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An EECMY worship service .

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus) has severed all ties with the  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  (ELCA), according to an ELCA press release.

The Mekane Yesus action came during their general convocation meeting in Addis Ababa January 27-February 2, ratifying a July 2012 initiative of the church council. While they were at it the Mekane Yesus included the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and, for good measure, other “churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage.” The decision specifically bans Eucharistic hospitality. Mekane Yesus pastors may not receive Holy Communion from ELCA pastors, nor are they permitted to commune them.

The action has been long in coming but was not entirely unexpected. Most observers weren’t wondering “if” but “when.” Mekane Yesus, a church whose membership out-matches the ELCA, complained repeatedly about the sexuality directions the ELCA appeared headed throughout most of the last decade. The ELCA reaction was a kumbaya “can’t we all just get along?” The 2009 ELCA decision permitting ordination of gay pastors started a countdown of sorts: Ethiopian immigrant missions in the United States, largely ELCA-affiliated, started backing away immediately. The Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, who had been the ELCA’s point man in ethnic ministries, resigned and became mission director for the  North American Lutheran Church . The NALC has several Ethiopian candidates slated for ordination.

Gay sexuality, though, is only the latest presenting issue, as it has been for some one thousand congregations that have left the ELCA to form new associations. On an array of issues from abortion to the authority and role of scripture in church life the ELCA has been dismissive of everything that once marked it as a stable, orthodox denomination. Lutheran church life in Ethiopia compared to the ELCA can be summarized simply: On any given Sunday there are more Ethiopian Lutherans at worship than ELCA Lutherans in any one month.

The Mekane Yesus consisted of perhaps twenty thousand Lutherans in 1970. During a decade of persecution in the 1970s by the communist Derg the church grew enormously, while enduring church burnings, arrests of pastors, forced closings of church properties and, most notoriously, the abduction and murder of the sainted general secretary, Gudina Tumsa. By 1997, the Mekane Yesus reported 2.3 million members; the latest figures place the membership at 5.3 million.

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