Saturday, February 21, 2009

Denver Post: Lutherans to weigh recognition for gays

From the Denver Post:

Lutherans to weigh recognition for gays
By Electa Draper

The 4.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America said Thursday that it will consider whether individual congregations can choose to recognize same-sex unions and hire gay or lesbian pastors who are in committed, monogamous relationships.

The Chicago-based church, the country's single largest Lutheran denomination, currently requires that sexual intimacy occur only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman.

Gay and lesbian Lutherans may now serve as ordained ministers but are expected to remain celibate. Nevertheless, some liberal congregations defy this.

A 15-member church task force has spent more than two years studying the issue and has held more than 100 hearings across the country.

Thursday, the task force recommended that the Churchwide Assembly, the church's chief legislative body, take up the issue of whether it is committed to finding ways to allow congregations or groups of congregations called synods to choose to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships."

And if the assembly accepts this commitment, the task force asked, will it then find a way for Lutherans in committed same-sex relationships to serve as clergy and other church leaders?

The assembly, made up of roughly 1,000 church leaders and members, will vote on the issue in Minneapolis in August.

Task force members acknowledged that there is no general agreement within the church on same-sex unions, an issue that has polarized every mainline Protestant denomination in the country.

"Task force members share a sober appreciation for the depth of disagreement on this matter," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, task force chairman and pastor of Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake, Minn.

"We also share a longing for church unity," Strommen said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "Our hope is that a way can be found to live in the unity of the gospel amidst our differences."

If the assembly chooses to allow recognition of gay unions and clergy, the task force asks that the church "respect the bound conscience" of those who disagree.

If the recommendations are adopted, they allow a degree of local control, said Bishop Allan Bjornberg, leader of the denomination's Denver-based Rocky Mountain Synod. The synod encompasses 120 congregations with about 85,000 members across Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

"We have liberals and conservatives and a great middle ground. I think the great middle has become very comfortable with gay and lesbian people in their congregations," Bjornberg said. "I don't know how comfortable the middle is with rostering gay and lesbian people in committed same-sex relationships as their pastors. But I know the great middle is exhausted by the conversation."

The task force also released a proposed social statement on human sexuality that recognizes marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but also acknowledges the complexity of human sexuality and the reality of same-sex unions.

A group called the Lutheran Coalition for Reform released a statement saying it will work to defeat the task force proposals because they "seek to change Christian teaching on homosexuality."

The group, known as Lutheran CORE, said the task-force recommendations run contrary to the views of what they believe is a significant majority of the denomination.

"When any church finds itself accommodating its teachings to the ways of the culture, that church is in trouble," said the Rev. Erma Wolf of Brandon, S.D., vice chair of Lutheran CORE.

"No church has the authority to overturn the word of God."

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