Overview of the church's conflicts
about gay/lesbian/bisexual issues
History: 1950 to 1974
By way of perspective, individuals; faith groups; mental health associations;
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups; and others in the U.S. have been
wrestling with and debating the nature of homosexual and bisexual orientations for decades:
In 1950, there was a near consensus among most human sexuality
researchers, religious leaders, mental health therapists that a homosexual
orientation and homosexual behavior were symptoms of mental illness and/or
of profound immorality.
In the 1950s, psychologist
Evelyn Hooker had a novel idea: to test the mental health of a random selection of
gay males. She concluded that "homosexuals
were not inherently abnormal and that there was no difference
between homosexual and heterosexual men in terms of pathology."
By the mid 1970s, both the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological
Association dropped homosexuality from their manuals describing mental illnesses.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is believed to
have been the first
large religious faith group in the U.S. to promote full equality for persons of all sexual
orientations. They created an Office on Gay
Affairs within the UUA's headquarters in 1973.
In 1977, the United Church
of Christ ordained Anne Holmes, the first openly lesbian minister of
a Christian denomination. Of course, she was preceded and followed by thousands of other gay
and lesbian clergy who quietly and fearfully remained in the "closet."
Religious conflicts over GLBT issues:
Following the statements of the two APAs, internal battles began within the more liberal
Protestant Christian churches over
whether sexually active gays and lesbians should:
Be welcomed as members.
Be eligible for to be considered for ordination, whether they are
celibate or in a loving, committed relationship.
Be permitted to request a union ceremony to recognize their loving,
After Massachusetts legalized
same-sex marriage, a fourth conflict arose --
whether same-sex couples should:
Current status of the GLBT issue within Christianity:
Very progressive Christian denominations, like the United Church of
Christ in the U.S. and the United Church of Canada in Canada, have relatively little discussion
about equal rights for gays and lesbians, of the
blessing or marriage of same-sex couples, or of the ordination of candidates
for the ministry who are in loving, committed same-sex relationships. These
matters have largely been settled in favor of equality for all.
Fundamentalist and other evangelical denominations also rarely
discuss their policies on the treatment of their gay, lesbian and bisexual
members, because the topics have yet to be actively engaged.
Mainline/progressive denominations, like the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) are now actively debating the topics, pitting the
denomination's progressives and traditionalists against each other in an effort to reach a consensus.
Down through the centuries, these denominations survived the debate over human
slavery, women's suffrage, the use of contraceptives, access to abortion, the ordination of women as clergy and sometimes their consecration as bishops.
All put massive strains on the denominations until they were settled --
eventually in the direction of human freedom, equality, and choice. However, the
debate over equal rights for LGBT persons has caused a
schism in the Episcopal Church, USA, and threatens to cause schisms in
other mainline/progressive denominations.
Root cause of the conflict:
The foundational cause of the problem is related to the way in which church
Their more traditional-minded members tend to give greater weight to:
The two groups reach opposite conclusions about the cause,
morality, naturalness, possibility of change, and acceptability of homosexual and bisexual orientations and behaviors.
Since they rarely talk about the reasons why they hold different opinions,
debate is rarely helpful and dialogue is almost unknown.
Most denominations have experienced splits between:
Urban and rural dwellers,
Residents of northeastern and western states vs. southern and midwest,
Youth and young adults vs. the elderly, and
Women vs. men.
with the former tending to be more progressive and the latter more
Their 1991 Churchwide Assembly affirmed "gay and lesbian people,
as individuals created by God" to paricipate fully in congregational
activity. However, the church refused to ordain sexually active gays or
lesbians, and to conduct union ceremonies to recognize their
Their 1993 Assembly promoted equal rights for gays and lesbians
except in the church where the above restrictions remained in force.
Their 1999 Assembly formally banned gay and lesbian clergy.
They formally rejected the provision of a ritual to recognize
same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active gay or lesbian
candidates for the ministry.
The St. Paul Area Synod placed St. Paul-Reformation Church under "public censure and
for willfully violating the ELCA Constitution." They had ordained Anita
Hill, a lesbian.
The 2001 Assembly authorized a church-wide study of the biblical,
theological, scientific and practical aspects of homosexuality. They
also authorized the preparation of a social statement on human
The ELCA Division for Outreach acknowledged a
formal relationship with Lutherans Concerned / North America -- a
pro-equality LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) group that was
founded in 1974.
Some church study materials on human sexuality were distributed in
The 2003 Assembly discussed when they would vote on the ordination
of sexually active gay and lesbian candidates, and whether to hold union
ceremonies for same-sex couples. In spite of efforts to delay the
decisions until as late as 2011, the assembly agreed to vote at the next
Assembly in 2005.
In 2004, Jay Weisner became the third openly gay ordained pastor in
the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
The "Task Force for the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality." had been commissioned in
2001 to write a report on human sexuality. They published their
recommendations in early 2005.
The Assembly accepted their first recommendation: to work for church
unity in spite of internal conflicts over sexual orientation.
They accepted the second recommendations, which in essence held to
the status quo on recognizing union ceremonies -- not approved;
discouraged but not totally banned.
They rejected the third recommendation: to allow some gay and
lesbian candidates involved in loving, committed relationships to be
ordained. The vote was 490 in favor to 503 against. If a mere
seven of the almost 1,000 voting representatives had change from
opposition to support, the majority would have approved the memorial and
given the progressive wing a major moral victory. However the
recommendation would have required a 2/3rds majority to pass.