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Religious Tolerance logo

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Events from 1974 to 1999

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Events within the ELCA:

bullet1974: "Lutherans Concerned" founded: This group was formed to inform ELCA members about sexual orientation and to promote understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians as full members in the ELCA. It urges individual congregations to welcome lesbians and gays as members. Such congregations are called "Reconciled in Christ"
bullet1989: Sex and marriage; ordination of gays & lesbians: The church went on record as stating:

"The Biblical understanding which this church affirms is that the normative settings for sexual intercourse is marriage. ... Practicing homosexuals are excluded from the ordained ministry."

A "practicing" homosexual apparently means a sexually-active gay or lesbian. This policy was challenged by two San Francisco congregations: St. Francis Lutheran Church who had called a gay pastor, and First United Lutheran Church who had called a lesbian couple. In the mid-1990s, these congregations were tried and suspended from membership in the ELCA.

bullet1990: Member punished: Bill Kunish, a Berkeley seminary student urged Lutherans to prayerfully study the homosexual issue on their own. Because of this sermon, his church council suspended his financial support and the Synod Candidacy Committee withdrew their endorsement for his ordination. He was forced to leave the seminary.
bullet1991: Homosexuals affirmed: 1991 biennial Churchwide Assembly moved to "affirm gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God," to participate fully in the life of congregations of the ELCA. However, the church would not bless their committed relationships, nor did it allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained or to remain as clergy.
bullet1993: Civil rights: The ELCA Church Council passed a resolution that: "reaffirmed:

"... that the historical position of the ELCA is ... support for legislation, referendums, and policies to protect the civil rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services and accommodations"

However, this policy was not extended to employment and ordination within the ELCA itself.

bullet1993: Homosexuality and the Bible: A committee of the ELCA prepared a secret draft statement which stated that the Bible did not condemn homosexual relationships. It described both masturbation and homosexuality as a healthy part of human life. Unfortunately, the media obtained a copy before it could be sent to the congregations for study. The ELCA leaders were met with a firestorm of angry members, including several death threats. They received over 21,000 responses; the vast majority of which were negative. The Division of Church and Society appointed a new committee to prepare a new social statement.

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bullet1993: Blessing same-sex relationships: The church's bishops decided that they would not approve of rituals recognizing same-sex unions. Their reason was that such unions are not mentioned in the Bible, and are not part of the church's tradition. They said:

"We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church's ministry." 1

[With great effort, I suppressed the desire to add a criticism of their thought processes.]

bullet1994: Resolution ban: The church decided to avoid acting on any homosexual resolutions until its 1999 assembly. A new statement on human sexuality was issued which recommended few changes from its traditional policies on the topic.
bullet1995: Homosexuals welcomed again: The delegates to the 1995 Churchwide Assembly repeated the welcome-rejection expressed at the 1991 Assembly. They also urged Lutherans to "... practice and teach biblical and confessional guidance for speaking the truth in love."
bullet1996: Rejection of gays and lesbians: In June, the ELCA's Southwestern Texas Synod held an assembly; they defeated a resolution which would have welcomed lesbian and gay Christians into its churches as both members and clergy.
bullet1999-AUG-21: Ban on homosexual clergy: The Churchwide Assembly had never previously voted on the issue of gay clergy. In a vote of 820 to 159, they decided to ban sexually-active gays and lesbians from ordination.

References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Blessing of Homosexual Relationship," ELCA, 1993-OCT-5-8, at: http://www.elca.org/sr/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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