Conservative Lutherans are threatening to leave the Lutheran Church over gay issues.

Last month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in America with nearly 5 million members, dropped its 20-year-old ban on partnered gay and lesbian clergy. Previously, gay clergy were welcome in the church but were required to remain celibate. It also approved a little-noticed gay unions resolution during its meeting in Minneapolis.

While the gay unions resolution brings the church closer to blessing gay unions, it remains hazy enough to have gone mostly unnoticed. It only says that the church has committed itself to finding a way to recognize and support gay relationships.

Opponents of the changes will meet this weekend in Indianapolis. Members of Lutheran CORE will consider altering its fundamental mission of reforming the ELCA from within to competing against it.

Attendees will vote on a resolution that calls for the formation of a “free-standing synod” separate from the ELCA and encourage congregations to withhold their donations from the ELCA.

“We are not leaving the ELCA,” Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, said in the group's latest newsletter. “The ELCA has left us.”

On Wednesday, the presiding bishop of the ELCA warned that such actions would be “devastating” to the church.

Bishop Mark Hanson wrote in a pastoral letter posted at the church's website: “Although these actions are promoted as a way to signal opposition to churchwide assembly actions or even to punish the voting members who made them, the result will be wounds that we inflict on ourselves, our shared life, and our mission in Christ.”

Conservatives say their concerns are not about acceptance of gay men and lesbians but whether the ELCA has turned its back on Church Scripture.

“This disagreement is not about sex,” Chavez says. “It is about the source of authority in the ELCA. The assembly's sexuality decisions have opened the eyes of people to the biblical and theological crisis in the ELCA.”

Lutheran CORE says 1,200 people have registered for its weekend convention, prompting organizers to move the event to a larger venue. Ironically, the new venue is a Roman Catholic church.