Category Archives: Lutheran

Lutheran Church to LGBTs: You Are Welcome In Worship, Service, and Ministry!

lutheran-logoThe Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has taken its final step in the long journey to full corporate LGBT inclusion. You may remember that the General Assembly approved policy changes last August to include lesbian and gay Lutherans in their churches and their ministries. Following another required round of voting by the Church Council on April 11, those changes have now taken effect.

Incoming Soulforce director Rev. Dr. Cindi Love explained the developments today on the Huffington Post:

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love
Rev. Dr. Cindi Love
After twenty-five years of deliberation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Council has abolished its anti-gay policies, effective immediately. Following from discussions at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly last summer, the ELCA will now allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as rostered leaders. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) human beings are no longer considered abominations but blessed church members with full standing. Same-sex partners and families can now fully participate in the ELCA Pension Plan.

Best of all, the ELCA is reinstating people who were removed from ministry positions because they were truthful and came out of the closet, as well as those who conducted holy unions for non-heterosexual couples. The ELCA has practiced restorative justice.

I’m particularly grateful to the ELCA for adding restoration to its reforms. My colleague, Rev. Paul W. Egerston, faithfully pastored and served as Bishop in the Lutheran church for 31 years. He resigned one month before the end of his term in 2001. Why? He ordained a lesbian as a Pastor and took a public stand for justice in opposition to the official anti-gay policy of the ELCA. Now, Paul and his wife, Shirley, and their six children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren can take a day off. I believe that through the ELCA’s restoration, God has sent them a message, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

For decades, Lutheran LGBT advocacy groups have been working to get this done. Quoting very briefly from two statements, beginning with Lutherans Concerned:

The ELCA has reached two milestones long sought by the movement for full inclusion. First, it has eliminated all prohibitions against qualified people in a same-gender relationship serving on the ELCA’s roster of ministers. Second, and more importantly, it created a pathway that frees the gifts of ELCA members to pursue ministry and mission with new vigor. Each of these steps is crucial for both our continued healing and our bold walk into a more just future.

Since the August decision to change policy, we have heard from many of you that it feels as though celebration is “stuck in our throats.” Verily, the time has come to clear our throats. Currently, censures are being lifted from congregations, for which we can celebrate. Soon, we will start to see pastors received and reinstated across the whole church. By the time we gather together in Minneapolis at Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters, we will be ready to shout out in holy joy! We hope that you can join us in July to add your voice to the chorus of people singing praise and thanksgiving to God.

And from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Twenty years ago two ELCA congregations, St. Francis Lutheran Church and First United Lutheran Church, broke with ELCA policy to call an openly gay man, Jeff Johnson, and two openly lesbian women, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart. The actions of these congregations and pastors began a movement now known as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Their vision has made it possible for dozens of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to follow a call to ministry. It is a joyful time in the church as the ELCA opens wider its doors to the fullness of God’s creation.

We express gratitude for the congregations and individuals who have long supported gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pastors during times when they were punished and alienated for doing so and for those who continued to follow a call to ministry despite incredible barriers. We give thanks for the Goodsoil Legislative Team, Lutherans Concerned/North America, the voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, staff, Church Council, Conference of Bishops and the leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

We give thanks to God and pray that one day all may find that the doors of the ELCA are open wide to them.

Finally, we return to Dr. Love’s article for a final thought.

The ELCA press release about the decision reads:

These actions are important because they are a major milestone along the journey of full inclusion. We have a policy that recognizes the gifts of its members […] and that will allow the return of those who have been removed or alienated […]. [There will] be new life in the church through new leaders. […] [W]e have lifted up crucial questions for the church: What is the relationship of sexuality to salvation in Christ? What is the diversity in God’s wondrous creation? What is sinful? […] Who continues to face barriers to ministry and mission? How do we journey together faithfully, in spite of so many differences? What some people have dismissed as a narrow issue has both opened up and profoundly deepened our moral and theological life.

Amazing. It sounds like the Lutherans think LGBTQ people have helped them get closer to God. A great truth has been realized today that Jesus Christ demonstrated throughout His ministry 2000 years ago. It is not blasphemous to include and embrace the prayers and relationships and service of those outside society’s gate. In fact, it’s a blessing.

Thank you ELCA for reaffirming the entire mission of the Christian Church. The rest of us have a lot of work left to do, and we can now look not only to the example of the Episcopal Church, but to yours as well.

It’s a good day to be a Christian.


Historic Day for ELCA: Gay Marriage, Clergy Approved

lutheran-logoUnbelievable 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%

rev-lee-miller-iiFinally, 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.

Thank you.

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.

Lutheran Church Approves LGBT-Affirming Social Statement

lutheran-logoWe got some welcome good news from Minneapolis yesterday afternoon. Assembled delegates of the 2009 General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a social statement that is remarkable in its acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships.

This was a skin-of-their-teeth vote rarely seen, with the measure receiving exactly the 2/3 majority necessary. The final tally was 676-338, or 66.67%-33.34%.

Emily Eastwood of Good Soil, a conglomeration of LGBT ELCA organizations, had this statement last night:

This is a day of progress and compromise. By a 2/3 majority the church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. The document recognizes the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal. The social statement is tolerant of our differences both in scriptural interpretation and practice. The social statement supports our unity without requiring uniformity. There is still much work to do, but the door to full inclusion of LGBT members and their families is now most definitely open.

The social statement now forms the basis for policy and advocacy on issues related to families and sexuality both for ministry and advocacy in church and society. We are encouraged and hopeful that on Friday this foundation will result in the church’s elimination of the current ban on ministers in committed same gender relationships.

You can peruse the social statement here (pdf) with a few minor verbiage-related amendments here (pdf). It’s worth noting that this statement purposely does not throw caution to the wind with wild inclusiveness.

Instead, it’s designed to recognize that there is division within the Church on the issue while allowing those who are inclusive to live by their conscience, even to the point of performing same-gender marriages. A few small bits from the statement:

We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

This church also acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation. We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships, uplift, shelter and protect them, or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.

In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern God’s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,” will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.

dr-phyllis-wallaceOn Friday the Assembly will take up the issue of gay clergy, which should be another close vote. I’ve been keeping an eye on the live transcription of the Assembly, and I was impressed by the hopeful trust in the prayer used to end the morning’s business today. It’s from Dr. Phyllis Wallace of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (pictured right, courtesy ELCA News Service).

O saving Son who brings forth justice to the nations, we thank You for Your light which outshines every darkness.

Keep Your light burning within us and make it constant in all that we do. Let it illumine our work, our fellowship, and our time of rest. Give us Your servant’s eyes to see Your light shining in one another and hands that are eager to bear Your light.

In humble service, for the sake of the world, we ask this in Your holy name. Amen.

As the Lutheran Church continues their work, let those who have ears hear.