A saying about New York City goes something like this, "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere."
At a special meeting of the Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly Oct. 29, supporters of ordaining gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships carried the day and appeared determined to try out that old saw in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
While adopting statements about maintaining unity in the ELCA in the three resolutions passed by the assembly, the voting members went against a decision of the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and decided 130 to 114 to endorse ordaining, commissioning or consecrating "partnered" gays and lesbians. They also issued guidelines that basically say not to discipline a minister or pastor solely for being in a same-sex relationship.
(There were four resolutions, but the assembly ran out of time before it could take up the fourth. The resolutions can be found at: http://www.mnys.org/headlines/Materials/Proposed%20Resolutions.doc )
The long and the short of it is, the Metro NY Synod is defying current ELCA regulations and rejecting the 2005 assembly's vote against a proposition that would have allowed for such ordinations, but only through a special approval process.
The current ELCA rules, regulations and standards call for chastity on the part of married ministers and celibacy by homosexual ministers.
In the second resolution the synod assembly calls for restraint in the administration of policies that address the full service of partnered gay and lesbian persons in rostered ministry, so that their ministries "may be seen" and discerned, "known by their fruits." It also asks other synods to join Metro NY in practicing "restraint" when administering policies affecting only gays and lesbians so "exemplar" ministries can be held up as examples to the ELCA.
In what might be seen as a direct challenge to the ELCA Pastor Robert Rimbo, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan, amended the third resolution, on discipline and on ordination standards, to ask the ELCA Church Council for a "clarification," on whether the resolution concurs with ELCA governing documents. (Rimbo resigned this summer as bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod to accept the call to Metro NY.)
The church council responded to the Metro NY Synod resolution at its recent November meeting by ducking the rebellion and referring the matter for study and a report by its April 2006 meeting.
According to an ELCA news release: "Specifically, the resolution is intended to guide the synod's leaders in responding to people who are gay or lesbian, in a committed relationship and serving as professional ordained or lay leaders in the church.
"…. As its response the council referred the resolution to the ELCA Office of the Secretary in consultation with the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, Vocation and Education, and ELCA Conference of Bishops, and requested that a report and possible recommendations be presented to the (council's) April 2006 meeting.
"The Rev. Joseph G. Crippen, council member, Northfield, Minn., said people who have read the resolution have varying interpretations.
"The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary, told the council that the synod resolution is 'very complicated.' He said the council will 'need to spend many hours examining' the resolution, adding possible conversations with the ELCA Conference of Bishops—an advisory body of the church consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary."
That Metro NY resolution stated that the synod was not creating new standards for ordination or ministry or discipline but would "exercise its constitutional duty" to implement those standards. It also stated that when partnered gay and lesbian candidates sought to become ministers or when ministers were charged in discipline cases solely because they were in "a loving, committed, same-gender relationship," the overriding consideration must be to best serve the mission and pastoral needs of the ministry and synod.
After the synod's special assembly, Metro NY Bishop Stephen Bouman wrote in a pastoral letter on the synod's web site, "We provided copies of the four resolutions to the Secretary of the ELCA. In informal conversation, he indicated the first two were less problematic constitutionally than the third and the fourth."
Bouman also asserted, "Nothing materially changed by passing these resolutions. We did not seek to change the synod or ELCA constitution. The restraint in disciplinary matters, which was urged by the second resolution, is already provided for in the constitution. Our synod voiced its hopes and convictions from within the church."