Calling for unity, delays, study and retaining current policies, synod assemblies meeting in June debated human sexuality issues that will come before the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. The 2001 assembly established the Studies on Sexuality Task Force and charged it with developing recommendations for ELCA policy on the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships and the blessings of same-sex unions.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania and Upper Susquehanna synods asked the ELCA to delay a vote on the issues until the denomination adopts a social statement on human sexuality, scheduled for consideration in 2007. But the North Carolina Synod wants the 2005 assembly to complete the four-year study process and vote on recommendations so the ELCA can "devote its attention to the abundant opportunities for ministry."
The Alaska Synod asked for an alternative to the 2005 vote on clergy in same-gender relationships. Its resolution says the issues are best resolved by the "synod and the congregation where such calls or blessings would actually take place." Believing that "local ownership requires clear synodical and congregational processes that act on behalf of the ELCA and local congregations ...," the synod directed its council to "appoint a task force to prepare written guidelines for working with candidates for called ministry; and that those guidelines address candidates or clergy in same-gender relationships." The synod asked the ELCA Church Council to substitute the 2005 vote with a motion consistent with principles contained in its resolution.
Some assemblies, including Virginia, Oregon and La Crosse Area, delayed taking definitive positions on the issues but urged individuals and congregations to study the ELCA's resources and provide feedback to the sexuality task force.
In its call for study, Northern Illinois declared that the "unity we share at the font and around the table cannot be broken by our differing perspectives on human sexuality. ... We are committed to bearing witness to the world that when deep disagreements arise among us, we will work toward alternatives ...."
Concerning disagreement, the New England Synod postponed until its 2005 assembly a resolution asking the ELCA to make provisions "to facilitate the departures" of individuals or congregations that leave the ELCA over these issues in a way that doesn't add to the "pain already present in making such a difficult decision."
Some synods, such as Southwestern Minnesota, passed resolutions that called for no changes in current ELCA policy. In a "marriage and family" resolution, the Montana Synod affirmed the Conference of Bishops' October 1993 statement, which opposed blessing ceremonies, and the ministry standards of Vision and Expectations, which says homosexual ministers are to "abstain from homosexual sexual relationships." This resolution was defeated by the La Crosse Area Synod. Upper Susquehanna and Western North Dakota referred similar resolutions to their councils. The latter synod also referred a resolution on upholding Vision and Expectations to its council.
Northeastern Iowa affirmed the ELCA study, but it also commended to the task force five amended paragraphs from "A Pastoral Statement of Conviction and Concern," which was presented at an American Lutheran Publicity Bureau conference in October 2002 (January 2003, page 58). The statement says, in part, that any change in the church's doctrine of marriage would be a "grave error." Strategies to change present policy, such as permitting synods to set their own standards or a nongeographic synod, "would destroy the unity of the ELCA and of its ordained ministry."
South Dakota asked the 2005 assembly "to affirm the understanding of homosexuality and homosexual behavior as articulated by the former American Lutheran Church ... and adopt no changes" to ELCA policies.
The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod rejected resolutions that condemned blessings and ordination for people in same-sex relationships and another on "acceptable sexual relationships." Voting members expressed concern that such votes would undermine churchwide discussions.
The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin defeated a resolution asking congregations to "honor and uphold biblical teaching about sexual life and its vision for marriage" and that "any proposed change in standards and definitions for sexual life or marriage which contradicts this biblical teaching be rejected." Those opposed to the resolution called for study of the task force's resources.
Sexuality and governance
Central/Southern Illinois resolved that churchwide voting members and alternates study the task force's materials prior to the 2005 assembly. Southwestern Washington opposed asking prospective churchwide voting members to disclose their views on controversial issues such as homosexuality.
Oregon asked that cluster listening posts be used during the 2005 assembly for "intentional deliberation."
South Dakota requested that any decisions the 2005 assembly makes regading sexuality be ratified by a majority of ELCA congregations, a resolution defeated by North Carolina. congregations, a resolution defeated by North Carolina. The latter synod also opposed requiring a two-thirds vote by the Churchwide Assembly for adoption of changes relating to these issues, a resolution that was passed by Central/Southern Illinois. Upper Susquehanna approved calling for a two-thirds vote from both the Churchwide Assembly and Church Council.
In other issues related to sexuality, the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast and Southeastern synods affirmed the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Southwestern Washington tabled a similar resolution, saying it would short-circuit the ELCA study. North Carolina opposed supporting bills before legislators that would amend the state's constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.
That synod also directed its council to request the Church Council to provide "guidance, materials and support for local parishes that want to offer a Christian ministry" for people who want to "exit same-sex lifestyles."
Financial matters also garnered debate at assemblies, as synods looked at declining budgets and ministry.
Greater Milwaukee, which leads the 65 synods in the percentage of funds provided for churchwide ministries at 61 percent, increased that number to 62 percent. It stated: "Living in a nation of abundance, we recognize the necessity of continually confronting the illusion of scarcity by modeling generosity and grace ...."
Virginia debated at length how to resolve its $173,000 budget shortfall. Voting members decided to take a leading role in urging congregations to increase giving. If the shortfall isn't made up, the council decided to furlough the bishop and his staff for a month at the end of 2004. The synod will continue to give 50 percent of its income to ELCA mission support.
Looking to save money, the Southwestern Washington Synod considered — but defeated — a resolution on discussing a merger with the Northwest Washington Synod.
Recognizing that we are all "blessed to be a blessing," the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod urged its congregations to make stewardship a high priority.
Other issues debated include:
Central/Southern Illinois, West Virginia-Western Maryland and Southeastern Iowa asked that ending world hunger be a "core conviction" of congregation, synod and churchwide ministries. The resolution calls for feeding the hungry locally and promoting economic development, advocating for laws and policies to end hunger, contributing to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and making hunger part of the ELCA strategic planning process.
Southwestern Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Lower Susquehanna, Southwestern Washington and Delaware-Maryland all urged members to increase their commitment to the hunger appeal.
Governance and ministry
Southwestern Minnesota and Montana called for the direct election of Church Council members by synods. Montana also supported limiting churchwide officers (presiding bishop, vice president, secretary and treasurer) to no more than two consecutive six-year terms.
Southwestern Minnesota also asked that any amendment to the ELCA constitution concerning ecumenical or ministry standards be ratified by three-fourths of ELCA synods or a majority of ELCA congregations.
Regarding the Texas criminal court decision involving the sexual misconduct of a former ELCA pastor (June, page 48), Delaware-Maryland asked the 2005 assembly to uphold Vision and Expectations as the "enforceable and enforced policy concerning the doctrinal and behavioral standards of all rostered people," that all ministry candidates be fingerprinted and receive a criminal background check, and that "in every expression of the ELCA a child protection policy be developed ...."
Northern Great Lakes asked the ELCA to authorize licensed lay ministers who serve congregations where a pastor is not under call to "solemnize weddings ... subject to the laws of the state ...." Southwestern Minnesota is seeking an amendment to the ELCA constitution so congregations can train and appoint lay people to preside at communion when an ordained pastor isn't available. And the Nebraska Synod urged mutual recognition and authorization of Lutheran and Presbyterian lay ministers to administer the sacraments in specific congregations.
The New England Synod asked the ELCA to evaluate creating a national pool of pastoral candidates for vacancies in congregations.
Northeastern Iowa asked the 2005 assembly to approve the development of a social statement that addresses the theological, ethical, public and pastoral issues surrounding genetic research and therapy.
South Dakota and Southwestern Minnesota supported the ELCA bylaw that says seminarians may be ordained by a pastor other than a bishop in unusual circumstances. The latter synod also urged adoption of an appropriate amendment to the ELCA constitution and bylaws to allow candidates to freely receive or reject the historic episcopate.
North Carolina asked that its regret and concern over the Episcopal Church's consecration of a noncelibate gay man as bishop be communicated to that denomination. Related to that issue, Southwestern Washington opposed calling for the suspension of Called to Common Mission, the full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church.
The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin urged individuals and congregations to participate in ecumenical cooperation and activities.
Southeastern Iowa urged members to learn about the Israeli-Palestine situation. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod designated an Augusta Victoria Hospital Sunday in November, with an offering to help the Lutheran World Federation hospital cover medical expenses for the poor.
Northwestern Ohio established a fund-raising drive to provide salary assistance for its companion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania-Dodoma Diocese. Its workers are often not paid because of rural poverty.
The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod, urged its members to support those with inadequate health-care.
The Metropolitan Chicago Synod reaffirmed its commitment to work for a just, national health-care system to guarantee access to affordable high-quality health care for the uninsured and underinsured. In doing so, it resolved to strengthen its accountability with Advocate Health Care, an ELCA social ministry organization in the Chicago area.
Greater Milwaukee asked that the ELCA Board of Pensions enter into a churchwide discussion on rising health-care costs and methods of health-care delivery.
Mission and evangelism
To stem the loss of members and congregations, the Southwest California Synod created a specialized mission training program for clergy and called for the establishment of at least one English-language, multiethnic church start for every ethnic-specific ministry begun in the synod. Southwestern Washington challenged congregations and individuals to become mission partners to financially support starting churches, renew existing ones and provide mortgage relief for missions. The synod also is seeking a study of the biblical approach to starting missions, with a 2007 assembly vote on a methodology that reflects the challenges of today's mission field.
North Carolina asked the 2005 assembly to postpone consideration of resources proposed by the Renewing Worship Task Force until 2007 or later. It cited, in part, the lack of review and field-testing that "may lead to reluctance to accept the new resources." Delaware-Maryland wants a theological review of the proposals and hymns, with an emphasis on the Trinitarian language, before recommendations go before the 2005 assembly.
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