The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Sexuality recommendations top debates at assemblies

Voting members also urge mission, ending hunger, compassion for immigrants and Middle East peace

ELCA pastor JoAnn Fabie (left) and Fran Grugel weave a stole from materials brought by each congregation to the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin assembly.
ELCA pastor JoAnn Fabie (left) and Fran Grugel weave a stole from materials brought by each congregation to the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin assembly.

Of synod assemblies reporting by presstime May 26, most urged the Churchwide Assembly to uphold current policy related to the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships and the blessing of same-sex unions. The Churchwide Assembly meets Aug.8-14 in Orlando, Fla.

Synod assemblies also took actions on such concerns as mission, diversity, immigration and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Allow exceptions?

The Pacifica, New Jersey, Metropolitan New York and Southeastern Pennsylvania synods asked the Churchwide Assembly to pass all three recommendations from the ELCA Church Council related to sexuality. The first two recommendations—a call for unity and an affirmation of the ELCA Conference of Bishops’ 1993 counsel to uphold current ELCA policy but allow congregations to find the best ways to provide pastoral care to gays and lesbians—didn’t spark as much discussion as the third.

The third recommendation proposed an exceptions process whereby some gay and lesbian people in committed same-sex relationships could serve on the ELCA roster.

But the Pacifica Synod asked that the second recommendation be amended to request “respectfully listening” to those asking for a blessing of same-sex unions and for the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality to continue studying historical, political and church-related issues related to marriage and sexuality.

The Southwest California Synod voted 172-104 to support the Church Council’s recommendations. It also reactivated a synod task force for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues, calling for full inclusion and welcome of such pastors and lay people “in all areas of church life, including synod communications, programs and pastoral care.” The resolution called the ELCA’s current policy “an offense to justice inconsistent with the church’s repeated affirmation of its intention to extend welcome to all persons.”

 Synod Bishop George Carlson wore the stole at the assembly's closing worship.
Synod Bishop George Carlson wore the stole at the assembly’s closing worship. The stole was sent to the bishop of the synod’s companion partner—Shiblal Soren, moderator of the Northern Evangelical Church in India.

In a separate resolution, that synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to vote on whether to ordain gay and lesbian people in committed same-sex relationships and whether to bless such relationships. The resolution said failure to do so would “result in the indefinite prolonging of troubled concern among many, lack of clarity to guide local practice, and an inability to bring needed closure to these important issues.”

The Southwestern Texas assembly defeated a resolution to include “A Reconciling in Christ Synod” on the synod’s letterhead, Web site, and in its newsletter and other publications. Reconciling in Christ is a program of Lutherans Concerned/North America that calls on churches to welcome gay and lesbian people into parish life. The synod became a Reconciling in Christ Synod in 2000.

That synod also voted 191-168 to urge the Churchwide Assembly to adopt “ELCA Sexuality Task Force Dissenting Position One,” which recommends no change in current policies related to gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships. Its resolution says there is no basis in Scripture or church tradition for same-sex blessings. Similar resolutions were approved by the South Carolina and Northeastern Ohio assemblies, which also asked for no exceptions to current policies related to gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships.

Likewise, the Florida-Bahamas Synod sought support for recommendations one and two but not three, asking that synod bishops be urged to “enforce the current standards in matters of doctrine and conduct” and to “support a process to ensure consistent and collegial implementation” of current ELCA ministry guidelines, which call on gay and lesbian rostered ministers to refrain from sexual relations.

Rocky Mountain decided that all its assembly votes on sexuality issues would require a two-thirds majority. Subject to that vote, the assembly voiced support for recommendations one and two. But recommendation three failed 249-162, falling 25 votes short of passing.

At the Northeastern Minnesota Synod assembly, voting members backed Church Council recommendations one and two but narrowly defeated (174-175) support for recommendation three. The Arkansas/Oklahoma Synod assembly took a “straw poll” showing support for recommendations one and two but not three.

Saying it didn’t want to limit rights, the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin opposed a move to amend the Wisconsin constitution to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The assembly asked its bishop to communicate its action to the governor and state legislators.

At the Southeastern Minnesota Synod assembly, all resolutions related to human sexuality failed, including one to take a straw poll of voting members’ views.

Ending hunger

The Southwestern Texas, South-eastern Pennsylvania, Northeastern Minnesota and Metropolitan New York synods asked the ELCA to declare ending hunger as a “core conviction” and to help make it a core conviction of the Lutheran World Federation. Similarly, the Rocky Mountain assembly asked its congregations, the ELCA Church Council Executive Committee and the Division for Church in Society to consider adopting “the principle of status confessionis as a tactic in bringing an end to hunger in the world.” Status confessionis raises the status of the issue, making it an essential element of confessing the Christian faith.

Southeastern Minnesota encouraged synod congregations to advocate for poor people, discuss public policy and give generously to community services in areas hard-hit by federal and state budget cuts.

The North/West Lower Mich-igan and Southeast Michigan synods called upon their congregations to increase giving to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. Likewise, assemblies in Southwest California, Southeastern Minnesota and South-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked members to support the Lutheran World Relief’s fair-trade and coffee projects.

Middle East peace

The Southeast Michigan Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to support the ELCA Middle East Strategy, as well as “understand and define the difference between Judaism and secular Zionist nationalism.”

Southeast Michigan, Metropol-itan New York and Southwestern Texas assemblies passed resolutions asking for removal of the Israeli separation wall.

The Metropolitan New York Synod asked the ELCA to commend the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land for condemning “all forms of violence,” and called upon “all people of goodwill in Israel and Palestine to denounce all organizations that use violence” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both the Southeast Michigan and Metropolitan New York assemblies asked the ELCA to encourage members to “understand how our tax and investment dollars help or hinder the conflict in the Holy Land, and respond accordingly and faithfully.”

Diversity and mission

The Southeast Michigan Synod committed to use all funds it receives from church property sales “for the sole purpose of funding new and existing mission congregations within our synod.”

Northeastern Ohio Synod voting members requested a restructure of the churchwide offices and budget “for a strong evangelism presence.”

The Southeastern Minnesota Synod wants the ELCA to call upon synods and conferences to work with the Division for Outreach to develop or redevelop one congregation every year and identify and raise up leaders “whom God calls to mission development and redevelopment.”

The New Jersey and Metropol-itan New York assemblies called for resources to help with the ELCA’s “intention to live out its commitment to persevere against racism and white privilege.” After removing references to “dismantling white privilege,” the Southwest California Synod approved a similar resolution.

Sierra Pacific challenged its congregations to become “parent churches” of mission starts that reflect the multiethnic contexts of their neighborhoods. The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin voted to begin at least two “cultural minority ministries” by the end of 2010.

Other concerns

• The Southwestern Texas assembly asked that synodically authorized lay ministers be allowed to officiate at weddings in their congregations.

• The Pacifica Synod called upon the Division for Church in Society to develop study materials for further moral deliberation in the ELCA on abortion, especially related to whether consultation with a spouse or partner should be required; whether and how parental consent should be required for minors; and whether public funds should be used.

• Rocky Mountain Synod voting members stated the ELCA’s opposition to torture, affirmed the position of the Geneva Conventions, and encouraged congregations and members to contact their elected representatives “to express opposition to torture and inhumane treatment of any and all prisoners.”

• The North/West Lower Michigan, New Jersey, Pacifica, Northeastern Minnesota, Florida-Bahamas and Southeast Michigan assemblies asked individuals, congregations and synod institutions to buy products from Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, “when such resources are equal [to competitors’] in quality, price and level of customer service.”

• The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin thanked those who serve in the U.S. military, urging congregations and members to join efforts to reduce military expenditures and redirect those resources to underprivileged people.

• The Southwestern Texas, Metro-politan New York, Northeastern Minnesota, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin and Southwest California assemblies asked the ELCA to recommit to seeking justice for refugees and immigrants, with each synod bishop appointing a task force for immigration issues. The Florida-Bahamas Synod asked its congregations to sponsor refugee families and provide volunteers to help with housing, transportation and other needs. The New Jersey Synod memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to urge Congress and the Bush administration to end the detention of non-criminal asylum-seekers, undocumented workers and others in jails or jail-like facilities. MReports contributed by Celie Addy, Karen Bockelman, Robert Fisher, Debra Illingworth Greene, Marilyn C. Fursman, Jean Lebbert, Annie Lynsen, James Meimerstorf, Kent Mueller, Lynn Norwood, Sherry Sanders, Thomas Weitzel and Barbara Zielinski.


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February issue


Embracing diversity