After the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to allow noncelibate gay clergy on its leadership rosters, the assembly sang a hymn and prayed together in a solemn gesture toward continued unity. But the unity has since worn threadbare. Lutheran CORE, a conservative ELCA group long opposed to the church's liberalization, first formed a separate synod and then, in response to the pleas of churches that wanted to leave the ELCA, formed a new Lutheran denomination. Churches withdrew their financial support in protest, the 2010 ELCA churchwide budget shrank by 10 percent, and so far 87 of the ELCA's 10,400 congregations have begun the process of leaving. The decision to allow noncelibate gay clergy was just the last in a series of troubling choices, say the people leaving. Said Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, "This is just the beginning of the worst to come."
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles had six candidates for assistant bishop this December-one of whom was an openly gay man and another a practicing lesbian. The diocese chose Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, marking the first time Episcopalians have elected an openly gay bishop since they chose Bishop Gene V. Robinson in 2003. Now that the Episcopal General Convention has repealed the moratorium on consecrating gay bishops, the situation in Los Angeles is one the church is more likely to see. The General Convention also passed a second resolution allowing, but not requiring, bishops to authorize same-sex blessing ceremonies in the churches they oversee. In places where civil authorities allow same-sex unions, the church has responded to "changing circumstances" and said that bishops can provide a "generous pastoral response" to couples who want the church to bless their unions. Clergy are now free to solemnize same-sex unions in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and Diocese of Vermont-although the Episcopal Church has not yet written a liturgy for them to do so.
When the Presbyterian Church (USA) tried to loosen its standard for the sexual fidelity of pastors, the presbyteries voted it down. The PCUSA's Book of Order requires its clergy to practice "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." For the third time now, the General Assembly has tried to amend the language to open the door for practicing homosexuals or cohabiting pastors-changing the language to say pastors must "declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church." The amendment needed the support of a majority of the presbyteries, but the majority of the PCUSA's 173 presbyteries voted it down. The vote was closer this year-27 of the 127 presbyteries that voted "no" in 2001-2002 changed their vote to "yes"-so those pushing the liberalization say they are making headway. But for now, PCUSA pastors must remain faithful if married, and chaste if not.