Letter to ELCA Conference of Bishops

July 13, 2001

The Rev. H. George Anderson, Presiding Bishop
Dr. Addie Butler, Vice President
The Rev. Donald J. McCoid, Chair, Conference of Bishops
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631

Dear Bishop Anderson, Dr. Butler and Bishop McCoid,

We greet you in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

In a few short weeks, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be convening in Indianapolis. At this Assembly, the Voting Members will be asked to make highly significant decisions that will have major impact on the lives of members of congregations within the ELCA. We are writing specifically to address the ELCA’s policies of discrimination and exclusion faced by many of God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (lgbt) and who experience daily the spiritually deadening effects of having the legitimacy of their relationships demeaned and their calls to the ordained Word and Sacrament ministry challenged.

Openly gay and lesbian pastors now serve ELCA congregations faithfully. Many more are in seminary preparing for call to ordained ministry. While some of these pastors and seminarians have forsaken partners and committed relationships to comply with the unconscionable demand to live celibate lives, or have kept their relationships secret, many others live openly with partners in congregations and synods throughout this church with the acknowledgement, encouragement and acceptance of their Bishops, councils and division executives.

In 1996, the Conference of Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter to the lesbian and gay community in which was stated: "We also call attention to the action of the 1991 Churchwide Assembly that declared ‘gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.’ "

The ELCA’s policy of discrimination as well as its inconsistent and irregular enforcement undermines the very participation you seek. It is time for the leadership of the ELCA to move beyond the rhetoric of "welcome" into the invitation unto "full participation."

Full participation is precluded by the ELCA’s policy of discrimination that specifically prohibits non-celibate lgbt people from serving in the rostered ministries of this church. These prohibitions must be lifted for "full participation" to be a reality. The time to implement such a change is the present. While conversation will continue in the days and years to come as we deepen our participation, action in the present can no longer be delayed.

We who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our allies can no longer justifiably wait. Since the early 50’s, Lutherans have been studying gay and lesbian persons. The time for this technique of postponing action through study has come to an end.

What is necessary at this moment in history is that you make good on your public invitation to "full participation."

We call on you and other leaders within the ELCA, to take the kind of steps our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in common communion took when they met for their national convention earlier this summer: remove the standing policy of discrimination. Resolutions are before this assembly, which, if passed, would restore the Lutheran Church to a position of leadership in the continuing reformation of the whole body of Christ.

Therefore we call upon you to stop ELCA sponsored spiritual violence against baptized sisters and brothers in Christ, and at this time to move the church toward full participation:

  1. We urge you to provide leadership and support to the amendment of Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA (page 13) to hold lgbt clergy to the same standards of sexual conduct as all other clergy. We support language such as the following: "…Married ordained ministers and those in committed relationships are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses/partners, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage/committed relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful." The following statement must be removed from this document: "Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."
  2. We urge you to provide leadership and support to the amendment of Definitions and Guidelines. The following statement must be deleted from this document: "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the rostered ministries of this church."
  3. We urge you to renounce and to distance yourselves from the false teachings concerning the sexuality of lgbt persons reflected in ELCA statements and the social statements of our predecessor church bodies and to adopt in their place Gospel-centered teachings such as the following: "To love our neighbor means open affirmation of gay and lesbian persons and their mutually loving, just, committed relationships of fidelity."
  4. Finally, we urge you to implement in regards to lgbt people the ELCA’s policy requiring that the church "provide structures and decision-making processes for this church that foster mutuality and interdependence and that involve people in making decisions that affect them" (ELCA Constitution 4.03.o) by explicitly including openly identified single and partnered lgbt people in these structures and decision making processes that affect us.

To this end, will you:

  1. Meet with us prior to the convening of the 2001 Churchwide Assembly to discuss these ways of implementing your publicly expressed invitation to "full participation?"
  2. Invite the Church Council to consider the changes necessary to lift the policy at their meeting prior to the Churchwide Assembly?
  3. Arrange for specific and reliable guidance from ELCA legal and parliamentary authorities to be provided in writing and in advance to the Voting Members on options available to them at this Assembly for removing the ban on the ordination of non-celibate lgbt persons?

As you are aware, Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project in cooperation with Lutherans Concerned/North America, The Network for Inclusive Vision and Wingspan Ministry, have invited Soulforce (www.soulforce.org) to join us at the Assembly in Indianapolis from August 10-13. Hundreds of us will stand quiet, respectful vigil during those first days, inviting Voting Members to attend an open-air celebration of our Lutheran civil rights heroes from the past and present on Sunday afternoon, August 12. We will also be training those volunteers for a nonviolent act of spiritual resistance (and possible civil disobedience) on Monday, August 13, if it becomes apparent that the Churchwide Assembly is deciding to postpone justice yet again or worse.

We hope that our presence at the Churchwide Assembly will end up being a celebration that justice has been done at last. If not, we are prepared to put our bodies on the line to help end the suffering caused by this tragic policy of discrimination.

We write to you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, with the knowledge that while we may not agree on all matters, we share a commitment to full partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Would you be so kind as to respond to Dr. Mari Irvin or the Rev. Jeff Johnson, our ELCA Indianapolis Co-chairs. We have included their phone numbers, email and postal addresses after their signatures. We would be grateful if you would contact us before July 23rd with your questions or comments and date/time suggestions for our meeting with you.

Let us work together to make this a present tense reality for lgbt persons striving for faithfulness in their call to rostered ministries and in their lives and partnerships as baptized believers.

Sincerely in Christ,

On behalf of the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation:
Dr. Mari G. Irvin
ELCA Indianapolis Co-chair
655 Corbett Avenue # 507
San Francisco CA 94114

The Rev. Jeff R. Johnson
University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley
ELCA Indianapolis Co-chair
134 Prague
San Francisco CA 94112

Dr. Margaret Moreland, President
Extraordinary Candidacy Project

The Rev. Dr. Cindy Witt, Chair
The Network for Inclusive Vision

Mr. Greg A. Egertson, Co-chair
Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries

Ms. Lynn Mickelson, Co-chair
Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries

Mr. Tim Feiertag, Co-chair
Lutherans Concerned/North America

Ms. Janelle Bussert, Co-chair
Lutherans Concerned/North America

Ms. Emily Eastwood, Chair
Wingspan Ministry

On behalf of Soulforce:
The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Founder

The Rev. Daphne Burt, Associate Dean
Rockefeller Chapel University of Chicago
Soulforce Indianapolis Co-chair

Ms. Beth H. Meyer
Soulforce Indianapolis Co-chair

Read second letter.