Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a comprehensive article over at Religion News Service on the election of the first openly gay bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As she notes, the election comes four years following the events of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly when a narrow margin of electors voted to allow the ordination of of noncelibate gay men and women.
That event of course led to major disagreement both at home and abroad. Bailey’s article finally gives us a number on just how severe that disagreement was in the United States. Following the 2009 vote, the ELCA lost nearly half a million members in 2010 and 2011. Granted, some of that is simply the steady decline which many mainline denominations (including the ELCA) have been going through for years. But that can’t account for most of it. In 2009, the ELCA lost 90,850 members (14,781 more than the year previous). Keep in mind that Churchwide Assembly happened late in 2009. By 2010, the membership losses were more dramatic, with the ELCA losing 270,349 people that year (5.9% of the entire church at that time). In 2011, they lost another 212,903 (4.98% of the entire church at that time). Statistics on 2012 are not yet reported online.
The North American Lutheran Church (founded in 2010) is now home to many of those who left the ELCA. At current, they report 130,000 members in more than 345 congregations. Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ has been another major destination for those disaffected in the ELCA, and they now list 716 congregations on their roster (in 2008, the number was 217). Chances are many other individuals have simply joined established churches in their area, Lutheran or otherwise.