Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Official - Ministry Now Fully Open to Publicly Practicing Homosexual Couples

Well, it's official. The ELCA finally garnered enough votes to make the historic change. Openly practicing gays and lesbians now have full inclusion in the ordained ministry. The original resolutions (final ammendments not noted here), with the votes were:

1. Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. - Passed 619-402

2. Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church. - Passed 559 to 451

3. Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all. - Passed 771-230

4. Step four proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. - Passed 667-307

Below are news releases from the ELCA site.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier 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," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
The actions here change the church's policy, which previously allowed gays and lesbians into the ordained ministry only if they remained celibate.
Throughout the assembly, which opened Aug. 17, the more than 1,000 voting members have debated issues of human sexuality. On Wednesday they adopted a social statement on the subject as a teaching tool and policy guide for the denomination.
The churchwide assembly 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."
Before discussing the thornier issues of same-gender unions in the ordained ministry, the assembly 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.
During the hours of discussion, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, the delegates paused several times each hour for prayer, sometimes as a whole assembly, sometimes in small groups around the tables where the voting members of the assembly sat, debated and cast their votes.
Discussion here proved that matters of sexuality will be contentious throughout the church. A resolution that would have reasserted the church's current policy drew 344 votes, but failed because it was rejected by 670 of the voting members.
Pastor Richard Mahan of the ELCA West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod was among several speakers contending that the proposed changes are contrary to biblical teaching. "I cannot see how the church that I have known for 40 years can condone what God has condemned," Mahan said, "Nowhere does it say in scripture that homosexuality and same sex marriage is acceptable of God."
But others said a greater acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in the church was consistent with the Bible. Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod said, "It's a matter of justice, a matter of hospitality, it's what Jesus would have us do." Wollersheim said he had been strongly influenced by meetings with youth at youth leadership events in his synod, a regional unit of the ELCA.
Some speakers contend that the actions taken here will alienate ELCA members and cause a drop in membership. But Allison Guttu of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod said, "I have seen congregations flourish while engaging these issues; I have seen congregations grow recognizing the gifts of gay and lesbian pastors."
During discussion of resolutions on implementation of the proposals, Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod asked that the church make clear provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church cannot call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monagamous, same-gender relationship. A resolution that the denomination consider a proposal for how it will exercise flexibility within its existing structure and practices to allow Lutherans in same gender relationship to be approved for professional service in the church. That resolution passed by a vote of 667-307.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Assembly Actions Draw Criticism, Praise from Advocacy Groups

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) – Leaders of organizations favoring and opposing further involvement of people who are gay and lesbian in the church praised and denounced actions taken at the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Both expressed a desire to have the church remain united and for those with disagreements on sexuality to respect one another’s views.
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.”
Lutheran CORE, a reform group opposing the new policies, has called for a meeting in Indianapolis next month of people who will not support the decision to allow non-celibate gays and lesbians to become clergy and other rostered leaders.
“Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the organization. Today, CORE ended its relationship as an organization “officially recognized” by the ELCA. A statement issued here said CORE will begin to encourage ELCA members and congregations to withdraw financial support from the denomination.
The actions of the assembly mean that many of those sharing CORE’s concern “will participate in and support faithful ELCA ministries, but cannot support ELCA ministries that reject the authority of God’s word,” said the Rev. Erma S. Wolf of Brandon, S.D., vice chair of CORE’s executive committee.
While CORE’s disagreements with the ELCA run deep, Spring said he was not encouraging congregations to leave the ELCA, although he admitted that some pastors and congregations are already planning to do so.
Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C. a member of CORE’s steering committee, said of the assembly actions, “the church should not be voting on whether or not to follow the teaching of the Bible.” Schwarz is one of three remaining nominees for ELCA vice president.
Emily Eastwood, director of Lutherans Concerned/North America said, “Today, I am proud to be a Lutheran.” Lutherans Concerned/North America has long been working to encourage the ELCA to accept people who are gay and lesbian, but not celibate, into the ministry.
“The ELCA has always had gay ministers,” she said, “Now those and all ministers are free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner.” Eastwood also said the actions of the Assembly focused on the “centrality of family life” for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
At the same time, Eastwood said, the ELCA recognizes the “bound consciences” of those who disagree with this week’s actions. “Congregations that wish to call a qualified minister in a committed, long-term, same gender relationship can do so without hindrance,” she said. “And congregations that do not wish to do so cannot be required to ever do so.”
“We pledge to work with the church, including with those who would oppose us, for reconciliation to fulfill our collective mission to spread the love of Christ for the sake of the world,” Eastwood said.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Presiding Bishop Comments on Decisions Regarding Ministry Policies

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- With debates closed and decisions made, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States has voted to allow Lutherans in same-gender relationships to serve as pastors of congregations and serve in other professional leadership roles. This will result in a change in current ministry policies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which require that professional leaders abstain from "homosexual sexual relationships."
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?"
The Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, shared some next steps on how the denomination will proceed in modifying ministry policies.
"We will now need to begin to draft the language that will put into those policies the decisions the assembly has made. That language must be drafted in full respect to the kinds of disagreement that have been articulated, the joys and sorrows that are reflected in these conversations," he said.
Olson said the church has several policy documents "to assure that we have the kind of leaders that we need, speak to the processes by which we prepare and approve people for leadership, and the process by which folks are called into particular places of ministry."
"This is not simply rules and procedures for implementing something new. We have these policies because we are committed to having the kind of leaders who will serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who will respect this church and other churches, and who will have the world in view. We see the qualities, skills and the commitments that will make that possible," Olson said.
The Rev. Kaari M. Reierson, associate director for studies, ELCA Church in Society, said the experience of the assembly mirrors that of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, particularly "the sorrow of disagreement, the concern for each other and the church, and the sharing of deeply held concerns that are by now familiar to us all."
The task force developed the report and recommendations on ministry policies considered by the assembly.

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