Lutherans reject gay clergy plan

Proposal sought to ease rules to ordain those in committed relationships

`The case has not been made'

August 13, 2005|By Manya A. Brachear | Manya A. Brachear,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ORLANDO, Fla. - More than 100 activists draped with rainbow-striped sashes streamed to the front of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Assembly yesterday and stood in silence as the denomination's chief legislative body denied ordination to gays and lesbians in committed relationships.

The assembly also voted to encourage clergy and congregations to offer pastoral care for "all to whom they minister." An earlier proposal had specifically mentioned people in same-sex relationships, language that was interpreted as allowing pastors to conduct the informal blessing of gay unions without certain sanction.

Some gay-rights advocates said they resented the change in language - which passed 491-484 on an earlier vote - saying that it stripped the proposal of its purpose and put pastors in jeopardy of censure if they perform the blessings.

"I feel ... deleting the words `same-sex couples' negates the beginning of the resolution which states that this church welcomes gay and lesbian persons into its life," said Thomas Salber of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

But others said the church should not encourage blessings of gay relationships.

"Pastoral care is not code language for blessing same sex-unions," said the Rev. Carol Hendrix of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, who opposed the proposal. "When it comes to blessing same-sex unions, the answer is no."

The assembly turned down the ordination proposal by a vote of 503-490, another snapshot of the deep divide in the 4.9 million-member church. The proposals require approval by two-thirds of the assembly to take effect.

The Rev. Paul Landahl, bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, said that he was disappointed with the decision to maintain the ELCA's policy of ordaining only those gays and lesbians who remain chaste, but grateful that the assembly did not make the policy more restrictive.

"We welcome gays and lesbians, but only so far," he said. "So if you feel the gift of the spirit and the call to ministry, well, you're going to have to sit on that because our welcome doesn't include that."

He expects issues of homosexuality to become a litmus test for the election of bishops in some of the nation's 65 synods, since it is up to bishops to uphold guidelines on same-sex unions and to ordain pastors. Some non-celibate gay pastors in the ELCA have been sanctioned, but others have not.

Acknowledging the lack of consensus in the assembly, voting members also elected "to concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements."

But even that recommendation stirred contempt among some conservatives who believe that Scripture holds homosexuality to be a sin.

Patrick Monroe, a voting member from the Southern Central Illinois Synod, supported the pledge, saying it echoed Christ's instructions in the New Testament.

"Jesus tells the disciples that our job is to gather in everyone," Monroe said. "Our job is not to judge one another. Our job is to love one another. ... This motion allows us to move forward in that way, not just with sexual issues but with all issues."

The Rev. Jaynan Clark, president of the Word Alone Network, said she was disheartened by the vote on pastoral care, saying it left open the possibility for same-sex unions.

"The blessings door has been swinging back and forth in the ELCA," she said. "This assembly has propped the door open firmly. By what authority can the ELCA bless homosexual relationships? Scripture clearly doesn't authorize sex outside of marriage."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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