The nation's fifth-largest Protestant denomination, the 4.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), may soon join the troubled Episcopal Church in permitting clergy with homosexual partners. A task force proposed Feb. 19 that August's ELCA assembly authorize 65 regional synods and local congregations to liberalize if they wish.
Task force members took three stands. A "strong" majority recommended the local option to allow clergy in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" (not called "marriage"). Meanwhile, some liberals wanted total churchwide acceptance, while conservatives upheld the Christian tradition against gay behavior and urged a 10-year moratorium on legislation (texts: www.elca.org/ faithfuljourney). The August vote could well hinge on a maneuver by the Church Council, which governs the denomination between assemblies. It is asking the upcoming assembly to agree that a simple majority will decide, rather than the two-thirds usually required for major actions.
The task force stated that the Bible is central but Lutherans no longer agree on whether key passages actually forbid committed gay couples. Chairman Peter Strommen of Prior Lake, Minn., said panelists share "a sober appreciation for the depth of disagreement" in the ELCA.
Indeed, the conservative Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) immediately protested that the recommendation violates clear biblical teaching and the conviction of most Christians through history and currently (including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). CORE also believes synod option creates "65 separate church bodies, each with its own standards." Lutherans Concerned, which advocates full inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender churchgoers, protested "institutionalized discrimination" and noted that the task force "creates room for the recognition of same-gender relationships" but without official ELCA blessing ceremonies, something liberals will doubtless provide on their own. The ELCA is bracing for tumult that could reach the intensity in the Episcopal Church-with courtroom battles and the involvement of overseas clergy.