August 21, 2009
Day of decision
Whether the hours of quotations from Scripture or impassioned speeches of personal experiences changed any minds will never be known. But in the end Friday, the ELCA's highest governing authority opened the door to gays and lesbians in committed relationships to hold pastoral and other ministerial leadership roles in the church.
Following a key 559-451 vote by the Churchwide Assembly, silence engulfed the Minneapolis Convention Center. Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson led the group in prayer. Later, he called for unity and peace in the church, saying "it would be tragic if we walked away from one another."
"We need all of you" to contribute to conversations of where the denomination goes following the historic vote, Hanson said. The assembly approved four resolutions on ministry policies that would eventually produce rules for gays and lesbians "in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relations" to serve as pastors, associates in ministry and the like.
Rebuke came swiftly from Lutheran CORE, a coalition that holds a traditional or conservative view of Scripture. Leaders renounced CORE's recognition by the ELCA of it as an independent Lutheran organization in relationship with the denomination.
It also plans to host a gathering next month for disgruntled members and congregations to see what happens next. While upbraiding the assembly for its action and calling for certain economic sanctions, "it is important that congregations and individuals not make hasty decisions about their future in the ELCA," said Pastor Paull Spring, chair of CORE.
Debate during the day remained civil but did have moments of emotional appeals for each side to see the errors of their ways. One resolution was amended so that the ELCA makes "provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster" gays or lesbians. That would allow congregations opposed to such ordinations from being forced to accept a gay or lesbian pastor.
Hanson said "it's going to take time to sort out how we live together." He said the ELCA has grappled with its unity and diversity throughout its 22-year history. "The maturity [of the denomination] will be tested but the Spirit will be faithful," he said.