Cost of excluding gays and lesbians will be ‘much higher’

Published September 1, 2005

Life is a kind of art form. We draw many conclusions — often conflicting—from identical premises. Like a sharp knife, which slices clean and straight, we make clear-cut decisions, but our rationale is often skewed, like a dull knife which can only hack and tear.

Delegates to the 10th biennial national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) were unmistakably a house divided in their decision to defeat a recommendation that would have allowed pastors and congregations a “local option” to perform blessings for same-gendered unions. Held at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, July 21- 25, the resolution required a two-thirds majority to pass. With 408 secret ballots cast and 5 abstentions, 220 or 54% of the delegates rejected the resolution, while 183 or 46% voted in the affirmative.

The proposal came forward from ELCIC National Church Council, which considered the blessing a matter of application of the grace and justice of God so evident in Scripture on behalf of society’s marginalized. Opponents, however, argued that the church would be departing from the long-held traditional anti-homosexual behaviour-view of Scripture and also issued a warning that the divisive nature of the resolution would split the denomination. (The ELCIC is the largest Lutheran church body in Canada with 182,000 members in 624 congregations.)

In short, both sides affirmed the rightness of their decisions, citing the duplicate writings of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in their discernment process. While proponents saw the “local option” as a compromise, which would have allowed lay and clergy on both sides of the issue to live and function together until a greater consensus could be achieved, the concession was seen by the opposition as “blessing sin” and therefore as a precipitous slide down the slippery slope of moral accommodation, not only with culture and society, but with the law of the land. (With the recent passage of Bill C-38, Canada now allows same-sex couples to marry.)

Given the clear division in the house, “we have a lot more talking to do with each other,” said National Bishop Ray Schultz, who was re-elected to a second four-year term. In the meantime, grudging tolerance on both sides may be given only temporarily.

Will the defeat of the resolution be challenged by pastors who are willing to risk disciplinary action by performing blessings of committed same-gendered couples in their congregations, akin to what had transpired in the Anglican Church of Canada’s New Westminster diocese? It would not be the first time that church rule and practice would have been challenged. The prospect of excommunication did not stop nine Roman Catholic women from ordination to the priesthood two months ago; nor did it stop one notable monk, Martin Luther by name, 487 years ago.

Whatever the price of inclusion, the cost of exclusion will be much higher. Tomorrow’s church will give way to a new generation of Christians who will be prepared to bless homosexuals and their unions with the same right to tolerance, respect and dignity that heterosexuals enjoy. Rev. Peter Mikelic pastors at Epiphany Lutheran Church, and writes for various publications.


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