August 14, 2005

A Sad Day for the ELCA

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:22 pm

I’m back from vacation (very nice, thank you), and find I must post about a sad day in the life of my denomination, the ELCA. On Friday, the Churchwide Assembly voted down a small step towards relaxing rules against allowing actively gay clergy to serve.

First, some background: four years ago, the 2001 Churchwide Assembly directed a Sexuality Task Force to develop recommendations on allowing the blessing of gay unions and actively gay Pastors. In January, the task force delivered their three recommendations, which I paraphrase here:

  1. We in the ELCA should learn to live with our strong disagreements over these issues, instead of letting them split the denomination.
  2. The rules prohibiting the blessing of gay unions should not be changed, but Pastors should figure out how to provide “faithful pastoral care” to gay couples.
  3. A process should be put in place to allow exceptions to the requirement that gay Pastors remain celibate.

Despite my strong desire to see the ELCA bless gay unions and allow actively gay clergy, I was generally in favor of the recommendations, mostly because I didn’t think the laity would agree to stronger measures. These seemed like baby steps that would at least provide some forward movement towards the goal of full acceptance of gays in the church.

Now, the actions of the Churchwide Assembly: as it turns out, even these baby steps were too much. Recommendation 1 passed overwhelmingly. Recommendation 2 passed, but only after it was amended to remove the words “same sex couples”, avoiding any acknowledgement that two people of the same sex can be a couple. And recommendation 3, the one that provided a small window for change, was defeated by a slight majority. This is not as close as it sounds — since this measure would change the ELCA bylaws, it required a two-thirds majority to pass.

I am very disappointed. The problem, though, is who to blame for this setback. With the recommendations themselves, we could get angry at the national leadership of the ELCA in Chicago for their timidity. But the voting members of the Assembly are elected representatives from each of 65 synods, 60% of them laypersons. I assume these attendees are representative of the entire laity and clergy of the ELCA, so the only people I can get angry with over this are my fellow Lutherans. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

The Sexuality Task Force was right to not push for more. The membership of the ELCA is not ready for any relaxation of the rules against gay marriage and gay clergy. Part of this is generational — I suspect older Lutherans are less accepting of the gays in their midst. But this also seems a reflection of America. Gay rights is making progress, but has not yet arrived. The good news is that the vote on recommendation 3 was 49% in favor to 51% opposed, so we are very close to a simple majority for increasing gay rights. Demographics, along with a growing acceptance of gays in other spheres of life, can only lead the vote count in the right direction.

Just as I felt that the electorate of the US made a tragic mistake in re-electing George Bush, so too I feel that the membership of the ELCA has made a tragic mistake in rejecting greater tolerance toward gay Lutherans. But like the election, there is nothing to be done except to continue to advocate for a greater morality in my church, to work harder to help others see the injustice being done in the name of Christianity. This vote reflects where my fellow Lutherans stand at this point in time, but not where my denomination will stand in the future. I am confident that within my lifetime we will look back at this vote as an embarassing missed opportunity on the path to the acceptance of gays and lesbians as full participants in the life of our church.

I will probably post more on this topic later, so stay tuned. For more views, Father Jake provides a post from the progressive side, and Mark Hasty posts from the traditionalist side.


  1. Much as I agree with you, that those measures should have passed, I must also say that I’m neither surprised nor disheartened. This is a checkpoint for the ELCA, not an endpoint, and I am confident that God will move us in the direction of compassion.

    Comment by Keli — August 15, 2005 @ 9:06 am

  2. Welcome back from vacation. I’m glad you had a nice time.
    I’m playing the “world’s smallest violin” for you over this post, however.

    Your pet conservative Christian.

    Comment by Jacke — August 16, 2005 @ 9:18 am

  3. lol, Jacke! Yeah, I don’t imagine you’re losing any sleep over this vote!

    Comment by Bob — August 16, 2005 @ 11:22 am

  4. […] claim God as being on their side in this debate,” she said. After the progressive side lost the vote to relax restrictions on gay clergy in the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly, I don’t have […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Another California First: Gay Marriage Bill Passes — September 1, 2005 @ 10:42 pm

  5. It is truly a sad state when the Bible is left out of decisions. The Bible openly condems the act of homosexuality. It is sin. It is not a sin that Jesus can’t forgive but it is sin. To have a “gay” paster, minister, clergy or whatever you may want to call it, is an abomination. I am proud that your church took a stand. Jesus can help you to overcome.

    Comment by gabby — August 8, 2006 @ 4:25 pm

  6. […] I’m afraid the ELCA, which, as is typical for us Lutherans, has tried to keep everyone happy with the whole gay clergy issue, has stepped right into the middle of it. The Bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod, Bishop Warren, has elected to conduct a disciplinary hearing to remove Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta. In spite of the current ELCA rules requiring celibacy for gay pastors (which the last Churchwide Assembly voted to keep in place), the Bishop has a great deal of latitude in how to deal with partnered gay clergy. Unfortunately, he has decide on a disciplinary hearing. […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Gay Lutheran Pastor Goes On Trial — January 20, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

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