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3 Lutheran Groups Complete Merger : All but Missouri Synod Combine, Form 5.3-Million-Member Unit

From Times Wire Services

Most of the long-separated groups of U.S. Lutherans were merged today into a united church that ranks as one of the largest American Protestant denominations.

Delegates at a consolidation convention overwhelmingly approved the 108-page constitution and bylaws of the new denomination, called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The vote, culminating more than a decade of talks among three of the nation’s major Lutheran bodies, creates the fourth largest mainline Christian body in the United States, behind the more than 50-million-member Roman Catholic Church, the 14.4-million-member Southern Baptist Convention and the 9.7-million-member United Methodist Church. The new Lutheran body will have 5.3 million members.

East, Midwest Joined

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It brings together the largely Eastern-based Lutheran Church in America, with 2.9 million members, the 2.3-million-member Midwest-based American Lutheran Church and the 112,000-member Assn. of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a group that broke away from the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

After voting to accept the constitution and officially bringing into being the new church, the 1,045 delegates turned to the more difficult and more sensitive task of electing a presiding bishop to head the new denomination.

The Rev. David Preus, currently head of the American Lutheran Church, is considered a strong candidate. Preus, 64, is heir to a Norwegian Lutheran dynasty that stretches back several generations.

Another Contender

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A strong alternate candidate is the Rev. Reuben Swanson, secretary of the Lutheran Church in America who is popular among its many members.

Swanson, 64, played a key role in building bridges between the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church during the five years of unity negotiations.

But many delegates, especially within the Lutheran Church in America, say the new bishop should not be one of the current leaders of the three major bodies.

While open campaigning for high church office has historically not been a part of Lutheran tradition, some quiet behind-the-scenes and telephone politicking was already going on.

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Of major Lutheran bodies in the United States, only the 2.6-million-member, ultraconservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod remains outside the new church.

The Missouri Synod holds a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, while most other Lutheran groups accept modern biblical scholarship and, while calling the Bible the inspired word of God, do not use the word inerrant to describe their belief.


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