ELCA moves forward to include committed homosexuals as clergy

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how the media created shocking headlines that tinted the facts a bit about an ELCA vote regarding homosexual pastors.  Well, hours after more big steps were taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the media titans were at it again, this time with an AP story title being pretty blunt and shocking (and, of course, not the whole story): “Lutherans to Allow Sexually Active Gays as Clergy“.  There were also some factual errors in the story, which are likely explained due to the quickness of the writing, but one also has to wonder who just wants to grab your attention so you will read their story!

Luckily, by morning, story titles had calmed down and content appeared accurate.  Here are a few examples, if you’re into reading all about this topic:
“Monogomous” Gays Can Serve in ELCA (Washington Post – good but short)
Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy (NY Times – good, a bit longer)
Lutherans lift barrier for gay clergy (LA Times)
ELCA votes to allow gay pastors (Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Conservatives  mull future after ELCA lifts gay ban (AP’s “updated” article)
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans (ELCA news release)

While those articles, as a whole, give a good idea about the changes, let’s quickly look at what actually happened in Minneapolis this week, using actual words that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

First, a social statement, basically a declaration of belief, was approved on Wednesday .  It needed 2/3 of the vote, and actually got exactly that with a vote of 676-338.  I’m not going to get into that here, as it’s a long, though important, document, but you can read the statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” as well as a news article and the legislative summary from the ELCA website.

Now, in terms of gay clergy (all references ELCA website):
First, the assembly agreed to “respect the bound consciences of all,” thus basically allowing for those willing to agree to disagree to remain united under one organization.

Secondly, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”  (This vote passed by about 60%, 619-402.)

Thirdly, a few hours later, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”  (This vote passed by about 55%, 559-451)

And finally, the assembly basically allowed for individual churches to be flexible in their implementation of the previous resolutions and directed necessary formal changes be made to implement the previous agreements.  (See specifics here.)

So that’s the news, but what’s the big deal?

What we have now might be viewed by many as a “local option.”  As a whole, the ELCA will not exclude anyone who is in a “life-long, monogamous” relationship from being called as a pastor.  However, it allows particular congregations to do as they wish in recognizing same-gender relationships and calling pastors in such relationships.

So what’s the critique?  How can people not be happy if everyone can basically do what they want?  If I believe same-genedered relationships to be sinful, I don’t have to accept them in my church, and I certainly don’t have to have a pastor that is in one.  And if I believe all is well with the Lord in such relationships, I can be a member of a church that expounds this belief, too.

Well, that right there is the critique.  ELCA members who do not condone same-gendered relationships feel that by this action, the ELCA is saying same-gender relationships are OK.  Even if one doesn’t believe such relationships are supported by God, why would she or he remain part of a church body that (essentially) does?

It’s unfortunate for the sake of Christian unity that the “bound consciences” way of thinking is hard to follow through with.  If it does, somehow, find a way to work, that’s certainly a good sign for those looking to further unite the “holy catholic church.”  But Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Roman Catholic (capital “c”), simply made a new church, from which sprang many, many more.  And the growth, prominence, and flourishing state of non-denominational churches in this country shows, I think, that many who call themselves Christian aren’t that interested in unity any way.

It’s likely that those who can’t accept this new turn of events will go elsewhere, with churches and individuals leaving the ELCA, possibly creating a smaller Lutheran church body or finding some other group to join up with.  One could hope that it might bring about ties across denominations that actually do bring further Christian unity, but in this age of individuality, that seems unlikely.

I welcome your thoughts and views on the subject: your feelings about the action of the ELCA this week, your plans of action (if they be any) in response to this vote, and your thoughts about the future of the ELCA as a whole and its current (some of which are sure to be former) congregations.

Can a denomination survive and “agree to disagree?”  I don’t know, but the ELCA appears to be the petri dish for such an experiment.

22 Responses to ELCA moves forward to include committed homosexuals as clergy

  1. txlutheran says:

    I appreciate the calm, objective way in which you’ve approached this issue and the questions you have raised are thoughtful, deeply important. Thank you.

  2. centralityofthegospel says:

    You can look through all the flowery words about bound conscience … but the ELCA has consciously avoided language that calls homesexuality a sin as a consensus for public approval of the documents it created.

    Likewise, the ELCA has made the 5 solas of the reformation into only 3 solas. It has thrown out sola scriptura years ago. One of the conference documents even mentions the 3 solas.

    I agree you can find a lot of heady rationalization and interesting words in the documents they approved but its all a smoke screen to get public approval and to allow humanism into the interpretation of scripture.

    Its time for ELCA members to vote for a Church split or to leave their Church to maintain the integrity of “real” Lutheranism.

  3. lutheranme says:

    As a soon-to-be-former member of the ELCA, I couldn’t agree with you more. Regardless of whether or not my individual church can choose to call a homosexual pastor or not (a question of particular importance as we are currently in the process of interviewing candidates), by continuing to support the ELCA with my time and my tithes, I also endorse its beliefs. I cannot attend a church where the word of the LORD is put aside in favor of political correctness.

    As such, per your request for comments on the plan of your readers, my husband and I will be looking for another church to call home – one where the inerrant word of the LORD remains, well, inerrant.

  4. theoldadam says:

    What the ELCA has done is absolutely despicable.

    I read your article at your link (centralityofthegospel)and I think you did a nice job of it.

    Thank you.

    This ‘gay agenda’, kissung up to the culture stuff, will ruin a great church. And for what?

    To be liked by a bunch of people who couldn’t care less about the church.

  5. Kim says:

    My Lutheran church is ELCA and I am submitting that I be removed from membership. My Pastor is objecting also to the resolution and we are considering the LCMC.

    When I looked at this site

    http://www.lcmc.net

    I noticed in the last newsletter that it was featuring Tony Campolo so I emailed lcmc, but I got an immediteate response that Campolo had been removed as a speaker of a conference, which was a relief.

  6. Stanley Roethemeyer says:

    What profit the ELCA if they do as the world does and put in japarody the souls of millions. What is a committed relationship and if homosexual Pastors can live in a committed relationship do not heterosexual Pastors have the same rights to live in a committed relationship? Why even have marriage after all that takes a committment hell lets all live in a committed relationship. The ELCA maybe could merge with the Unitarian Church. For the message of the cross is foolishness yes oh I forgot to add to those who are perishing

  7. eric bjorlin says:

    So while I was trying to be mainly even-handed in my post (thank you, txlutheran, for your response), all but the first comment condemn the ELCA’s decision.

    I’m curious why that might be… are people who agree with the decision not looking for info about it on the web, or at least not making comments? Are those who are maybe against the change locally but accept the decision as a whole staying away, too, or are there actually none who fit that category?

    And to play devil’s advocate with Stanley’s “what profit the ELCA” comment: maybe the ELCA isn’t trying to “profit” but rather remain faithful to an ever-changing God.

    Also, I think you contradict yourself on your “commitment” language — the problem/issue is that marriage of a man and woman has a structure and “big deal” mentality to the commitment, the homosexual “committed relationship” you mention has none, at least not yet. (And last time I checked, married pastors aren’t barred from getting divorces, either.) I doubt allowing homosexuals to marry or have a legal/structured union would make you feel differently about the ELCA’s change, but it wouldn’t allow the “commitment” critique you mention.

    And as “lutheranme” says, by remaining a part of the ELCA, not matter your local church’s stance, you do support the entire body’s views and beliefs. That’s really what makes the “bound conscience” idea such a challenge — and likely why it just won’t work.

  8. deeply saddened says:

    I am saddended by the action taken by the ELCA. My family will be looking for a new church that is based on the Bible. Heaven help those who voted against the teachings of the Bible.

  9. txlutheran says:

    it’s a shame that so many of commenters here are just bitching and moaning about their own literal reading of scripture instead of getting out there and doing God’s work. Christ called us to love and serve, not bicker. I guess all those hellbent on a literal reading of scripture are too busy stoning their children and pointing out all the women wearing earrings or not covering their head in church or worse, TALKING in church.

  10. centralityofthegospel says:

    Financial support is normally not an issue by having a Denomination. The only real common point is your interpretation of scripture and accountability in interpreting that scripture.

    Since the ELCA now denies sola scriptura each individual Church should leave the ELCA if they do not hold to its teachings so the “real” Lutheran interpretation of scripture does not get twisted into a sea of approval for the public so they can accept the Church.

    Like I said on another BLOG what the ELCA is the equivalent of asking 3 billion people what they want for supper. Eventually you end up with the lowest common denominator, pork and beans! An author wrote a book about Americas “civil” religion once that is common today. This is the lowest common denominator of what every person can accept. You see it in government officials all the time.

    THE ELCA is engaging in lowest common denominator theology. A theology every person can agree with in America. Not a good sign for those that pride themselves in taking the narrow path.

    My own take on it is the ELCA will get smaller in the next 2 or 3 years and then it will grown beyond belief in the next 20 years as people search for the wide door.

  11. centralityofthegospel says:

    txlutheran, who said we are not out doing Gods work!

    Stop by sometime and see me personally when you are in Minnesota so you can actually see what I am doing at my Church.

  12. Marieta Furstenberg says:

    Tell me again, why are us Lutherans putting Gods word up for popular vote? What is the reason for this? Such blatant disobedience to the word of our God, is just shocking. How did we get here? Where is my whip?!!

  13. Shwaybo says:

    Terrible. I agree with you completely Marieta. The fact that we’re even debating this openly is ridiculous. Why stop at homosexuals? Why not allow monogomous thieves to be pastors as well. Not bad thieves, but good ones… those who steal responsibly and are held accountable. Why not? Or how about monogomous liars. Not bad liars, but good ones. Those who tell lies responsibly and are held to a good standard for liars. Should we condemn them? Absolutely not! Hey, I think we should all be pastors. Why hold a high standard for leadership? (Obviously, I’m being sarcastic… but I think you get the gist of my point). God’s word is the final word. As soon as it becomes less than that… run for your life. Ignore the pretty words and phrasings that may try to “sugar-coat” the bitter pill.

  14. kristen says:

    May I offer an observation? Many of the people who have commented share beliefs that I would classify as LCMS. The ELCA church was formed by people who came out of the LCMS tradition wanting to use historical criticism when reading the Bible… something I see missing in all the comments about the “inerrant word of the LORD.”
    It wasn’t until the 1970s that women were allowed to be ordained in the ELCA (not LCMS). Although I was not alive to see that happen- I could imagine the turmoil the leaders went through- trying to make that change- and having to deal with that change as well. And yet I look at our church and wonder how we could have silenced their prophetic voices for so long. I have a feeling that in the future our children will look back at us and wonder why we were so reluctant to give equal voice/rights/respect to the entire body of Christ…

    • Shwaybo says:

      Kristen, the problem is, that argument doesn’t exactly work. You seem to be implying that there’s no difference between discriminating against women and discriminating against homosexuals. But, there is a huge difference. One is a gender, the other is a sinful lifestyle. One is worth giving equal voice to. The other should be repented of. To say that homosexuals should have equal rights in the church is no different than saying we should give equal rights to thieves as well, or liars who want to be clergy… since when does sin not matter? Is the church being narrow-minded by not giving all blatant sinners equal voice/rights/respect? Do all sins comprise, as you say “the entire body of Christ”… or does the body of Christ represent people who reject sin and try not to walk in it? You don’t need to be very “literal” as some people say to acknowledge God’s view on sin, or to acknowledge His view on homosexuality. Such a lifestyle is clearly not condoned, and you’d have to approach this subject with the slick manipulation of a lawyer to really be convinced otherwise.

      • kristen says:

        My response to this post is two fold.
        First is to establish that the body of Christ is comprised of all… sinners. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Try as we might to “reject sin” and not “walk in it”… we all end up sinning. We are not climbing a ladder towards God- becoming better and better. Rather, God has/is coming down to us… meeting us in our present lives, in our messiness, in our sorrow, in our sins. God meets me there, God meets you there, and God meets our gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters there as well. Sin and Grace are not number games. If we think of it that way we will all lose. Why judge a person’s sin when I have a whole host of my own? Are my 8 small sins more acceptable than someone else’s 4 medium sized sins? I’m not sure I’m in the position to say. Should we “give equal rights to thieves as well, or liars who want to be clergy”? Well… we do. It might help us to think about stealing in other ways besides material things- for example- stealing one’s dignity, one’s experience, trying to steal grace from someone by telling them that they are not worthy of it? Sins do matter… but sin is not the last word. Christ has the last word and it is a word of grace. It is a word of promise when we are in our brokenness that there is resurrection. It is a word of hope- so that we might awake on easter morning and know how great our God is in the face of sin and brokenness and death.
        Second is to remind us that we are the Priesthood of the Believers. Each one of us has been touched by grace and each one of us has something to share about God. Our understanding of God is only enriched by interactions with people who share about their experience with God. Why would a person who is gay or lesbian be unable or less qualified to speak about their experience with God or to teach about their understanding of the Bible? Because they have sinned? Because they continue to sin? No one would be allowed to teach or preach if that was the case.
        For thousands of years people used the Bible to exclude women from pastoral positions. It was so very clear to them that the Bible supported their claim. And yet today, the church has repented and is ordaining women. I see a strong correlation between that and this present time. A group of people being denied equal voice/rights/respect because they were not born as a white straight male.

      • lutheranme says:

        This is in reply to kristen…

        Yes, we are all sinners – and I will be the first to admit that I am a sinner too! The difference is that openly homosexual people are UNREPENTANT sinners – do you see what I’m saying? And I am not saying that we should exclude homosexuals from the church, or greet them at the door with cries of “Sinner!” I think the only way to reach out to any sinner is to act towards them with love, and pray for them and to work with them to overcome all sins.

        That being said, I feel that a priest by necessity should be a man (yes, I do believe that women should not lead churches based on a biblical standpoint and yes, I am a woman) who has repented of his sin. Does that mean pastors will be perfect? No. Does that mean they should constantly be striving, as should we all, to live their lives as Christ lived, that is, without sin? Yes. When something is clearly a sin and a person not only does not repent but claims that he/she has the right to continue to live in that sin, then I feel that person should not be the spiritual leader of others.

  15. Shwaybo says:

    Again, I’m baffled and saddened that this subject actually remains unsettled among Christians. Homosexuality is a sin. Sin is wrong. 2 + 2 = 4. Those are facts. Are we really going to sit here and debate them? If somebody wanted to say that 2 + 2 = 5, how seriously would we take them? By accepting to debate such a silly claim would only give credence to the claim and dignify it as being worthy of debate (which it isn’t). This is just sad.

  16. SaraJ says:

    If we’re going to be literal about interpreting the Bible, let’s be literal about it. Let’s follow all the rules about eating the right foods, dressing in the correct fibers, stoning some sinners, and smashing the babies of our enemies on rocks.

    I guess none of us does that–could it be that everyone is taking some measure of a historical-critical approach to Biblical interpretation? We look at these passages and understand that we are reading the story of God’s people, and God met his people where they were in different times and spoke words that are sometimes conflicting. This doesn’t mean that God is changing or confused, but humanity changes. God’s message of salvation is unchanging and inerrant, but all the ephemera can change as our culture and humanity as a whole change.

    Thus, many members of the ELCA understand that verses supposedly referring to our 21st-concept of homosexuality are actually referring to different and rather unrelated sexual practices, much as we view statements directed at female leadership to be referring to a different social context. 21st-century homosexuality as a loving, committed relationship between two equals did not exist as a cultural practice in Paul’s time. What he is referring to is sex between two unequals used to cement social hierarchy in place.

    I agree, Eric with the difficulty for people on both sides of debate respecting Luther’s concept of the bound conscience. It seems that certain topics are too incendiary to allow us to be moderate…but as I watch the fallout from the ELCA’s decision I am all for advocating that we try to find some realm in which our opposing beliefs can coexist without strangling each other!

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