Lutheran church lifts ban on gays in clergy

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination today reversed a long-standing ban on the appointment of non-celibate gays to the clergy, becoming the second major Christian group in a month to liberalize its ministry policies.

Leaders of the 4.7-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting in Minneapolis, gave local congregations the authority to choose ministers or lay leaders who are in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The decision follows a similar action last month by officers of the Episcopal Church, who lifted a de facto ban on the consecration of partnered gay bishops.

Theologians and church historians said both votes could influence other Protestant denominations -- including Presbyterians and United Methodists -- that are struggling to reconcile conflicts over homosexuality and the Bible.

"As these decisions get made, it's getting clearer where they're going," said Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, a professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology. "You can't partition justice."

Conservatives in the church said the new policy contradicted Biblical teachings about marriage and would divide the denomination. One prominent group called for Lutheran congregations to withhold money from the church and instead direct funds toward "faithful ministries" within and outside the denomination.

"We are confident that most ELCA Lutherans uphold Biblical standards for marriage and sexuality in spite of decisions made by this assembly," the Rev. Mark Chavez of the group Lutheran CORE said in a statement.

Lutherans voted on the ministry policy two days after they adopted a new social statement on human sexuality that reiterated the church's definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but that also said the church had yet to reach consensus on same-sex unions.

Church representatives debated the clerical issue for more than five hours today before deciding to open the ministry to partnered gays and lesbians.

The Lutheran leaders also voted for resolutions that called for recognizing and supporting same-gender relationships, while also finding ways to respect differences within the church.

Advocates of the change applauded the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, saying they would lead to greater fairness.

"Today I am proud to be a Lutheran," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a gay rights group in the church.

She said gay ministers would now be "free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner . . . which is all we ever asked."


Post a Comment