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Religious Tolerance logo

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Events from 2003 & 2004

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2003-JAN-15: Censure lifted in St. Paul:

Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul Area Synod lifted the sanctions that prevented members of St. Paul-Reformation from serving in any Synod office. However, the congregation itself is still censured. He commented that the violation of the ELCA constitution by the congregation:

"... may, in the long run, be contributing to the life of the church in ways more constructive than destructive. We may be better served by adopting the wisdom of Gamaliel (Acts 5), trusting in God's spirit and time, rather than being preoccupied with our own judgments."

2003-AUG-15: Churchwide Assembly begins:

The ELCA's held its biennial Churchwide Assembly. The theme was: "Making Christ Known: For the Healing of the World."

Further delay discussed and rejected:

The delegates discussed a "time line" regarding two future decisions:

bulletWhether to ordain gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships, and
bulletWhether to create a church ritual to bless the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples.

The ELCA Division for Ministry and the Division for Church in Society prepared a time line to conduct a joint denomination-wide study of these two issues. This line was intended to lead to a vote by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.

The ELCA Central-Southern Illinois Synod submitted a memorial (resolution) to retain this time line. Six other other synods initiated memorials to delay these decisions:
bulletThe Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod said the decisions should be made at the 2007 Assembly when a social statement on sexuality is presented.
bulletThe Allegheny Synod wanted these decisions to be delayed until after action is taken on the 2007 social statement.
bulletThe Lower Susquehanna, Nebraska and Northwestern Pennsylvania Synods said a social statement on human sexuality should be adopted first.
bulletThe West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod said policy decisions should be delayed by two churchwide assemblies after the sexuality study is approved. i.e. in 2011. 1

The desire to put off any decision making as long as possible might have been motivated by the intense division and talk of schism that was then observed within the Episcopal Church, USA. Earlier in the month, that denomination ratified the election of their first openly gay bishop, and accepted that same-sex relationship blessings are "an acceptable practice."

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The memorials committee recommended that the 2003 Churchwide Assembly commend the current ELCA Studies on Sexuality and "decline to alter the time line."

The Rev. Carol S. Hendrix, bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, Harrisburg, PA favored a delay in the time line, and offered an amendment. He said that it was not designed to rescind the actions of the 2001 assembly, "but to allow the social statement on human sexuality to inform" the church in its two decisions.

June C. Ericcson, a voting member from Metropolitan Washington, DC, Synod, said that a delay in the time line "would be a serious breach of trust and a betrayal of the promises we have made." The memorials committee's recommendation was accepted by a vote of 687 to 278; the time line remained unchanged. 2

Other assembly topics:

The study of homosexuality has made some progress. Study materials were distributed in 2002. They were based on "A Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions," which had been approved by the ELCA Church Council in 1996. The second guide "Journey Together Faithfully Part II" was then being printed and was scheduled to be distributed to church leaders in 2003-SEP.  Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director of the sexuality studies, said:

"A background paper on biblical interpretations will accompany the study document and has been written by two of our finest Bible professors, who despite their different views on the subject, have set an example of working together to provide a helpful, in-depth discussion of how different interpreters have been working on the relevant text."

Two memorials were proposed:
bulletThe Northeastern Ohio Synod and Metropolitan New York Synod and the 2001 Churchwide Assembly requested that the creation of a commission for sexual minorities be considered.
bulletThe Oregon Synod asked that a commission for children and families be considered.

Both memorials were rejected by the delegates.

2004 events:

2004-JUL-25: Ordination of openly gay pastor in Twin Cities: Bethany Lutheran Church in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area ordained Jay Weisner. He is the third openly gay pastor in the Twin City area. Afterwards "...the audience ripped into an unbridled display of clamorous applause, joyous hollering, foot-stomping and fist-pumping."

Some reactions:

bulletDora Lofstrom, a church member of 20 years standing,  said: "I kind of feel like we're paving the way for the Lutheran Church. I think the tide is with us. I think little by little the church will come."
bulletRev. Roy Harrisville III, executive director of Solid Rock Lutherans, an ELCA conservative reform group, was not pleased with the ordination. He said: "To ordain an active homosexual man is to reject the foundations of scripture and the Lutheran confessions."
bulletRetired Luther Seminary Prof. Loren Halvorson said the ordination shows that the ELCA is becoming more accepting of gays and lesbians. He said: "I believe we've already reached a critical-mass point."

Since the ELCA does not allow the ordination of gays or lesbians unless they commit to celibacy, Bishop Craig Johnson of the ELCA Minneapolis Synod did not attend the ceremony. He can impose sanctions against the congregation, ranging from a reprimand to severing the congregation from the denomination, and firing the pastor. 3

References used:

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

  1. "Committee Recommends ELCA Assembly Discuss Eight Topics," ELCA News Service, 2003-AUG-5, at:  http://www.elca.org/
  2. "ELCA Assembly Declines to Alter Studies on Sexuality Time Line," ELCA News Service, 2003-AUG-16, at: http://www.elca.org/
  3. "Openly gay Lutheran pastor ordained," Associated Press, 2004-JUL-26, at: http://www.duluthsuperior.com/

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Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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