Apparently, that is beginning to change.
Per the ELCA's news service, a Florida congregation (St. Peter, Fort Pierce) has taken the two votes canonically required for former LCA parishes to leave the ELCA. However, there is another requirement as well: synodical approval.
And the Florida-Bahamas Synod Council just said no.
The article is a bit oblique, so it's hard to tell just what was going on. "Missional reasons" are cited, since apparently there is no other ELCA parish in the area, and the council didn't want to lose its presence in the area. The church's pastor, Theodore Rice, raises the logical question of how the synod hopes to work effectively with a parish that clearly doesn't want to participate.
But -- and again, regular readers will have guessed our sentiments on this matter -- we barely care. Oh, make no mistake: we care, in the sense that we urgently want to hear about a reconsideration and a reconciliation, about hearts softening as the members of St. Peter realize that they can continue in fellowship even despite a deep theological disagreement.
What we don't care about is whether, absent such reconciliation, the pastor and members of St. Peter like it it. If they don't like their mother church, they can leave -- individually. They can join a Missouri congregation. They can start a new congregation. They can do anything they want except steal a congregation.
And yes, we understand that they don't think they're stealing; they have contributed immense amounts of time, treasure and talent to St. Peter, and feel like it is their own possession. But they are mistaken. It belongs to Christ, whose lordship of the church is made real not just in transitory assemblies (as some Lutherans have been known to say) or in individual parishes (as others have often held) but through the larger body.
The story goes on to mention parallel decisions by the synod council upon which we once sat for a few months, keeping a friend's seat warm:
We aren't quite sure how this is different, apart from being a bit more polite. It depends upon whether a "respectful request" really means yes or no. In the former case, it is meaningless; in the latter, it might have been phrased a bit better.
This is all very difficult and painful. We wish it weren't happening. But if it is, we warmly applaud councils (and their bishops) for showing some spine. The bad news is that it will lead, inevitably, to painful and embarrassing lawsuits. We desperately wish that were not so. But the good news is that it takes a stand against the ultra-congregationalism and individualism which run rampant in American Christianity. Against "cafeteria Lutheranism," if you like.