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Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)

Overview of the church's conflicts
about gay/lesbian/bisexual issues

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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:

bullet 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.

bullet 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."

bullet By the mid 1970s, both the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association dropped homosexuality from their manuals describing mental illnesses.

bullet 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.
bullet 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:
bullet Be welcomed as members.
bullet Be eligible for to be considered for ordination, whether they are celibate or in a loving, committed relationship.
bullet Be permitted to request a union ceremony to recognize their loving, committed relationships.
After Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, a fourth conflict arose -- whether same-sex couples should:
bullet Be able to be married in those states that permit same-sex marriage.

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 members define truth:

bullet Their more traditional-minded members tend to give greater weight to:
bullet Their interpretation of Biblical passages related to same-sex behavior, (sometimes called the "clobber" passages), which tend to condemn all same-sex behavior irrespective of the nature of the relationship, and
bullet The denomination's historical anti-GLBT teachings.

bullet They generally define homosexuality and bisexuality in terms of behavior -- what people do.
bullet Of the six belief systems about homosexuality, they tend to take one of the more conservative approaches.

bullet Their more progressive members tend to give greater weight to:
bullet Their interpretations of the same passages, which tend to condemn anal rape, gay ritual sex in Pagan temples, child molestation, and heterosexuals engaging in same-sex orgies,
bullet Their personal experience befriending gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and
bullet The findings of human sexuality researchers.

bullet They tend to define sexual orientations in terms of feelings of attraction -- what people are.
bullet Of the six belief systems about homosexuality, they tend to take one of the more progressive approaches.

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:

bullet Urban and rural dwellers,
bullet Residents of northeastern and western states vs. southern and midwest,
bullet Youth and young adults vs. the elderly, and
bullet Women vs. men.

with the former tending to be more progressive and the latter more traditional.

Change within the ELCA over 35 years:

bullet 1974 to 1999:
bullet 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 relationships.
bullet Their 1993 Assembly promoted equal rights for gays and lesbians except in the church where the above restrictions remained in force.
bullet Their 1999 Assembly formally banned gay and lesbian clergy.
bullet 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.
bullet 2000 to 2002:
bullet The St. Paul Area Synod placed St. Paul-Reformation Church under "public censure and admonition for willfully violating the ELCA Constitution." They had ordained Anita Hill, a lesbian.
bullet 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 sexuality.
bullet 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.
bullet Some church study materials on human sexuality were distributed in 2002.

bullet 2003 & 2004:
bullet 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.
bullet In 2004, Jay Weisner became the third openly gay ordained pastor in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
bullet At the Churchwide Assembly of 2005-AUG:
bullet 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.
bullet The Assembly accepted their first recommendation: to work for church unity in spite of internal conflicts over sexual orientation.
bullet They accepted the second recommendations, which in essence held to the status quo on recognizing union ceremonies -- not approved; discouraged but not totally banned.
bullet 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.
bullet Churchwide Assembly of 2007
bullet being written

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 Home page > Christianity > Mainline Christian conflicts > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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