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Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Events in 2005 and 2006, including
the Churchwide Assembly of 2005

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2005-AUG-8: ELCA Churchwide Assembly:

The denomination started its week-long biennial assembly in Orlando, FL. The theme was: "Marked With the Cross of Christ Forever." They debated motions on the blessing of same-sex unions, and the ordination of qualified individuals who are in loving committed same-sex relationships as rostered leaders.

Goodsoil, a group of five Lutheran gay-positive organizations (LLGM, ECP, LC/NA, Wingspan, and the Lutheran Network for an Inclusive Vision) along with Soulforce, sponsored a festival worship service on Thursday, 2005-AUG-11 in Orlando.

"The service is designed to offer a place of hope, to speak a word of justice and to celebrate the gifts that God has already bestowed upon GLBTQA individuals within the church."

GLBTQA refers to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied persons.

"Celebrate the Promise, Pour Out the Spirit" featured a renewal of sacred vows: baptismal vows, ordination vows, and the vows of covenanted relationships, including marriage. Saint Paul Reformation Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, MN and other communities throughout the United States conducted the same order of worship so that those who are not able to attend the Assembly will be able to be in solidarity and worship, sing, and pray on the same evening the festival worship service is taking place in Orlando alongside the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. 1

Taskforce: Studies on Sexuality:

The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly had created a committee led by James M. Childs called the "Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality." The task force completed their study in 2005-JAN by issuing a report and preparing three recommendations for consideration by the Assembly. 2

Like the Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans and other mainline denominations, the ELCA is deeply divided into traditional and conservative wings. This is perhaps most visible on matters relating to human sexuality. The report recognizes that there are two main belief systems about homosexuality. They are:

bullet Traditional: Homosexuality is seen as sin and brokenness. It is always considered a sin wherever it is mentioned in the Bible. Same-sex behavior is viewed as contrary "both to the scriptural witness and to God's creative design," regardless of the nature of the relationship.
bullet Progressive: Homosexuality is a condition, not a choice. Same-sex couples do form loving, committed, long-term relationships. The biblical passages concerning same-sex behavior no not address same-sex couples in committed relationships. "...all language excluding gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships is unjust and should be removed."

The task force's work had lasted almost four years. Some have expressed concern that the committee was so concerned about maintaining unity that they did not arrive at any solid conclusions on sexuality.

On AUG-11, time was set aside so that the voting members could share their beliefs with the Assembly for up to two minutes each. According to Lutherans Concerned/North America, a pro-equality group:

"Those not in favor of GLBT issues reminded the Assembly repeatedly, to the point of it being scripted rote, that GLBT people were self-indulgent, sinners (markedly above that of other sinners) and curable. This despite a Bishop reminding those flinging verses that the Bible thought it was perfectly fine to have concubines and multiple wives at the same time."

Much was made of ecumenical relations with South America and Africa and the damage that would occur in relations with those very conservative areas if positive votes were had here on the subjects of interest to GLBT people. The same Bishop observed that his sister synod thought that polygamy was just fine, part of their cultural heritage presumably.

"Reparative therapy was mentioned in glowing terms several times, and credited with extraordinarily high success rates, supported by the usual no-credible-scientific-source. The ordination of women was brought up, and an attempt made several times to say that what differentiated women's ordination from these issues was that a biblical case had been stated in the women's case."

"From those in favor of GLBT issues was heard a series of stories of pain, discrimination, and disillusionment, as well as stories of triumph, persistent faith, and lives reclaimed through their Lutheran faith and the message of Christ. The frustration of the Church's half a welcome mat was heard over and over. A man of Chinese descent told of not being able to marry his wife-to-be in a Lutheran church in the mid-20th Century because she was white and 'that was not according to God's plan for the races'.

A pastor chose this discussion as the appropriate time to 'come out' having already told his bishop and congregation council. A mother spoke with pride of her daughter: a missionary, pastor, and a lesbian in a committed relationship." 3"

Voting on the Task Force's recommendations:

The task force's three resolutions were considered by the Churchwide Assembly, starting on AUG-11:

bullet Resolution 1 on church unity: The 1,018 delegates voted overwhelmingly (851 to 127) in favor of maintaining unity within the denomination in spite of a lack of consensus over matters relating to human sexuality. The resolution urged the church to: "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements, recognizing the God-given mission and communion we share as members of the body of Christ." There were no amendments or substitutions.
bullet Resolution 2 on blessing same-sex relationships: This contained two resolutions:
bullet that the church "....continue to respect the guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops." The bishops had determined at the time that there was no biblical basis to create a ritual for the blessing of a same-sex relationship.
bullet "That this church welcome gay and lesbian persons into its life....and trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to same-sex couples."

There were many amendments made. All were rejected except for Amendment Motion 2B by Carol Hendrix, Lower Susquehanna Synod, to insert "all to whom they minister" in place of to "same-sex couples." The amendment narrowly passed 491 to 484.

Lutherans Concerned commented:

"On Recommendation 2, none of the damaging amendments put forward by others had any success. That means that there still is no ban to the blessing of same gender committed relationships. Though we would and do want there to be a positive affirmation of blessing for same-gender committed relationships, the refusal to adopt negative positions on this is significant."

The resolution passed by a vote of 670 to 323.

Caught between the rules of the church and their interpretation of the Gospel, many ELCA ministers will probably continue to bless same-sex couples. It is well known that many  ministers have "been presiding at these ceremonies without repercussions for years." 4
bullet Resolution 3 on ordaining same-sex clergy: This would have allowed the ordination of otherwise qualified candidates who are in committed same-sex relationships and who met a list of special circumstances. During the debate, 97 Goodsoil members moved from the Visitors Gallery into the Voting Members' area, ending up in front of the dais. This was intended as a symbolic act. They felt that the Assembly was discussing gays and lesbians as if they were not in the room So they positioned themselves so that they would be visible to all.

A motion was made to allow the Rev. Anita Hill to speak. It was overwhelmingly denied by a vote of 106 to 888.

If she had been allowed to speak, she would have said:

"The people you see before you are baptized people of faith, here to give witness that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families, friends are part of this church and are here to stay. Look into our eyes and faces so we will no longer be merely an 'issue.' We are human beings enfleshed before you, Children of God marked with the cross of Christ together."

"The church has just made expendable the faithful lives and God-given calls of persons in same-gender relationship for the sake of the unity of this church. The ELCA has again sacrificed the calls of its own faithful children for the sake of market share.

It is sad that as this church has been making ecumenical agreements with denominations which take more progressive stands on gay people, such as the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, we cannot extend the same offer of full communion and participation to our own pastors and congregations who take similar stands."

"As you have heard in this assembly hall, we already have gay and lesbian pastors living in covenanted relationship and serving ELCA congregations. These congregations open the doors wide, not only to welcome those who walk in, but also to walk out into the world to preach the good news to those who may believe the church is their enemy."

"The witnesses before you stand in silent vigil -- calm and unafraid. They know that the decision you have made is not about them. It's not really about gay and lesbian people. It's really about you, and about this church. These witnesses are not going away. Their faith is sure. The ultimate outcome is assured. We are already one in Christ. But the our Church is not living faithfully together with us yet. Time is the question. How long must we wait? And at what cost? "

"While the church waits, lives of gay and lesbian people are ruined and faith is destroyed. We are marked with the Christ forever and are called by God and community to serve this church through Word and Sacrament ministry. We are held in the steadfastness of God. Here we will continue to stand, for we also can do no other." 3

Her final sentence paraphrased a famous statement by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521. He said: "Here I stand. I can do no other."

The resolution was rejected by a vote of 490 to 503. It almost achieved a majority vote. A two-thirds majority would have been needed for passage of this resolution because it involves a constitutional change.

The Rev. G. Scott Cady of the New England Synod said:

"We have vacant pulpits and altars in congregations all over this country, We have people crying out for pastoral care. The Holy Spirit has said, 'All right, here they are. Here they are.' Are we going to now say, 'Thanks Holy Spirit, but we prefer something else'."
New Jersey Synod Bishop Roy Riley, president of the ELCA's Council of Bishops, said: "This church is not ready to make major changes in its ordination practices. That was the crux, really." 4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Reconciling Methodists pray for Lutheran Assembly," RMN FlashNet, Reconciling Ministries Network, 2005-AUG-05.
  2. "Recommendations: ELCA Studies on Sexuality," This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  3. Phil Soucy, "News from the ELCA 2005 Churchwide Assembly," Lutherans Concerned/NA, 2005-AUG-8-14, at:
  4. Rachel Zoll, "Lutherans Uphold Restrictions on Gay Clergy at National Conference," Associated Press, 2005-AUG-13, at:
  5. "A brief summary of actions: Ninth Churchwide Assembly," 2005-AUG, at: This is a PDF file.

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Copyright 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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