Lutherans examining gay ordination policy
Share with others:
A key board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has voted to place before August's Churchwide Assembly the possibility of local option to call partnered gay pastors.
The Church Council voted at a four-day weekend meeting to forward a proposed social policy statement on human sexuality and a related set of recommendations on ministry to the assembly in Minneapolis.
"What is described in the [social policy] document is that people of sincere faith are coming to different conclusions," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, a Minnesota pastor and chairman of the task force that drafted it.
"This is a call ... to try to live within these disagreements with civility and love."
The 4.7-million member church now says that partnered gay people may not serve as clergy or "rostered" ministers. An attempt to overturn that failed in 2005, but in 2007 the Churchwide Assembly voted 538-431 to ask bishops and synods to refrain from removing partnered gay clergy.
"Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" lists four views on the morality of same-sex partnerships and says the church is far from consensus on any of them. It calls church members to respect the conscience of those they disagree with.
The companion report proposes "structured flexibility" for congregations and synods to call partnered gay ministers. But it asks the assembly to first decide "whether, in principle, it is committed to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." If the answer is no, it will be futile to ask whether people in such relationships can serve as clergy, it said.
It also calls on the Churchwide Assembly to vote on whether it is committed to showing love and respect to those on all sides if it implements the policies.
Asked how the conscience of all parties could be honored if a liberal congregation in a traditional synod called a gay pastor, the Rev. Strommen said it could be done by upholding the right of a congregation to choose its own pastor. A bishop who did not agree with the choice could attest that the church had followed procedures, but withhold judgment, he said.
Bishop Kurt Kusserow of southwestern Pennsylvania disagrees with the proposal, saying it would set differing standards.
"The church is most healthy when it acts as one body. When the church begins to change that and give wide latitude for each of its members to do whatever seems best to them, that is a real concern," he said.
"It seems to me that this is the direction that the ministry policy recommendations are headed in. To me, that is a greater concern than the question about same-gender relationships."
The synod has already held discussions on the proposed documents for its clergy, and plans sessions for laity prior to its June meeting at Thiel College in Greenville, Mercer County. Bishop Kusserow said that some churches will present memorials -- resolutions -- on the proposal for gay pastors, but he has not yet seen them.
The Church Council also voted to slash the denomination's budget by $5.6 million to $76.8 million. One of the results is that its radio show, "Grace Matters," will end after Easter.
First Published April 3, 2009 12:00 am