Biggest U.S. Lutheran group advances gay questions
The largest U.S. Lutheran church group is about to begin a detailed discussion at the grass roots level on a policy change that would enable people in same-sex relationships to become clergy. Between now and June the debate will spread over some 65 synods covering the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
These meetings will produce comminiques which will be sent to the church’s convention in August where a final decision will be made on issues that have nagged the church and other denominations for years.
The ELCA’s current policies allow gays to serve in the ministry but not engage in sexual relations outside marriage — and the church defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
But possible changes advanced this week when the Church Council, a top governing body, approved with only minor revisions recommendations made by a task force after a lengthy study. Those recommendations will go before a membership convention in August, after input from the synods which are beginning their meetings this month.
The task force report asks whether the church wants to find ways to recognize life-long, monogamous same-sex relationships, and if so whether the church is committed to finding a way for people in such relationships to serve as clergy. There are other recommendations and proposals on how the process would work, but the first two steps have drawn the most attention.
ELCA officials said they foresaw “an extensive church-wide discussion” in the synods which elect delegates to the convention whose 1,000 members will be 60 percent laity and 40 percent clergy, and the debate reflects shifting societal attitudes towards gays in general and their role in the church in particular.
Lutherans Concerned/North America, which speaks for gays in the church, said it was “pleased but cautious” with where the issue has advanced.
“For the first time in the history of our church, a recommendation for the elimination of the policy of discrimination against ministers in same-gender relationships will come to the floor of the church-wide assembly, brought by the church-wide organization itself,” said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America.
(Photo: Same-sex issues have been big news in America in recent months. Two men walk hand in hand outside the California Supreme Court during a Proposition 8 demonstration in San Francisco, California March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES)