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July 21, 2011

Canadian Lutherans open doors to gay marriage and pastors

The national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada widened the church's welcome for gays and lesbians and restructured the national church at its July 14-17 gathering in Saskatoon, Sask. The 152,500-member church will now allow same-sex marriages and the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors.

Following more than two hours of debate, delegates approved 213-134 a human sexuality social statement that developed out of a four-year national study of sexuality. The statement calls the ELCIC to "denounce discrimination, including sexual discrimination, in all its forms." The voting process for the social statement was contentious. Delegates defeated a motion that would have required approval by a two-thirds majority, instead of the usual simple majority vote.

In a statement, Lutherans Concerned North America executive director Emily Eastwood, who was present at the convention, said the ELCIC social statement is "more prophetic than that of the ELCA" and "a major turning point in the Canadian church towards full inclusion."

Delegates sang "Lord Listen to Your Children Pray" as they voted 192-132 to allow ELCIC clergy to preside at or bless same-sex marriages, according to their consciences and the laws of their provinces. Canada legalized same-gender marriage in July 2005.

By a vote of 205-114, delegates rescinded past actions that banned non-celibate gay and lesbian people from ordination and call. The action states that sexual orientation is not in itself a factor that disqualifies a candidate for rostered ministry.

"I can't see that anything good has come from the church's current policy on this issue," Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse said during the debate over ordination. "I've seen the terrible results of this policy: broken people, broken families, broken congregations, substance abuse, broken lives. That's what happens when you demand celibacy of those who don't have the gifts to live celibate lives. This motion provides the opportunity for willing congregations to consider these candidates."

Delegates also voted 204-133 to affirm a statement that church members who disagree with one another will remain in dialogue and unity, and refrain from church-dividing actions.

In other action, delegates:

• approved in principle restructuring moves that re-organize the ELCIC's five synods into three synods; move from biennial to triennial national conventions of reduced size; and reconfigure regional conferences into area congregational groupings supported by leadership teams. Delegates gave the ELCIC National Church Council the authority to implement the changes.

• re-elected Susan C. Johnson to a second four-year term as ELCIC national bishop.

— Based on news releases from the ELCIC 

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