ELCA Outreach Board Seeks Hospitality for Gay and Lesbian People

March 20, 2001

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Division for Outreach (DO) is asking the church for a message about homosexuality. The DO board approved that request when it met here Feb. 23-25, and it began a process to seek recognition for Lutherans Concerned/North America as an independent Lutheran organization.

"Out of the division's commitment to hospitality for gay and lesbian persons," the board asked the ELCA Church Council to develop a message to the church, building on a 1996 letter from the Conference of Bishops: "A Word of Welcome to Gays and Lesbians." 

"We are affirming the bishops' letter," said Dorothy Baumgartner, DO board chair. Baumgartner is chief administrative officer of Trinity Lutheran College, Issaquah, Wash. "We repudiate all words and acts of hatred toward gay and lesbian persons in our congregations and in our communities, and extend a caring welcome for gay and lesbian persons and their families," said the bishops' letter. "We ask all our members to join us in repentance for hurtful actions toward others, and in forgiving when we have been the objects of anger or hate."

"The board is encouraging the church to develop a message that communicates that to the wider church," said Baumgartner. "We would hope that the message of that letter would go farther."

Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) encourages gay men, lesbians and bisexual people who feel alienated from Christian churches to return to worship in caring communities. It also encourages Lutheran congregations in North America to be those caring communities. It is funded entirely by donations.

LC/NA assisted the division in researching "Congregational Hospitality to Gay and Lesbian People," a report DO made available in 1999 that included case studies from 16 congregations of the ELCA. The report listed "visible signs that this congregation is a 'safe place'" for gay and lesbian visitors.

LC/NA "helped us with the conversation about hospitality with gay and lesbian people," said Baumgartner. Recognition as an independent Lutheran organization "invites them to continue in a more significant way in that conversation," she added.

According to the ELCA Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions, "This church, through the secretary of this church and action of the Church Council, shall establish the general policies to govern official relationships with independent Lutheran organizations that seek to relate with this church while maintaining their independence and autonomy."

One example of a recognized independent Lutheran organization is Global Health Ministries, Minneapolis. Global Health Ministries is a volunteer network supporting overseas Lutheran health care projects with funding, gathering and shipping medical supplies and equipment, and offering advice on issues of missionary health. It assists medical missions by recruiting and supporting health care workers.

The steering committee of the ELCA Commission for Women met here March 9-11 and passed resolutions supporting both actions of the DO board -- requesting a message from the church about homosexuality and "independent Lutheran organization" recognition for Lutherans Concerned/North America.


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