The 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.
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 ELCAâ€™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 â€œstuck in our throats.â€ 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.