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Sexuality recommendations: Assembly defeats ministry exceptions

Benjamin Lei, New Jersey Synod, waits to speak while Linda E. Keating, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, makes a point during seven hours of debate Friday on the recommendations from the ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

Just after 5 p.m., at the end of a seven-hour day of difficult and often-impassioned debate, the Churchwide Assembly defeated the proposed change to permit exceptions regarding expectations for sexual conduct of gay or lesbian rostered leaders (recommendation 3). The 490-503 vote fell far short of the two-thirds required for adoption.

Two hours earlier, members had passed, 670-323, an amended provision asking that this church “trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to all to whom they minister.” The original language of recommendation 2 specified care for “same-sex couples.”
The day began with an 851-127 vote for recommendation 1, the task force’s call to “live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements” as members of the body of Christ.

Voting members faced not only the three proposals from the Church Council based on the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality’s recommendations but also 15 amendments and substitute motions.

Clarity and flexibility were key concerns as 80 members brought up issues of scriptural authority and interpretation, ecumenical relationships and ministry with and by gay and lesbian people.

No exceptions

Minutes after voting down the substitute motion of Gladys Moore, New Jersey Synod, that there be “no policy barrier to rostered service for otherwise qualified persons in same-gender covenanted relationships that are mutual, chaste and faithful,” nearly 100 supporters who had kept vigil in the visitors’ section filed silently in protest to the front of the hall.

In multicolored stoles, they stood facing the seated voting members—even after Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson twice asked them to follow house rules and return to their seats—for the remainder of the plenary session.

Victor Langford, Northwest Washington Synod, objected, “They should not be here to present intimidation to this body.”

Moore countered, “I just don’t see how a silent witness of people who have been excluded is intimidating.”
The assembly voted 869-117 to continue discussion.

Each of the next six substantive amendments or substitute motions failed.

In his substitute motion, Kai Swanson, Northern Illinois Synod, had urged the ELCA to take a “neutral stance” on allowing gay and lesbian ministers in same-gender committed relationships to serve on the roster.

Referring to the Journey Together Faithfully studies completed by 28,000 ELCA members, Larry Kassebaum, Grand Canyon Synod, said, “Congregations told us what they want us to do, and I don’t think it’s this motion.”

Two amendments called for the Conference of Bishops to be removed from the proposed exceptions process. One suggested that a synodical bishop instead “consult with the presiding bishop.”
Louis Hesse, Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod and a member of the sexuality task force, made a substitute motion that the ELCA would “continue to accept the standards for rostered leaders” and apply them fairly and consistently.

But Constance Kilmark, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, countered: “We condemn [gay and lesbian] people in our ordained ministry to live for decades without the support of a loving relationship. ... Promiscuity is the sin on which we all agree. ... If I were wrong on this issue, I’d rather be wrong on the side of grace.”

It was the original recommendation (amended with an implementation date) that the assembly defeated.
James Culver, Indiana-Kentucky Synod, said he opposed anything that would change the current standards. “Even our lives are a public witness,” he said. “Pastors are broken, sinful, but we’re not permitted to excuse our sins or pretend sin isn’t sin.”

Bishops’ counsel stands

Carol Hendrix, Lower Susquehanna Synod, proposed an amendment that returned (491-484) recommendation 2 to the language in the 1993 statement by the Conference of Bishops regarding ministry with gay and lesbian people, which called for pastors and congregations to “provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.” The proposed recommendation had specified this care for “same-sex couples.”
Frank Petrovic, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, objected, saying, “This would water down the intent.”

Earlier, Peter Rogness, St. Paul Area Synod, explained why the wording was not specific: “I was there in ’93. Bishops were looking to one another about how to respond to congregations and pastors ... The group was not of a mind to recognize an official rite, but we wanted some flexibility. We can do that today, give a non-anxious response in a very anxious time.”

Living in unity?

It took just 20 minutes to approve the first recommendation, calling for unity. Patrick Monroe, Central/Southern Illinois Synod, said: “Our job, our ‘soul’ job is to love one another. This motion allows us to do so.”


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