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North Dakota church bolts over ELCA agricultural proposal

There's a feud brewing on the prairie between faith and farming.

Another church has voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but this time it's over a new stance the denomination's leadership plans to take.

Congregation members at Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church in rural Sheldon, N.D., don't like the ELCA's proposed position on genetics - specifically in relation to farmers' use of genetically modified seeds, which are common in Red River Valley agricultural production.

The congregation voted on Sunday to leave the ELCA because it feels the group's draft social statement on genetics is an attack on farmers.

The situation puts a twist on local churches' recent rebellion against the ELCA's official positions on social issues.

The ELCA drew fire after its assembly decided in 2009 to allow individuals in same-gender relationships to serve in the clergy.

Anselm Trinity Lutheran's resolution to withdraw from the ELCA passed for the second and final time by a vote of 25-4, church council president Jill Bunn said.

Sheldon is a town of nearly 120 people located about 37 miles southwest of Fargo. On an average Sunday, about 30 people attend the church's services.

Bunn said there was a sense the ELCA was making statements against farmers, many of whom in the Red River Valley region use genetically modified seeds.

An estimated 95 percent of sugar beets are grown using so-called genetically modified Roundup Ready seed - which is engineered to withstand the weed killer, reducing the need for using other chemicals and limiting the need for tilling.

The ELCA's proposal states the denomination views genetics "with hope and caution," not necessarily because of the science or technology used but because "the greatest danger in genetic developments lies in the sinful exercise of radically extended human power."

The ELCA's draft statement goes on to say genetic advancements could lead to demonstrations of other sin, such as "exalted pride" or "negligence or complacency."

For much of this year, an ELCA task force sought input on the statement, and it is expected to submit a final proposal to the Churchwide Assembly next year.

Per Anderson, a religion professor at Concordia College, is co-chairman of the 18-member task force that crafted the proposed statement. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Eastern North Dakota Synod Bishop Bill Rindy also was unavailable for comment.

Bunn said the Anselm congregation feels the ELCA is making too many social statements that don't have anything to do with the church.

The Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church congregation doesn't stand alone in questioning the denomination's view of genetics in relation to farming.

Sarah Wilson, a fifth-generation farmer from Jamestown, N.D., opined on the topic earlier this year in her blog, "A Farmer on a Mission."

"The basic principle I keep coming back to is that I do not believe it is the church's place to give recommendations on farm management practices," Wilson wrote. "We go to church to worship and study Scripture, but from there it is up to individuals to apply the lessons we've learned in our lives."

After voting to separate from the ELCA, Anselm Trinity Lutheran decided to join the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

"We're very united and kind of excited to get moving forward now," Bunn said.

Readers can reach Forum reporters Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541 and Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734.