The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Synod assemblies take stands on sexuality and more

Other votes focus on immigration, hunger and worship

At the St. Paul Area Synod assembly,
At the St. Paul Area Synod assembly, worshipers were invited to come forward to a large well at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minn., and sign themselves with the cross.

Most synod assemblies meeting in June took votes related to sexuality and the church, with many urging—some by narrow margins—the 2005 Churchwide Assembly to not allow exceptions for partnered gay and lesbian ministers to serve on the ELCA roster.

Others, however, supported these exceptions.

The Alaska, Central States, Northeastern Pennsylvania,La Crosse Area and New England synods memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to adopt the ELCA Church Council’s recommendations related to the sexuality studies. The recommendations include: 1) a call for unity, 2) an affirmation of the 1993 Conference of Bishops counsel to uphold ELCA policy and 3) a process by which synod bishops could work with synod councils and the Conference of Bishops to make exceptions for partnered gay and lesbian ministers. The Upstate New York Synod affirmed all of these recommendations.

The Oregon, Metropolitan Chicago, Northwestern Washington, and Metropolitan, D.C., synods asked that pastors have discretion to bless same-sex relationships and that “there be no policy barrier” for people in committed same-gender relationships to serve on the ELCA roster.

Oregon Synod voting members committed to making no synodwide changes related to partnered gays and lesbians “pending any action at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.” The synod also voted to become a “Reconciling in Christ” synod, encouraging “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to share in the [synod’s] sacramental and general life.”

Grand Canyon, Southeastern Iowa and Northwestern Washington synods asked that “for the sake of outreach, ministry and mission, a congregation may choose to give its pastor(s) discretion to perform [same-sex blessings].” Southeastern Iowa urged that the ELCA refrain from disciplining such ministers. It also asked that a two-thirds vote be required to make any change to ELCA policies precluding partnered gay and lesbians from serving on the ministry roster.

The Grand Canyon Synod adopted a resolution of welcome for “all persons regardless of race, ancestry, color, citizenship, religious background, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, marital status, ability, economic status or primarylanguage.”

In the Greater Milwaukee Synod, voting members asked the Churchwide Assembly “to permit gay and lesbian candidates in committed relationships to be considered for ordination on the same basis as other candidates.” They also are seeking recognition and affirmation for pastors and congregations who bless same-gender relationships, as well as those who do not.

The St. Paul Area Synod assembly supported all three Church Council recommendations. Voting members narrowly approved suspending Vision and Expectations, which calls all clergy to refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, while the ELCA works to find consensus on same-sex blessings and ordination of partnered gays and lesbians.

The Southwestern Washington Synod narrowly defeated a memorial that would have asked the 2005 assembly not to adopt the council’s recommendations.

The Northern Illinois Synod transmitted a straw poll in which voting members approved all three Church Council recommendations—the third recommendation by 235-229. But it also opposed ceremonies that bless same-sex relationships. The synod asked its congregations and institutions to pray during the August assembly for church unity, voting members’ spiritual wisdom and a willingness to listen to each other and the Scriptures.

At the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin assembly, a resolution in favor of continuing current policies precluding partnered gays and lesbians from serving on the ELCA ministry roster failed (163-206).

The Caribbean Synod rejected a resolution opposing blessing committed same-gender relationships andthe ordination of people in suchrelationships.

In New England, resolutions failed that would have asked the Churchwide Assembly to reject a possible exceptions process and “accommodate” congregations departing due to issues of conscience related to human sexuality.

No exceptions

With most saying “there is no scriptural or traditional support,” the Northwestern Ohio, Montana, Allegheny, South Dakota, South-eastern, Southern Ohio, Nebraska, Northwestern Pennsylvania and Northeastern Iowa synods urged the ELCA to not offer blessings of same-gender unions but instead affirm current expectations that rostered leaders be chaste outside of, and faithful within, heterosexual marriage. The Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana, Upper Susquehanna and Western North Dakota assemblies also want to maintain current policies related to rostering people who are in same-sex relationships. The Western North Dakota Synod told its Churchwide Assembly voting members to “take under advisement the above affirmation” of current policies.

In a 247-242 vote, the Indiana-Kentucky Synod asked that current guidelines precluding gay and lesbian ministers in same-gender relationships be reaffirmed. And Northeastern Iowa urged the ELCA to partner with ministries that “bring Christ’s healing and transforming power to those who desire healing from sexual brokenness.”

The Virginia and Central/Southern Illinois synods urged adoption of Church Council recommendations one and two. But they defeated a move to include the third resolution, which proposes exceptions so partnered gay and lesbians can serve as ELCA ministers.

At the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, Central/Southern Illinois, Northern Great Lakes and Slovak Zion assemblies, straw votes on the council’s three recommendations found that large majorities favored recommendations one and two, but not three.

The Western Iowa and North Carolina synods recommended that marriage be reaffirmed as “solely for the union of a man and a woman,” and that the church neither recognize nor endorse “any ecclesiastical ceremony of blessing for the union of same-sex couples.”

The Western Iowa Synod asked that exceptions not be allowed and for discipline of partnered gay and lesbian ministers who don’t follow Vision and Expectations. It askedthe Conference of Bishops to “define ... circumstances under which discipline is withheld.”

No votes

The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin and Lower Susquehanna Synod are seeking continued discussion of human sexuality. The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked the Churchwide Assembly to take no votes on issues of human sexuality and to uphold current policy while working to define a “long-term caring relationship.”

Likewise, the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod asked that Church Council recommendation three be rejected and declared the sexuality issue “is in fact church-dividing.”

Unity and pastoral care

Alaska, Southeastern and the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin voted “to stay a united church regardless of potentially divisive conversations and actions concerning the issue of sexuality in the church ... [and] regardless of actions [by] the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.”

Delaware-Maryland voting members encouraged synod congregations and members to maintain unity amid debate regarding sexuality, poverty and war. All other resolutions related to sexuality were defeated.

The Southeastern Synod requested resources that pastors can use to provide pastoral care and counseling for people concerned with issues of same-sex couples and their families. The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod also asked for resources for pastors who counsel same-sex partners. But the synod defeated two resolutions that would have allowed blessings of same-gender relationships and exceptions for partnered gays and lesbians to serve on the ELCA roster.

Ending hunger

Memorials urging that ending hunger be a “core conviction” of the ELCA and working toward making it a core conviction of the Lutheran World Federation found support at assemblies in Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana, La Crosse Area, Southern Ohio, Central States, Northwest Washington, Indiana-Kentucky, Southwestern Washington, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, St. Paul Area and New England.

The Nebraska Synod encouraged its congregations to increase their gifts to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal by 30 percent or a minimum of $10 per member.

Immigration and diversity

The Nebraska, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Grand Canyon and Southwestern Pennsylvania synods asked the ELCA to recommit “to being an advocate and justice-seeker in regard to refugee and immigration issues,” requesting each synod to develop strategies to address immigrant and refugee needs. The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod also asked its members to be advocates for refugees and immigrants.

The Caribbean Synod urged the ELCA to more forcefully defend the rights of mostly Latino undocumented people living in the U.S., adding that “there is a need to reflect the most recent demographic statistics for the U.S., which show that one of every seven U.S. residents is a documented Hispanic, while only one of every 100 (Lutheran) members is Hispanic.”

The Oregon Synod approved a regional Latino ministry strategy.

Calling them “hate crimes,” the North Carolina Synod condemned recent cross-burnings in Durham, N.C.

The Montana, Northwestern Washington, Southeastern Iowa and Northern Illinois synods want the ELCA to declare its commitment “to persevere against racism and white privilege” and allocate “resources for a full-time position, support staff and program budget within the Office of the Bishop and the multicultural ministries unit.” The Greater Milwaukee Synod approved, but the Central/Southern Illinois Synod defeated, a similar resolution.

Grand Canyon Synod voting members recommitted to planting new congregations and transforming existing ministries. They also promised greater financial support for Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, Ariz., and LWF ministries in Haiti.

The North Carolina Synod asked that biblical support for the ordination of women be an intentional part of education at ELCA seminaries.

The Lower Susquehanna Synod asked the ELCA to give greater focus to participation of people with disabilities, including allocating full-time churchwide staff positions to work on their behalf. The synod also asked for the ELCA project coordinator for deaf ministry to have greater supervision for the work of deaf ministry in the ELCA.

At the Southwestern Washington Synod assembly, voting members called for growth of “1,000 Mission Friends,” a fund that helps mission congregations in the synod, especially those suffering heavy debt loads and those located in culturally diverse areas.

Authority and governance

The North Carolina Synod memorialized the Churchwide Assembly and the ELCA to address foundational, biblical, theological and ecclesial issues, as well as the authority of Scripture.

Northwest Washington wants the ELCA to grant “full communion status” to rostered people who leave the denomination for reasons of conscience, and keep on its roster pastors desiring to stay but whose congregations have chosen to leave the ELCA.

The St. Paul Area Synod assembly asked the ELCA to create a Church Council made up of one member from each of the 65 synods to provide oversight for churchwide ministry and eliminate the churchwide restructuring plan’s proposed steering committees for program units.

International violence

The Oregon and Virginia synods asked the ELCA to call for the U.S. government to influence Israel to end construction of the separation wall and remove existing portions of the wall in Israeli and Palestinian territories.

The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod is seeking a churchwide strategy of engagement in Israel and Palestine.

The New England Synod supported, among other things: conversations with the Jewish community toward “a compassionate understanding of Israeli fears and an acknowledgment of the legitimate security rights of Arabs and Israelis alike”; financial appropriations from the U.S. government to the Palestinian Authority “with accountability for the building of a viable society and state”; and continued tax-exemptstatus for Augusta Victoria Hospital, an LWF ministry in Jerusalem.

The Caribbean Synod wants the ELCA to urge the U.S. government and its allies “to put an end to hostile actions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and all world governments to “put an end to fratricidal global warfare.”

The Northern Great Lakes Synod expressed support for Presiding Bishop Mark A. Hanson’s call for Salvadoran President Elias Antonio Saca to fully investigate the murder of Manuel de Jesus Martinez, a security guard on the Salvadoran Lutheran University campus.

The Indiana-Kentucky Synod committed to pray for and educate members about the struggles of the Oromo population in southern Ethiopia, as well as explore a possible companion synod relationship with one of the Oromo Lutheran Church’s four synods.

Worship concerns

Four synods expressed concern about the “Renewing Worship” project. The Northwestern Pennsylvania and Lower Susquehanna synods are looking to terminate “efforts to develop a new book of worship to replace the LBW,” and instead develop “a constellation of resources in a variety of media to supplement the core materials in the Lutheran Book of Worship.” And the South Dakota Synod and Upstate New York Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to postpone approval of “Renewing Worship,” the former until materials could be reviewed for confessional fidelity.

Similar resolutions failed in the Indiana-Kentucky and Southwestern Washington synods.

Publishing support

The Oregon, Virginia, Nebraska, Northwestern Ohio, Central/Southern Illinois, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, New England, Delaware-Maryland, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, Northwest Washington, Southeastern Iowa and Metropolitan Washington, D.C., assemblies voiced support for Augsburg Fortress, asking congregations and members to buy resources from the ELCA publisher. The Montana Synod sent a similar resolution to its council for action.

Reports contributed by: Danielle Burrus, Harry Deitz, Fran Dieter, Jeffrey Drake, Thomas J. Drobena, Jim Drury, Dan Glamann, Karin Graddy, Ann Hafften, Susan Hedahl, Beth Helgen, Paul F. Heykes, Sue Hildebrand, Mary Housholder, Linda Janssen Gjere, Lorraine Jordan, Kathleen Kennedy, Rebecca Kerr, George Kegley, Cindy Koonce, Karen Krueger, Sue Lewandowski, Linda Lovell, Julie Mankin, Ben McDonald Coltvet, Thomas E. McKee, Rob Moore, Barbara Myers, Margit Peiffle, Irene Pfannkuch, Rachel Pritchett, Donna Prunkl, Frank Ramos, Bill Reynolds, William Schwochow, Sue Shallow, Dick Steuernagle, Kimberlee Stevens, Virginia Strahan, Carol Weiser, Jan Zook.


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