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Isn’t it ironic???

by Betsy Carlson, editor

August 21, 2009

On Tuesday, Aug. 18, an Ethiopian pastor and one-time national church president was kicked out of the Minneapolis Convention Center about the same time a person told the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch to show acceptance by the early church of the ritually unclean—the Ethiopian eunuch.

WordAlone Network President Jaynan Clark said Wednesday, “Isn’t it ironic that at about the same time Ethiopian Pastor Francis Stephanos was being kicked out of the convention center, a social statement backer used that Biblical story against the opponents of the statement, proffering that the Ethiopian eunuch may never have experienced Jesus’ grace and love if Philip had reacted the way we, who oppose ordaining partnered gays, supposedly would have.”

“In many ways, this is symbolic of what has been happening in the assembly. While the ELCA is talking about the acceptance of same-sex behavior, the ELCA is rejecting other Christians from around the world, especially those from Africa, who accept the Bible’s teaching.” WordAlone Vice President Mark Chavez said Thursday. Stephanos said in an interview Thursday inside the Minneapolis Convention Center where the assembly is taking place this week, “I was talking to people one-to-one, to the delegates, about the implications of the decision they were about to make [on a social statement about sexuality]. I suggested they should vote their consciences and go by the Word of the Bible,” he said.

The one-time church president, now a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said that he and another African pastor were inside the convention center but not the assembly hall talking to various voting members, or as he said, “the people with the yellow nametags.”

The WordAlone Network learned of his ejection because the network had offered hospitality to Americans from Africa from varying Christian denominations who were walking around the outside of the convention center praying for the assembly.

Stephanos, in identifying himself to this reporter, said that he was a vice president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Abode of Jesus), the Ethiopian national Lutheran Church, from 1978-1983. He is known as president emeritus of the national Ethiopian church, which he served from 1985 to 1993 during the reign of the Marxist government there.

The Ethiopian church is one of the fastest growing Christian churches on the globe, with 5.3 million members, he said. He was a vice president of the Lutheran World Federation representing Africa in the early 1990s. He now resides in Minneapolis and has an Ethiopian ministry here.

He said came to the convention center around noontime and had been in the convention center about two hours when a security guard walked around him.

“He looks at me closely and approaches me and tells me I’m not allowed to be in the convention center,” Stephanos said, “because I don’t have a badge. I said, ‘Why not, I’ve got every right to be here and listen to people.’ He said, ‘You have no right to be here….so please leave here…you can stand outside the building but not in here.

“And I said, I’m not doing anything unlawful, let me stay.’ ‘Move now,’ he said. So I had to leave.”

Another Ethiopian pastor was escorted out at about the same time, he said. Stephanos said 10-15 Ethiopians from across the denominations, including an ELCA congregation, are coming to the convention center every day, to walk around outside the convention center covering the center in prayer like at Jericho.

He said that before he was told to leave he had been explaining to assembly members the Bible says that in the beginning God created man and woman and also gave Eve to Adam as a wife, so He knew what He was doing then. At several other places in the Bible it is clearly stated again that marriage is between one man and one woman, people of the opposite sex, not people in same-sex relationships.

“Now I am talking and listening to delegates again, inside, but with an identity card,” he concluded.