August 20, 2009
Assembly action draws sharp criticism, praise from advocacy groups
Two groups with widely diverging opinions on the social statement adopted Aug. 19 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America praised the church for its action and denounced what some consider a departure from biblical morality.
"The church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians in the church.
But Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran CORE, a coalition of conservative ELCA Lutherans, said, "We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God's intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman." Spring, a former bishop in the ELCA, added "It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years."
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA is meeting Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,044 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
CORE leaders said they would continue to work against future policies that would enable gay and lesbian pastors who are in committed relationships to serve in the church's public ministry. CORE also opposes the blessing of same-sex unions, which, while not specifically mentioned in the social statement, has become the practice in some ELCA parishes.
Eastwood said the document makes it easier for congregations to bless gay and lesbian couples. "The document recognizes the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same-gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal," she said. "We celebrate in particular the emphasis of the social statement on the centrality of family in the life of church and society — all families without differentiation."
While the most controversial part of the statement was its greater acceptance of gays and lesbians, Eastwood also said the document would be a basis for "advocacy on issues related to families and sexuality" in church and society.
Erma Wolf, vice-chair of CORE lamented what she called the divisiveness of the issue. "The ELCA is a very divided church," she said, "This decision divides us even more. It is going to be very hard for faithful Lutherans to support the ELCA when the ELCA is willing to reject the clear teaching of Scripture."
Wolf called it a "sad day for Lutherans in the United States."
Austin is reporting for the ELCA News Service.