The New York Times, August 13, 2005
Lutherans Reject Plan to Allow Gay Clerics
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
After a daylong passionate debate, the national assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal yesterday to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained as members of the clergy.
In an indication of the deep split over homosexuality in the church, which with five million members is the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, the vote on gay clergy members at the church's assembly in Orlando, Fla., divided almost evenly, with 49 percent in favor to 51 percent opposed. To pass, the measure required a two-thirds majority.
The 1,018 delegates in Orlando also voted against an amendment that would have given pastors explicit permission to bless same-sex unions. But the assembly approved a more ambiguous measure that both upholds the current ban on same-sex blessing ceremonies, and says at the same time that the church will "trust" pastors and congregations "to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care" to everyone.
Many advocates of gay inclusion in the church regarded the vote as leaving the door open for same-sex blessings, while opponents of gay blessings maintained that it was a rebuke.
Above all, the Lutherans avoided taking any radical new steps that could precipitate defections. A resolution to remain unified despite deep differences over homosexuality was approved by a vote of 851 to 127.
"We said that we are going to have a communal spirituality, not an issue-driven one," said Bishop Stephen P. Bouman of the metropolitan New York synod. "They allowed us to continue to have pastoral space in local situations for people to offer sensitive and graceful ministry to gay and lesbian people and their relations."
Bishop Bouman said that Lutheran churches "in most regions of the country" already performed same-sex blessings and that the vote in Orlando on that issue "creates a little more public room" for such ceremonies.
But a Lutheran group called Goodsoil that advocates gay equality accused the church of "sacrificing" gay men and women "on the altar of a false and ephemeral sense of unity."
The Lutherans are only one of many mainline Protestant denominations to struggle with seemingly irreconcilable views on homosexuality within their ranks. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church have upheld bans on ordaining noncelibate gay men and lesbians. The Episcopal Church U.S.A. approved the ordination of an openly noncelibate gay bishop in 2003. In the fallout, some congregations have left, and the Episcopal Church has been condemned by many of its affiliates in the worldwide Anglican communion.
During the Lutherans' debate in Orlando, the Rev. Robert Driesen, a voting member from the Upper Susquehanna synod in Pennsylvania warned that if Lutherans moved in the same direction as the Episcopalians, the repercussions would be felt worldwide. The Lutheran World Federation includes 138 member churches in 77 countries.
"We would separate ourselves not only from these communions but from much of historic Christianity," Mr. Driesen said. "Should we take the same action, we can expect fractures."
The meeting was interrupted when nearly 100 supporters of gay inclusion filed to the front of the assembly and stood in silent protest. The resolutions on homosexuality had been proposed by a church committee that met for three years. The church currently allows the ordination of gay men and women as long as they are celibate and chaste. The defeated resolution would have permitted noncelibate gay men and lesbians to be ordained if they met several criteria, including being in committed relationships.
Many delegates in favor of full inclusion of gay men and women shared personal stories of anger and alienation from the church because of its stance. The Rev. John Hergert, from the Eastern Washington-Idaho synod, talked about two gay friends who turned their back on the church before they died.
"I never want to be there again when a friend says to me, 'To hell with this church and to hell with you for staying in it,' " he said. "Maybe one day I can say to Joe, This is why I stayed," he told the assembly.
Opponents of homosexuality compared homosexuality to alcoholism, saying that both are destructive behaviors, perhaps genetically predisposed, that the church should help people overcome.
"I am wondering if the song 'Anything Goes' is going to be included in the new revised hymnal," said Dale Hamre, a lay delegate from South Dakota. "This is just wrong."