Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Events in 2005 and 2006, including
the Churchwide Assembly of 2005
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.
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
"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
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:
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
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
"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
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:
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
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
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:
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
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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Reconciling Methodists pray for Lutheran Assembly," RMN FlashNet,
Reconciling Ministries Network, 2005-AUG-05.
"Recommendations: ELCA Studies on Sexuality,"
http://wwwtest.elca.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
Phil Soucy, "News from the ELCA 2005 Churchwide Assembly," Lutherans
Concerned/NA, 2005-AUG-8-14, at:
Rachel Zoll, "Lutherans Uphold Restrictions on Gay Clergy at National
Conference," Associated Press, 2005-AUG-13, at:
"A brief summary of actions: Ninth Churchwide Assembly," 2005-AUG, at:
http://archive.elca.org/ This is a PDF file.
Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson