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Saturday, August 22, 2009


Friday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

"ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans" is the headline of the ELCA News Service news release summarizing the actions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting in Minneapolis this week for Friday, August 21.

It is a good headline and a good summary of the debate on these issues which occurred at the assembly on Friday. The assembly spent almost all of it plenary (business) time on Friday discussing and debating and then voting on these actions.

During the day on today, the assembly approved a series of resolutions which have the affect of opening the pastoral ministry in the ELCA to pastors and other professional leaders who are in "publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." This is a change for the church which, until these votes, required its pastors to be in heterosexual marital relationships or, if they were homosexual or heterosexual and unmarried, to be celibate.

Of the four votes on this topic, the closest came on a resolution to find "a way for people in such publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professsional leaders (pastors) of this church." That vote was 559 yes and 451 no.

A substitute resolution to preclude "practicing homosexual persons ... from the rostered leadership" of the ELCA failed in a 344 yes and 670 no vote. This resolution was made by Albert Quie, a lay voting member from the ELCA Minneapolis Synod and the former governor of Minnesota. An attempt to require a 2/3 vote for approval of the resolutions also failed by a vote of 407 yes, 576 no. A similar effort to require a 2/3 vote for approval for these resolutions had failed earlier in the assembly. The assembly did approve, by a vote of 771 yes and 230 no, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.

The assembly paused often for prayer throughout the day.

This action came as no surprise to those of us who have been following this activity throughout the ELCA. Many ELCA synods (35 or so I believe), including the Northeastern and Southeastern Pennsylvania Synods, had approved resolutions endorsing this change at their 2009 spring synod assemblies and the vote on the Churchwide Assembly rules on Monday evening, endorsing a simple majority for these changes rather than a 2/3 vote, had indicated the direction the assembly appeared to be taking. The Council of my own congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, took action at its May meeting endorsing this change.

Following these votes, in moving, pastoral words addressed both to those who were celebrating and those mourning this action, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson concluded, "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross -- where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

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