ELCA “acts” on gay pastors (or: the title sells the story)

(Looking for information on the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and information regarding pastors in same-gender, life-long, monogamous relationships?  Click here for that blog.)

After following the ELCA Churhwide Assembly this past week, I saw the title of a Yahoo! News article (written by Reuters and now circulated everywhere), “Lutherans to allow pastors in gay relationships,” and thought to myself, “That’s not quite what happened.” While it was passed by the assembly, via this motion (by the bishop of my “current,” technically, synod), that bishops should show restraint in disciplining pastors in “faithful committed same-gender relationships,” it did not, in fact, change any policy or policies of the ELCA. In fact, motions to actively seek a change in policy were defeated, largely, from what I can tell, due to a desire to wait until a social statement on sexuality is developed for the 2009 assembly (to be held in Minneapolis). Additionally, after about 40% of the voting members had already left, it was passed a motion for ELCA bishops to discuss their own accountability to “the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA,” seeming in a response to the first motion which, in simple language, told bishops it’s OK if you decide to break the rules (or let others do so).

So what? The assembly seemed to say that we (the entire 4.8 million members of the ELCA, as represented by the assembly) aren’t ready to make formalized changes of policies and procedures, but if certain areas (via their bishops) don’t want to abide by the rules established, then we’ll accept that. As Phil Souchy of Lutherans Concerned said, it’s basically a call by the assembly saying, “Do not do punishments.” Now while this doesn’t technically change anything, it’s an obvious step in a new direction and a likely indicator of where the ELCA is headed. There is technically no “official” change, but the Yahoo! News article’s title would have you think there had been. It’s truly the title which sells you on the article, and if you only read the title (and maybe even if you read the article, too), it’s easy to get the wrong picture about what transpired @ Navy Pier in Chicago. (A Chicago Sun-Times online article, “Gay clergy OK’d by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” has a similar title shock value effect.)

Are you still asking “What does this all mean?” Some might say this is a procedural ploy to allow gays in committed relationships to continue on in their positions without actually changing the rules, and I surely wouldn’t disagree with them. The current policy continues to officially require pastors (and I believe other rostered leaders, though don’t quote me on that) in same-sex relationships to be removed from the rostered rolls (which has happened 3 times thus far) and does not allow seminary students in such relationships to be ordained into such roles either. In a way, the motion passed by the assembly is a way to help bishops feel more comfortable supporting and not reprimanding gay or lesbian pastors currently serving churches who are in committed relationships . It still allows bishops to call for disciplinary hearings, but it, in reality, puts the onus on the bishop to make the decision whether to allow the pastor to continue on in their position or not, a state which was really already true but not openly supported by the ELCA as is now the case.

While I support the ordination and rostering of people in same-sex relationships, it will take me some time to decide if I agree with the motion the assembly passed. If I had been a voting member, I’m not sure if I would have voted for or against the motion. It definitely puts control of the situation in a more regional context, which I think may be the best answer, but was this the right step to take at the current time? I don’t know. In any case, it was an interesting day for the ELCA, and it will likely be a very interesting road ahead as pastors, church leaders, and congregations in and outside the ELCA react to these events.

Your thoughts?

(I could throw in ways in which I see these actions as paralleling, in some ways, the occurrences that led to Seminex, but I’ll leave those thought for another day.)

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7 Responses to ELCA “acts” on gay pastors (or: the title sells the story)

  1. PseudoPiskie says:

    This is the result I prayed for – a moratorium on punishment. I would have preferred that it be binding on all but I realize that would be too radical at this moment. I’m thrilled that the vote was pretty definitive. A difference of a few votes could have been nasty.

    I believe we need to push our youth to become involved and teach their elders that Jesus told us to love all and judge none. I know far too many young people who have left churches because of what they see as hypocrisy.

    And people need to learn that many individuals they know are perfectly normal tho homosexual. The group who came out at the convention was surely a major eyeopener for many. The day will come but I really wish more quickly than I envision.

  2. John Petty says:

    As the saying goes, “If there’s no punishment for breaking a rule, then there’s no rule.” This doesn’t quite go that far, but it’s close.

    pax, jp

  3. kfry says:

    Thanks for a great blog. I wish I felt like the resolution that passed was even half as important as the news reports have made it sound. I was there and blogging about it at http://reclaimingthefword.com. From my perspective, the thing the ELCA did that may actually have the most IMPACT (unlike passing resolutions about Palestine and Iraq that too few will ever read or pay attention to) is the election of a lay person to the powerful position of church secretary. In a church filled with rampant clericalism, this is a move that reflects deep frustration among the laity…and is, perhaps, an indicator of good things to come.

  4. John Petty says:

    Interesting that neither Michael Cooper-White nor Andrea deGroot-Nesdahl made it farther than they did. Might be a desire for some new faces.

  5. BentonQuest says:

    As a now Episcopal clergy, I am still sad about the vote.

    I left because I didn’t want to hide my partner for four years. Even hiding him for two years was not acceptable.

    Lutheranism is THE protestant religion. How did it get so far behind in being the prophetic voice in the world? The fear of schizm is so strong, but aren’t we supposed to have a spirit of courage and not a spirit of fear?

    As I sit without a call and about to lose my home due to one silly rule, I feel justice delayed is justice denied.

  6. Mark says:

    In my old ALC we believed in one member, one vote. We were the 2.5 million majority of the 4.5 million ELCA. Martin Luther said marriage is between a man and a woman.

    In 1988, I never voted to give up my vote in the church, MARK HANSON!

    If the gays do not want to follow ideals of America and Luther, they should take the “A” and “L” out of the ELCA.

    I wont be part of a gay Lutheran church. NO GAY ELCA! LCMS, here we come in 2009!

    I am sorry if this offends any readers but my doctor has put me on a low salt diet. Like the gays, I have to look out for myself!

  7. Mark says:

    After deep thought and prayer I left the ELCA for a large and growing non-denominational mega church of 8,000 that holds that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Leaving my Lutheran roots was the most difficult thing I do as I attend worship weekly. Still, my new church has been very warm and loving and I feel the dark cloud that hung over me in the ELCA is now gone.

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