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Synod councils offer counsel on sexuality issues

At least 50 of the ELCA's 65 synod councils sent a wide range of advice to the ELCA Church Council about what actions to recommend to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly related to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality's recommendations.

The recommendations call for the church to: 1) Remain unified despite disagreements; 2) Respect the 1993 guidance of the Conference of Bishops, which opposed same-sex blessings but allowed congregations to decide how to provide pastoral care; 3) Allow exceptions to the policy that forbids partnered gays and lesbians on ministry rosters.

Change

Nine synod councils (Southwest California, Southeastern Pennsyl-vania, Northwestern Minnesota, New England, Greater Milwaukee, South-Central of Wisconsin, Minneapolis Area, St. Paul Area and North/West Lower Michigan) affirmed all three task force recommendations.

Four synods (Northwest Washington, Alaska, Metropolitan Chicago and Metropolitan New York) didn't affirm the recommendations, favoring either no policy barriers or simply more openness to ministers in same-sex relationships.

Three synod councils were conditionally affirming of the recommendations. For example, the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin council emphasized the need for consultation between bishops in implementing an exceptions process for those in committed same-sex relationships to serve as ELCA ministers.

The Minneapolis Area Synod council asked the Church Council to clarify or resolve how to implement exceptions to ELCA standards, which require gay and lesbian ministers to refrain from same-sex sexual activity. And the Central/Southern Illinois Synod council asked for alternate wording of the recommendations, with most favoring either exceptions or refraining from discipline as a pastoral response.

Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana and New Jersey synod councils asked the ELCA to refrain from disciplining congregations that approve partnered gay or lesbian ministers as a pastoral response.


No change

Fourteen synod councils specifically recommended no change in current ELCA policy, including Nebraska, Northern Great Lakes, South Dakota, Upper Susquehanna, Northwestern Ohio, Allegheny and Southern Ohio.

Synods that specifically asked for recommendation three to be replaced by Dissenting Position No. 1, which defines homosexuality as "brokenness," were: Northwest of Wisconsin, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Southwestern Minnesota and West Virginia-Western Maryland.

The Northeastern Iowa Synod council said any exceptions allowing a rostered person to live in a committed homosexual relationship would "distort the biblical record." And the Northeastern Iowa and Southwestern Pennsylvania synod councils said such changes would negatively affect ELCA unity and ecclesiology.

The Western North Dakota Synod council rejected the idea that the church could refrain from disciplining some partnered gay and lesbian candidates for ELCA ministry.

To devote attention and energy "to the greater mission of the church," the South Dakota Synod council asked for an end to broad discussion of sexuality.

The Western Iowa Synod affirmed the advice of the ELCA Conference of Bishops (i.e., the contents of task force recommendation two).

The Northeastern Minnesota Synod council said it appreciated "the intent" of recommendation three, which suggests exceptions to church policy for gay and lesbian ministers but said it would "create more difficulty than it solves."

Synod councils that found difficulties with the way recommendation three was written or could be administered included Eastern North Dakota and Delaware-Maryland.

The Northern Illinois Synod affirmed recommendations one and two but asked the Church Council not to affirm or send recommendation three "in its present form."


Voting and other requests

The Lower Susquehanna Synod council favored delaying consideration of the recommendations until a social statement on human sexuality is produced. But the Northwest Washington Synod council opposed any delay in voting.

The Western North Dakota, Southwestern Minnesota and Northwestern Ohio synod councils asked for a two-thirds vote for any proposals related to sexuality. The Southeastern Iowa Synod asked for a simple majority vote.

The Northeastern Ohio Synod council said most members weren't in favor of change but asked for the Churchwide Assembly to vote on the third recommendation.

The North Carolina and Nebraska synod councils asked the ELCA to address issues related to the authority of Scripture and how Lutherans understand and interpret Scripture.


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