US Lutherans consider implications of gay clergy vote

Published August 24, 2009

Supporters and opponents of a decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to allow men and women in open and monogamous relationships with persons of the same sex to be ordained as clergy, say they are considering the implications of the vote for the future of the denomination.”It takes time for a religious community to wrestle with moral questions,” James Martin-Schramm, a professor of Christian ethics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, told Ecumenical News International in an interview about actions taken during the ELCA’s Aug. 17 to 23 Churchwide Assembly.By a 559-451 vote, the highest legislative body of the 4.6-million-member U.S. denomination voted on Aug. 21 to change denominational rules. The changes would “open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships”, the ELCA News Service reported.Martin-Schramm, a supporter of the changes, said he thought the ELCA may avoid the intense intra-denominational divisions that have marked the recent experiences of the U.S. Episcopal (Anglican) Church. He noted that the issue had been formally studied and debated within the denomination for eight years.The denomination had previously allowed homosexual men and women to serve the church as clergy and church officers but only if they committed to celibacy.Gay-rights advocates praised the ELCA move as overdue.”The ELCA has always had gay ministers,” Emily Eastwood, director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a U.S.-based Lutheran gay rights group, was quoted as saying by the ELCA news agency. “Now those and all ministers are free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner.”Those who opposed the measure criticised the changes as un-biblical, though they did not say they would leave the denomination.”These decisions have damaged the ELCA’s relationship with our partner churches in the Lutheran World Federation,” said the Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, a grouping of laity and pastors that opposes the changes. “The Anglican Communion is in the process of splitting apart because of the actions of The Episcopal [Anglican] Church. The ELCA seems unconcerned about a similar effect on the LWF.” He added: “These decisions have also hurt the ELCA’s ecumenical relationships withRoman Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestant Churches.”Chavez told ENI that his group was not urging congregations to leave the ELCA but that it believed they should direct financial support away from its national offices.At a media conference after the vote, the Rev. Mark Hanson, the ELCA’s presiding bishop, appeared to reach out to those who had opposed the change, saying: “I am always concerned when I hear any indication of either congregations or clergy or both wondering about whether they can continue to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in light of these decisions.”He added, “Included in my concern is even a deeper concern for those who are at that point tonight. Are you willing to stay engaged with us in the conversation about how you can, with integrity, stay in this church body so that we might respect your bound conscience?”


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