(RNS/ENInews) Conservative Lutherans are forming a new church body they say will “uphold confessional principles” after disagreements with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the ordination of gay clergy. The new North American Lutheran Church is scheduled to be formed at a meeting Friday and Saturday (Aug. 26-27) in Grove City, Ohio.

“The NALC will uphold confessional principles dear to Lutherans, including a commitment to the authority of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions,” organizers said in a statement. In 2009, after years of contentious debate, the ELCA voted to changes its policies to allow non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, and to allow churches to bless same-sex relationships.

Ryan Schwarz, vice-chairperson of Lutheran CORE, the organizing group of the new church body, told ENInews the ELCA’s policy on same-sex relationships was “a symptom” rather than a cause of the unhappiness over the ELCA. Schwarz cited a recent example of a service held by one ELCA synod in which, he said, there were several versions of the Lord’s Prayer recited, including one in which “the Mother who is within us” was evoked.

“To us, that appears to be close to paganism,” Schwarz said. Organizers said the NALC meeting will feature representatives from the world’s second- and third-largest Lutheran churches, in Tanzania and Ethiopia, which have a total of about 5.3 million members. Also scheduled to attend are bishops from the Anglican Church in North America, a body that separated from the Episcopal Church over similar moves to allow gay bishops and same-sex blessings.

Asked why dissatisfied ELCA members did not join the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Schwarz said he and many who are likely to join the new church body do not agree with the Missouri Synod’s “very literal” interpretation of the Bible nor support that denomination’s prohibition of the ordination of women.

Schwarz said 18 U.S. congregations have already decided to join the new church, and more than 100 congregations are preparing to do so. The Chicago-based ELCA has 4.5-million members in 10,300 congregations.

ELCA spokesman John Brooks told ENInews that the ELCA “regrets the decisions of some ELCA congregations and members to create another church body and possibly leave the ELCA”.

“We pray for the unity of the whole church and its members,” Brooks said, “and we pray for those who will be leaving to join the North American Lutheran Church.”

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