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.