ELCA Removes All Barriers to Gay Inclusion

Earlier this month, without a lot of fanfare or notice from the media, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) removed the final barriers to full ministry within the denomination for gay and lesbian people.

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love celebrated the milestone at Huffington Post:

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.

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting in Chicago April 9-12, also authorized a rite to recognize the ministries of LGBT pastors who had been ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM). Many of those ministers have been serving ELCA churches, but could not be listed on the denomination’s roster of pastors because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Specifically, the church changed two sections in its rules on ministry, striking celibacy restrictions on “ordained ministers who are homosexual.” The new section reads:

An ordained minister who is in a publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationship is expected to live in fidelity to his or her partner, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a publicly accountable relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful.

A passage on the sexual matters associated with clergy has also been changed to recognize same-sex relationships:

… chastity and abstinence are required outside of marriage or outside publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, and chastity and fidelity are required within marriage or within such same-gender relationships.

The document revisions immediately put into practice what the Lutherans decided last summer, so the outcry among opponents has been muted. Indeed, only one member of the council abstained from the vote.

Keith A. Hunsinger, council member, Oak Harbor, Ohio, who said he does not agree with the sexuality decisions made in August 2009, announced April 11 that he had abstained on each vote on the documents. He explained that he didn’t believe that the first drafts of the documents released last fall embodied the full range of decisions made at the 2009 assembly. “My conscience won’t allow me to vote for any of these documents, but as a member of the board of directors, I can’t vote against the will of the churchwide assembly,” he told the ELCA News Service. However, Hunsinger told the council that the final forms of each document reflected “the breadth and depth” of the decisions, including the fact that “we agreed to live under a big tent,” and that multiple voices would be heard. “Because those documents now said that, I feel my ideas and I are still welcome in the ELCA,” he said.

Those who don’t feel their ideas are welcome are pulling away from the church to gather under a newer, smaller, tent. A new Lutheran denomination, the North American Lutheran Church, is being formed from churches who have left the denomination, upset that gay and lesbian ministers are being accepted.

It reminds me of a question my conservative Christian sister asked me long ago when denominations were just beginning this process of accepting LGBT people not just in the pews, but in the pulpits. She worried aloud, “If all these churches accept gays and lesbians, where will I go to church?”

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “There will always be homophobic, bigoted churches you can go to.”

And so there are—and will continue to be those churches and denominations that will refuse to see that LGBT people are also God’s children, made, blessed and called. But, it’s wonderful to see the bigger, more progressive denominations finally getting it—that we are one body, one blood, and we are stronger when we serve together.

Congratulations to the ELCA for finally recognizing God’s blessings among them in the form of their LGBT brothers and sisters.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)