Unbelievable developments today from the General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Following their approval of an LGBT-inclusive social statement Wednesday, the Assembly returned to LGBT concerns Friday morning with four “steps”. These take the form of three statements about the church followed by a fourth that addresses implementation of the first three. The full text of the recommendation of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality can be found here (pdf, just two pages).
Since nobody likes confusions like Christians, they decided to address them out of order. Following is a summary of the resolution/step, followed by the vote count taken from their live feed. All needed a simple majority to pass.
Resolution One/Step Three is a preparation resolution, requesting mutual respect if the others pass.
Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all.
Resolution One/Step Three APPROVED (with amendment) 771-270 74.06%-25.94%
Resolution Two/Step One is significant because it permits pastors to accept and celebrate gay marriages and to officiate same gender weddings.
Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
Resolution Two/Step One APPROVED 619-402 or 60.63%-39.37%
Resolution Three/Step Two is the bigger news of the day. It permits lesbians and gay men who are married (or in marriage-esque relationships where those aren’t legal) to be ordained ministers.
Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church.
Resolution Three/Step Two APPROVED 559-451 or 55.35%-44.65%
After the emotional and relatively close vote for Resolution Three/Step Two, the General Assembly was called immediately to prayer followed by a hymn that acknowledged the division in the vote.
(Searching for an appropriate hymn, Bishop Mark Hanson, who led the meeting, noted that three people shouted out the same number, saying “Where three or more Lutherans agree on a hymn…” Oh, how humor helps us through difficult times.)
I’m overjoyed by the outcome today, but I also understand that many of our sisters and brothers are dismayed. While I disagree with them wholeheartedly, I do understand that there will be pain in their hearts for some time. There will be difficult decisions to be made.
Once/If it’s made available, I intend to post the transcription for the day’s business, but for now I’ll just tell you that all the elements missing at UMC General Conference last year were evident even in text today.
I’ve said before (though I don’t think here) that I don’t believe most people in the pews view homosexuality as a line of demarcation. Those who do are vocal and active, but I know too many Christians who exemplify acceptance to believe that most of us wish ill for each other. My prayers are indeed with those who don’t find room in God’s church for lesbians and gay men, not only that they’ll be comforted, but that through this action today they may come to a new understanding.
Resolution Four/Step Four wraps up the statements with specific actions.
Step four proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. (More here.)
Resolution Four/Step Four APPROVED (with amendment) 667-307 68.48%-31.52%
Finally, a quote from one of the General Assembly delegates. In testimony before the vote on Resolution Three/Step Two, Rev. Lee M. Miller, II of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran in Philadelphia stepped to the microphone and had this to say:
I stand in favor of this resolution because I stand on the shoulders of gay and straight folks who have proclaimed the gospel of Christ and a message of love.
I am not saved because I’m a heterosexual. I’m saved because of what God has done.
And I want to say to those who are listening that they are not condemned because of their sexuality; but they are saved because of how God loves them, that God’s grace is for all, in all.
This is the message of the Christian Church. That we’ve gotten so far away from it is disheartening, but I’m so proud of my Lutheran sisters and brothers for their courageous move back in the direction of the message. One day we will be of one mind on this issue. Until then, we all will continue to work.