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Religious Tolerance logo

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Events from the year 2000 to 2002

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2001-JUN-12: Two churches blacklisted:

Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the St. Paul Area Synod placed St. Paul-Reformation Church and the Hosanna! Lutheran Church under "public censure and admonition for willfully violating the ELCA Constitution."

Both congregations had called and installed pastors who were not on the ELCA roster. Hosanna! had apparently called three presumably heterosexual members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry. St. Paul-Reformation called Anita Hill, a lesbian. She had been serving in a lay capacity since 1983, and as an un-ordained pastoral minister since 1994. The congregation had repeatedly attempted to have the ELCA approve her ordination, without success. The congregation finally called and ordained her in violation of the ELCA governing documents. 1,2

Bishop Hanson said that he was looking for a response that would be faithful to the traditional interpretation of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the church's governing documents, "while also recognizing the need for creative ministry ... in our growing and increasingly diverse metropolitan community. It distresses me that the congregation's actions threaten the ELCA's unity and sense of common mission."  The censure took effect 2001-SEP-1. At that time, both congregations' voice within the ELCA was silenced. No member of the congregation was permitted to serve on the synod council, as a conference officer, or on any leadership team, board, committee, or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod.

2001-AUG: Churchwide Assembly:

Four year study approved:

The ELCA held its week-long Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis, starting on AUG-8.

The St. Paul, MN, and Chicago, IL, synods proposed memorials (synod resolutions) which would have terminated the ban on the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. A memorial by the Washington DC synod would have created "a rite of blessing for same-gender committed relationships of lifelong fidelity," which would not be defined as a marriage. Neither memorial passed. There was a sense within the Assembly that there is a serious division within the denomination between traditionalists and progressives over sexual orientation.

On AUG-13, they decided instead to start their first official, church-wide study of homosexuality, to be based on biblical, theological, scientific and practical considerations. The group was asked to issue an interim report in 2003 and a final report in early 2005 so that the Assembly of that year might decide whether to institute changes.

"In approving the study, the 1,040 voting delegates, joined by 1,500 other Lutheran observers, added a call for advocates to 'respect charitably one another' during the four-year process.' "

The Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, director of the church's Division for Ministry said:

"This is a good, clear request from the church for some in-depth study of what we believe about homosexuality and how the belief is formed."

The vote for the study passed overwhelmingly 899 to 115. 3

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Assembly protests:

During the debate and vote, two gay-positive groups (Soulforce and Lutherans for Full Participation) protested by standing silently. Later, 50 demonstrators from the two groups were arrested for blocking the walkway outside the convention center.  Soulforce founder Mel White accused the ELCA of perpetuating "spiritual violence." He said:

"They could have been prophets, they could have led the way...Studies kill us. They just passed four years of study, which is four years of suffering and death." 4

Other assembly events:

Theologians remain divided over the homosexual issue. The Rev. Ronald Rude of Denver, CO asked "does the Gospel override the Bible." He said that when the church reached decisions over human slavery, the status of women in the church, and divorce, that various Bible passages were indeed overridden. Referring to a homosexual couple who had asked that she provide a church blessing ritual for their union, the Rev. Kim Lengert of Reading, PA said: "We are about to deny the crumbs from the table. We have a part of our congregations that is starving spiritually." 5

The Assembly elected Bishop Mark Hanson of St. Paul, MN as its next leader. That synod is a leader within the denomination in promoting equal rights for gays and lesbians. Hanson said: "We have got to find a way to live together at a time when we do not agree on this issue." 4

The Assembly also commissioned a social statement on human sexuality to be presented to the 2007 Churchwide Assembly.

2002 events:

bullet2002-APR: Congregation blacklist: The Saint Paul Area Synod Assembly passed a resolution requesting that the bishop-elect lift the censure imposed on St. Paul- Reformation Lutheran Church.
bullet2002-OCT: Outreach reaches out: The ELCA Division for Outreach acknowledged a  formal relationship with Lutherans Concerned / North America -- a pro-equality LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) group.
bullet2002-DEC: Movie completed about Anita Hill: According to the Aquaries Media Corporation website, "THISobedience" is a video of:

"... the emotional journey through one of the most contentious justice issues of our time. In an act of 'ecclesiastical disobedience,' a Lutheran congregation in Minnesota ordains the Rev. Anita C. Hill, a lesbian pastor in a committed relationship, who refuses the requirement of celibacy for gay clergy.  Over the following months Hill and her congregation find themselves at the center of the public debate over homosexuality and the church.  As the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) prepares for a decision, hopes and dreams hang in the balance." 6

The movie won the audience award for best documentary at the 2003 Central Standard Film Festival.

References used:

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

  1. "ELCA Congregation Disciplined for Commissioning Members," ELCA News Service, 2001-JUN-14, at: http://www.wfn.org/
  2. "ELCA Synod to Censure Congregation in Saint Paul, Minnesota,"
  3. Larry Witham, "Lutheran group to study gay rights for clergy, unions," Washington Times, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/
  4. Kevin Eckstrom, "Lutherans retain ban on gay clergy, ask for more study," Religious News Service, 2001-AUG-14.
  5. R.N. Ostling, "Lutherans to Study Homosexuality," Associated Press, 2001-AUG-13, at: http://speakout.com/
  6. Aquaries Media Corporation has produced a film "THISobedience...the story of a woman, a congregation and an issue that has divided the nation." The film covers the events surrounding Anita Hill and her congregation's decision to commit ecclesiastical disobedience by ordaining her. See: http://www.thisobedience.com/

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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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