Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

UPDATE – May 06, 2010

"The Lutheran Church embraces the LGBTQ community" article by Rev. Dr. Cindi Love on The Huffington Post

UPDATE – August 2009

The 2009 Churchwide Assembly resulted in major historic changes within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in America. Before reporting on those changes, it is important to understand the long history that created this moment.

More than 20 years ago a group of Lutherans in San Francisco refused to accept the ELCA requirement that gays and lesbians take a vow of celibacy in order to be ordained. No such vow was required of heterosexuals. Thus began the first of a series of acts of ecclesiastical disobedience across the denomination. St. Francis and First United Lutheran congregations in San Francisco celebrated the extraordinary ordinations of Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, and Phyllis Zillhart. They were subsequently expelled from the denomination. Since then 15 additional persons have been similarly ordained and placed as Pastors in congregations willing to call them and accept the risk of expulsion from the denomination for doing so.

It was these extraordinary ordinations that spread throughout the ELCA that helped set the scene for the acceptance of the 2009 Social Statement and four additional resolutions on Ministry Policies that now remove the denomination’s preclusion of GLBT people in committed relationships from being ordained.

Adopting "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" with a vote of 676 (66.67 percent) to 338 (33.33 percent) on Aug. 19, the statement passed by exactly the 2/3 majority required for adoption of Social Statements. This is the denomination’s 10th Social Statement and addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, explained to the Assembly that Social Statements "guide us as we step forward as a public church because they form the basis for both this church’s public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop."

An attempt was made to remove support for LGBT people by a motion to amend a section of the Social Statement dealing with "lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships". That section of the Statement took no position on the issue, but described the various positions held by members of the denomination. The proposed amendment would have reflected the position of only those in the church who believe the "practice of homosexual erotic behavior is contrary to God’s intent." The amendment was defeated 303 to 667

In addition to the Social Statement, four resolutions requiring only a majority vote were passed that directly relate to LGBT people and their place in this church. These are what changed the ELCA policy. They are presented below as reported by Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson in his letter to the denomination and are listed in the order they were voted, rather than numbered.

Resolution 3: "RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all." (Adopted 771-230 as amended)
Resolution 1: "RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." (Adopted 619-402)
Resolution 2: "RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church." (Adopted 559-451)
Resolution 4: This resolution called upon members to respect the bound consciences of those with whom they disagree; declared intent to allow structured flexibility in decision-making about candidacy and the call process; eliminated the prohibition of rostered service by members in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships; recognized and committed to respect the conviction of members who believe that the ELCA should not call or roster people in committed same-gender relationships; called for development of accountability guidelines; directed that amendments to ministry policy documents be drafted and approved; and stated that this church continue to trust congregations, bishops, synods and others responsible for determining who should be called into public ministry. (Adopted 667-307 as amended) 1

The ELCA can be very proud of its persistence in bringing about these historic resolutions, which had in a variety of other forms been before the Churchwide Assembly in prior years, but were defeated. Soulforce joined a coalition of Lutheran groups in 2001, 2003, 2005 attempting to help the ELCA confront the injustice. Congratulations again, ELCA.

1. Presiding Bishop’s letter dated August 22, 2009

Past Articles:

Randi Reitan: Why We Must Look For a New Church Home (September 24, 2005)

Soulforce Actions:

2005 Orlando – ELCA Churchwide Assembly

2003 Milwaukee – ELCA Churchwide Assembly

2001 Indianapolis – ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Related Sites: