Here is a round up of news and media reaction to yesterday's historic votes at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The resolution passed by a vote of 559 to 451 and overturns previous church policy that prohibited participation of gays and lesbians in church ministries unless they were celibate.
Discussions about human sexuality have dominated the August 17-23 assembly in Minneapolis, the chief legislative authority of the 4.6 million-member denomination. More than half, or about 1,045, of the 2,000 participants are voting members at the gathering, themed "God's work. Our hands."
The assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." It did not use the word "marriage." It also approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.
ELCA shares a full-communion relationship with The Episcopal Church, which asserted the openess of its ordination process to gays and lesbians (Resolution D025) and called for "generous discretion" for the blessing of same-gender relationships (Resolution B012) at its July 8 - 17 General Convention in Anaheim, California
Integrity rejoices at the news from Minneapolis that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) today adopted all four of the resolutions before their Assembly regarding the fuller inclusion of the LGBT baptized in the work and witness of the Lutheran Church.
“Today’s action in Minneapolis is not just good news for gay and lesbian Lutherans, it is good news to all who strive for peace and justice and are committed to respecting the dignity of every human being,” said the Reverend Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA.
“For decades the faithful have prayed for justice to roll down like waters for the LGBT baptized in the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches. The Summer of 2009 has become that watershed moment we have prayed for.”
“We are delighted that our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ are joining The Episcopal Church in moving forward in mission with a commitment to include all God’s beloved equally. We look forward to opportunities to continue in our call to common mission with our Lutheran colleagues as we join together in proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus available to all.”
“We believe that when taken together with the actions of our Episcopal Church last month in Anaheim, we are seeing a spiritual groundswell sending the message that there are communities of faith that actually practice the compassion they preach. Our deepest hope is that these actions will encourage those who had given up on the church to give it another chance. Our doors are certainly open to welcome them – and we look forward to the mission and ministry ahead of us as the Body of Christ in the world.”
Leaders of the nation's biggest Lutheran denomination voted Friday to allow gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy in the church -- making it one of the largest Christian denominations in the country to significantly open the pulpit to gays.
Previously, only celibate gays were permitted to serve as clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a denomination of 4.8 million members. But delegates to a church assembly voted 559-451 to allow gays in "life-long, monogamous" relationships to serve as clergy and professional lay leaders in the church.
The largest American Lutheran denomination cleared the way on Friday to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve in ministry, ending a policy that had opened leadership posts to them only if they remained celibate.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also encouraged its congregations to find ways to support or recognize members in "accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
But it did not give official sanction to gay marriage or approve any rites for such ceremonies.
Still, the stance taken by the 4.6-million-member church is one of the most liberal by any U.S. denomination on matters of sexual orientation, which are among the most divisive political and religious issues in America today.
Just before the vote, the Rev. Mark Hanson, the church’s presiding bishop, led the packed convention center in prayer. When the two bar graphs signaling the vote’s outcome popped up on the hall’s big screens seconds later, there were only a few quiet gasps, as delegates had been asked to avoid making an audible scene. But around the convention hall, clusters of men and women hugged one other and wept.
“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.”
"Jesus accepted all the social outcasts of his time," says the Rev. Paula Maeder Connor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lakewood (Ohio). So it's about time, according to her, for the church to do the same.
On Friday, the 5 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America took a major step in welcoming gays and lesbians into its fold.
The denomination voted at its national convention in Minneapolis to allow a gay or lesbian living in a partnership to be ordained a minister. The new policy, which more than 1,000 convention voters adopted by 55 percent, is expected to be implemented by next year.
Currently, gay clergy have to be celibate or keep their sex life a secret.
But when the new policy goes into effect, they can openly live in same-sex unions.
"Never had I imagined this would come to be," said Connor, who has been an ordained minister for 30 years. "This is amazing.
"Our gay brothers and sisters will now enjoy the blessing of the denomination to participate in the call God has given them."
Of the 201 congregations in Northeast Ohio's ELCA synod, only two congregations -- Connor's and Hope Lutheran Church in Cleveland Heights -- have publicly voted to welcome gays and lesbians.
ELCA Presiding Bishop comments:
At an Aug. 21 news conference the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, spoke about voting members who are rejoicing over decisions made to change ministry policies and those who did not support the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Hanson expressed gratitude for the manner in which the church has engaged the topic of human sexuality for the past eight years.
He said the assembly continued the conversation about human sexuality "with deep and heartfelt respect for the view of the other, engagement with Scripture and the tradition, listening to the faith stories and experiences of one another, and in prayer for seeking the discernment of the spirit."
Mindful of those voting members who spoke and voted in opposition of changing policies, Hanson said he hopes that they will remain committed to the conversation.
"I am always concerned when I hear any indication of either congregations or clergy or both wondering about whether they can continue to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in light of these decisions," he said. "Included in my concern is even a deeper concern for those who are at that point tonight. Are you willing to stay engaged with us in the conversation about how you can, with integrity, stay in this church body so that we might respect your bound conscience?"