Geneva, 2 September 2004 (LWI) – In a press conference following his Address to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council, LWF President, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said that, while evangelical Christians were happy to talk about the experience of God in their life, Lutherans seemed to be “genetically resistant” to the public expression of their faith.
While faith is almost corporate, and lived for the sake of the world, it can also have deeply personal moments. “We need to help Lutherans to speak more about their experience of God in their life,” he said. Hanson is Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Witnessing was another thing that he suggested many Lutherans do not do well, or at all. “We must be more courageous about speaking about God in our lives,” he said.
The LWF president was responding to a journalist’s comment that churches in the Southern hemisphere were growing while those in the Northern hemisphere were shrinking. Asked if he could offer an explanation for this trend, he said, “People in the Southern hemisphere churches can’t talk about Jesus outside of the context of their neighbor’s physical wellbeing and economic situation.” Faith and life were bound together by the circumstances of Christians who lived in the south. By contrast, it was very easy for people in Northern churches to privatize their faith and disassociate it from its place in the world, Hanson.
As an example of the stagnation of Northern churches, Hanson described the situation of the ELCA. Over the last year, membership had dropped by 1 percent representing 53,000 baptized members. The average age of ELCA members is ten years older than the general population. Ninety-seven percent of ELCA membership is white, in a cultural context that is increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse. “Meanwhile, we see growth in the Southern hemisphere,” Hanson said, where lay evangelists readily share their faith with others. “We can learn some of the practices of evangelical churches without adopting their theology.”
(Written for LWI by Linda Macqueen, Editor, The Lutheran, Australia. Macqueen is working with the LWF communication team at this year’s Council meeting.)
The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. It was founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and inter-faith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)