Religion News Service, 12 Apr 05

Lutheran Church Body Proposes Allowing Gay and Lesbian Ministers

By Celeste Kennel-Shank
Religion News Service

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Church Council has forwarded a proposal giving bishops power to let congregations ordain non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy.

Carlos Pena, ELCA vice president and chair of the council, said in a statement that the council wrestled with the contradiction of keeping a rule against ordaining gays and lesbians in relationships while at the same time permitting churches to break it.

"The council realized that it (gay relationships) is a reality and, for the sake of outreach and ministry, we need to create some opportunity for candidates who are living in a committed relationship to be ordained," Pena said.

At its April 9-11 meetings in Chicago, the council, a legislative body for the 5.2 million-member denomination, decided to advance three resolutions that followed the previous findings of a church task force on homosexuality. That task force had advised the church to seek church unity amid disagreements, keep a 1993 statement banning same-sex marriage and grant exceptions for gay and lesbian ministers.

The council also wrote bylaws outlining the process through which bishops can allow some congregations to ordain gays and lesbians in relationships.

If the resolution is passed by the Churchwide Assembly in August -- it would require a two-thirds vote -- congregations could choose gay and lesbian ministers, provided the individual has proven to a bishop that he or she is in a lifelong, committed and monogamous partnership.

A group of Lutheran theologians -- made up of professors at Lutheran seminaries, colleges and universities as well as other institutions -- have signed a statement urging the Churchwide Assembly to adopt the task force recommendations.

As of Tuesday (April 12), 85 theologians had endorsed the statement, co-authored by Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Bible professors the Rev. Ralph Klein, also acting dean, and the Rev. Barbara Rossing.

Noting their diverse perspectives on sexuality, the theologians said in the statement that the task force's recommendations "represent a much-needed and faithful compromise for this moment in the life of our church."

That statement came in response to a previous statement by 17 theologians who said the recommendations on gay relationships would "destabilize" the Lutheran denomination.