.

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From the ELCA News Service:

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Northeastern Ohio Synod, was elected Aug. 14 presiding bishop of the ELCA at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. She was elected on the fifth ballot. There were 889 votes cast, and 445 votes were needed for an election. Eaton received 600 votes and the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, received 287. Eaton is the ELCA’s first woman presiding bishop-elect.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 12-17 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The theme for the triennial assembly is “Always being made new.” This year marks the 25th anniversary of this church.
“We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church,” Eaton told the assembly shortly after the election.
Prior to becoming synod bishop, Eaton served as pastor for ELCA congregations in Ohio. She earned a Master’s of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and a Bachelor’s degree in music education from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.

I’m not familiar with Bishop Eaton, but from what I’ve read, I like her already. I can’t wait to see where the ELCA goes from here! I am curious to see how the LCMS will respond to this…but, we’ll cross that path later.

On a total side note, I am totally bummed that I didn’t get to go to Churchwide Assembly this year. It’s always nice to be back in southwestern PA (I grew up in a small town about an hour south of Pittsburgh) and it would have been nice to see a bunch of my friends from seminary. Maybe I’ll get to go to the next one (this is a not so subtile hint for the NW Washington Synod folks)!

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32 Replies to “ELCA Elects New Presiding Bishop”

  1. Don’t you think the LCMS response is predictable? The only thing that will change is that they’ll take all their rants about the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and change the name to the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton,

    1. I actually have little doubt that the LCMS response will be predictable. I’m just not sure how far Harrison will take it. I could see it in the vain as all other female pastors. I could also see it as the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and the LCMS severing all ties with the ELCA (not that there are many left at this point).

    1. I’m interested to see what she will do. I went back through and looked at the ballot results for all five ballots. I thought the results were interesting as Eaton came from behind between the 2nd and 3rd ballot and almost took it on the 4th (she needed 23 more votes on that ballot). There’s no denying she has a major uphill climb ahead…but I think it was time for a change of leadership.

      1. Of course it’s time for a change in leadership. Stuck in the mud was rapidly evolving into being swallowed by quick sand. The question is whether the change will be too little too late.

  2. I am curious to see how the ELCA churchgoers will respond to this (Perhaps an exodus of comparable magnitude to that following 2009’s Statement on Human Sexuality?)…but, we’ll cross that path later.

      1. A ~5% decline in membership combined with a ~3.5% in number of congregations over 2 consecutive years does not bode well for a church’s future. It doesn’t take a master of arts to figure that one out. By the way, we’re still waiting on those 2012 membership statistics, Ms. Eaton. This commentator predicts another larger-than-average decline. After this move, it just might be possible for the ELCA to lose 1 million members in 4 years. I guess that’s what happens when a church denies the Word, the testimonies of the church fathers, and historic Christian doctrine.

        As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun. Didn’t Paul himself admonish ancient churches that allowed women to preach?

        1. And I’m assuming that the fact the SBC has lost 263,000 members since 2010 means nothing… Oh wait…. You might want to be careful about throwing numbers around to support a theological point.

          And Bp. Eaton has (at least for the time being) some support from the traditionalist faction in the ELCA (Lutheran CORE).

          1. The SBC lost 0.66% of its members over the time period 2011-2012. What percentage loss do you expect the ELCA lost over the same period? Remember, the ELCA lost 5.95% of its members 2009-2010 and 4.98% of its members 2010-2011.

            You might want to be careful throwing around numerators in absence of their denominators. Losing ~500,000 members is much bigger blow, statistically, to a church of 4.5 million than losing 263,000 is to a church of 15.8 million.

          2. Are you hedging your bets with that parenthetical remark Craig? Do you suspect Ms. Eaton will lose support from the traditionalist faction? How many members will leave at that point?

          3. Actually my parenthetical remarks are based off of comments by the director of Lutheran CORE.

            “Steve Shipman, director of Lutheran CORE, told CP that he was optimistic regarding relations between Eaton and the more conservative theological wing of ELCA.
            “I am gratified by her willingness to address the reality of dissension and her express promise to reach out to those of us who disagree with some directions of the ELCA,” said Shipman.
            “I hope Lutheran CORE can work with her to help her keep that promise. She seems to be honest and forthright and to say what she means simply and clearly.”

            Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/elca-assembly-elects-first-female-leader-of-denomination-102365/#rzxFtTkPyj5cB1PP.99

  3. Why, Craig, do you postulate that the ELCA has lost members since 2009 at a much faster rate than the Protestant church in general? By your own statistics, the SBC is losing 0.5%-0.7% of its members yearly while the ELCA is losing 5% of its members yearly.

    Also, why has the ELCA’s rate of membership decline increased so rapidly since 2009? What caused the jump from losing 1%-2% of its members yearly to losing 5% of its members yearly in 2009?

    1. I never denied that the ELCA’s membership decline was sped up by the 2009 decision. I would say the the vast majority of churches that want to leave based off of the 2009 decision have left already. So we could possibly see a return to 1-2%. But then, I’m not a psychic, so I could be wrong as well.

      However, I’m not going to speculate as to what the election of Bp Eaton might do to membership numbers like you are so willing to do. There’s no data in the ELCA to support your conclusion. And before you fire back that the ordination of women leads to a membership decline, the vast majority of Protestant denominations in the US are on the decline, including those who do not have women pastors and bishops. The SBC is but one. The LCMS lost roughly 1.44% of its membership.

      Other denominations that have lost 5% or more in one year include the PC(USA) and the UMC.

      In other words, what’s your point? Because all you’ve done is throw around percentages.

      1. My point? It’s quite simple actually: Those churches that have accepted women’s ordination and/or homosexuality as biblical expressions of the gospel (ELCA, PCUSA, and UMC, to use the three that you named) have experienced faster decline in membership than those churches that have remained true to the Word, the confession of the ancient church fathers, and Christian doctrine (SBC and LCMS, to use the 2 that you named).

          1. I never claimed it did. I have only hypothesized. The stats, while not proving a causal relationship, do suggest my point my may be accurate.

          2. However, you did concede that the 2009 convention led to loss of membership. So, you do concede the causal relationship exists for the ELCA.

  4. The damage to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) had already been done before a membership decline actually began in the early 21st century. Although the infighting between sour grapes conservatives and upstart modernists had been simmering since the early 20th century, the ecclesiastical pot boiled over with the Conservative Resurgence of 1979. This split was so divisive and so deep that almost 2,000 former SBC churches officially formed the theologically moderate (liberal) Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CFB) in 1991.

    Forgotten in the myopic spreadsheet mentality focusing on the recent decline in SBC membership is that the SBC experienced exponential growth (~y=2E+06e0.0285x) during most of the 20th century. That growth became flatter (~y=-2339.4×2+231091x+1E+07) after the conservative-liberal rift heated up after 1970. Thus, the handwriting had been on the wall of SBC churches for almost a half century before the numeric membership decline began in the early 21st century.

    In reality, the early 21st century decline in SBC membership is actually among more like-minded believers, i.e. conservative/fundamentalists, rather than among a more diverse dichotomy of members such as currently fills the pews in Evangelical Lutheran churches.

    The SBC decline is not unique. Among the Seven Sisters of American Protestantism, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has lost three million members since future Republican presidential disaster Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey. Yet, with eight million members, the UMC remains queen of Trinitarianism in American life. More recently, of course, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has lost about five million members. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) has dropped about two and a half million and the Episcopal Church has shrunk by a little less than two million in recent years. While some pundits suggest these numbers represent a decline in commitment to Christianity, when coupled with other statistics, this shrinkage may suggest loss of faith in the broader aspects of Americanism after religion in American life became a political football.

  5. Another thing that is worth pointing out is that, according to Public Religion Research Institute, each successive generation since World War II has become increasingly disenchanted with the smell for fire and brimstone burning in the pulpit. While almost half of the Silent (Korean War) Generation were religious conservatives, only about one third of the Baby Boomer (Vietnam) generation subscribed to the theology. By Generation X (rule rejecter(s), less than a quarter felt comfortable with the culture wars embraced by their parents and grandparents. Millennials (rule rewriters) saw those numbers drop to less than one in five.
    Thus, if one looks at a typical large church congregation these days – assuming one can find a significant number of youth still passively sitting like dunces in the pews – one is likely to find a generational divide not unlike that currently faced by the Republican Party. While the older generation(s) may be pulling the strings, the younger generation(s) is(are) not necessarily connected thereto.
    Given the above, and like it or not, religion in American life by the mid-21st century is likely to be vastly different than it was at the dawn thereof as acceptors and celebrators of diversity increasingly assume the reins of power. By then, a black Southern Baptist president and a female Evangelical Lutheran bishop may seem quite passé by comparison. As Bob Dylan pointed out half a century ago, the times they are a-changin’.

    1. The label above should read “Generation X (rule rejecters)” – plural rather than singular or plural.

    2. There is a great book I had during my seminary days, long long ago (like 2 years ago) about why churches are declining. It gives some interesting insight, I think, into the problems as a whole.

      1. The core difficulty seems to be that, again much like the present day Republican Party, the current church is not meeting the needs of youth. I vividly recall the day I realized that Generation Xers then in their teens were much like early 20th century Futurists in their reject of rules. Their successors seems bent on rewriting the rules while the geezer generation is preoccupied with enforcing rules. If the older generation doesn’t accommodate, empty churches could wind up being empty monuments to their stupidity.

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