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Churchwide assembly

—to vote on ordination exceptions for homosexuals in relationships

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

News: April 11, 2005

WordAlone leaders expressed disappointment but not surprise that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Council voted Monday in Chicago, Ill., to ask this summer the national churchwide assembly to allow persons in homosexual relationships to be ordained through a process of exceptions to present policies and standards.

WordAlone president, Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland, Spokane, Wash., commented, “Someone needs to ask the church council, ‘By what authority do you do these things?’ Certainly they don’t believe they can un-sin sin for certain people in specific places. Do we really want to make room for that kind of practice? Talk about setting a precedent.”

Under current rules, homosexuals are expected to remain celibate as pastors or professional rostered laypersons.

Recommendations from the council’s program and services committee on the report of the ELCA three-year task force on human sexuality studies essentially were to pass on the task force’s first two recommendations to the churchwide assembly.

These were both approved by the church council.

The first recommendation basically called for the ELCA to preserve unity by finding ways to live together in the face of disagreement.

Clark Egland responded, “I’ve always believed that to ‘have no other gods before me’ was all-inclusive, meaning even the unity of a mainline denomination. When unity becomes the trump card at every table then we “fold” on the truth and idolatry becomes the name of the game.”

The second recommendation stated the denomination would continue to follow the pastoral guidance in a 1993 Conference of Bishops’ statement regarding the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships.

The task force’s third recommendation had not gone as far in allowing ordination of persons in same-sex relationships as the church council’s action did Monday. The task force had recommended maintaining current policies, but not disciplining individuals and churches who violate denominational policies on ordination.

The council’s recommendation to the churchwide assembly, while not changing policy, provides an official denominational process to be ordained or listed on the denomination’s professional roster.

The difference would be that neither the new pastor nor the church that called him or her would be subject to any discipline.

“The ELCA leadership and church council are gambling with the future of the ELCA and any hope of being a mainline denomination that will move forward and yet stand firm for a faithful future,” said Clark Egland.

Council member Ellen Maxon of Washington, D.C., tried with substitute motions and amendments to get the council to recommend to the assembly to vote simply on blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining persons in such relationships. Council members, however, rejected her proposals, saying they wanted to forward a document that had a chance of passing and that would provide “space” for ordination of homosexuals in same-sex relationships.

Maxon asserted several times that same-sex relationships are already being blessed. Others indicated that the 1993 Conference of Bishops’ pastoral guidance had opened the door to blessings.

This summer’s vote, Maxon said, will tell the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community whether the ELCA is ready to change its ordination policies or not, or whether 40% or 35% are ready. She noted the community is not going to leave the denomination if the vote goes against them.

She said that they could come back until the denomination is ready to change.

Clark Egland commented further that, “Jesus often asked his followers if they had ears to hear. Perhaps the same question needs to be directed at the church council and elected leadership who seem to be deaf to both the Word of God and the clear voice of the majority of ELCA members, churches and synods. They have responded clearly and consistently, ‘No change.’ Is anyone in the churchwide organization listening?”