Saturday, February 21, 2009

Duluth News Tribune: Out of no consensus, a compromise on gay clergy

Candace Renalls of the Duluth News Tribune offers a local angle based on the AP report:

Out of no consensus, a compromise on gay clergy
Call it a compromise.

Call it a compromise.

The largest Lutheran denomination in the country may leave it to individual congregations to decide whether to employ clergy who are gays or lesbians in committed relationships.

Currently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has gay and lesbian clergy who are celibate. A recommendation announced Thursday by an ELCA task force would open the door for congregations to employ gay and lesbian clergy who are in relationships.

“It is a step in the right direction,” the Rev. David Carlson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth said of the policy change. “Because there is a lack of consensus in ELCA, it may not be possible to have a blanket [policy] for every church.”

The policy was recommended Thursday in a long-awaited report on ministry standards. But before overhauling the church’s gay clergy policy, aspects still need clarifying, the panel said.

The report, issued at the same time as a broader church social statement on human sexuality, seeks balance on the gay-clergy issue that has divided some in the church. Action on both reports is expected at the ELCA’s national assembly — representing its 4.7 million members — to be held in Minneapolis in August.

The clergy recommendation is a compromise to avoid the kind of infighting that has threatened to tear other churches apart.

Because people interpret the Bible in different ways, some believe homosexuality is a sin while others don’t. And changing minds is unlikely.

“People on either end would hope for a firm recommendation,” said the Rev. David Mesner, lead pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Duluth. “In fact, the [recommendation] acknowledges no consensus exists and will not exist. So it outlines a process for the conversation to continue.”

While some churches have made welcoming statements for gays and lesbians, Gloria Dei is the only Reconciling in Christ congregation in the ELCA’s Northeastern Minnesota synod. As such, the congregation welcomes and affirms gays and lesbians.

“In a way, it’s not the solution we may want to see,” Carlson said. “Our church and many churches in ELCA would like to see one standard for every congregation.”

Bishop Thomas Aiken of the Northeastern Minnesota ELCA Synod said he is glad the church tackled the issue rather than avoiding it.

“This has been a long process started a long time ago,” he said. “For years, I have heard moral deliberations about the placement of gay persons in roster positions. There’s been a lot of good and sometimes difficult discussions that have at times been heated. We’ve been able to accept the fact that we’ve had differences.”

At first blush, Sue Anderson, a member of Gloria Dei, was pleased by the announcement.

“Congregations within the Lutheran Church are always the entity that calls its pastor,” said Anderson, who is lesbian. “So by saying this would rest with individual congregations is very Lutheran.”

But on closer reading, she noticed the decision wouldn’t rest entirely on the congregation. The bishop, regional synod and candidacy committees must approve the congregation’s choice.

“So if you have a bishop that’s supportive, you’re OK,” she said. “But if the bishop is not supportive, you probably won’t be able to call a gay or lesbian clergy. So the decision doesn’t just rest with the congregation and that’s a problem. It’s bad policy to proceed in this way.”

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