Thursday, January 13, 2005

Lutherans Wimp Out on Homosexuality

They had the opportunity to lift restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians, but chose not to, for the most part.

Instead, a report released today by the ELCA Studies on Sexuality task force recommended no changes in written policy.

Officially, that means that the church will take no position on whether or not local clergy can bless same-sex relationships; but pastors are reminded that marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples are not recognized by the national church. (To be fair, this is the policy for even the left-leaning UCC. There are commitment ceremonies, but they're only called "marriages" in areas where that's legal.)

The other hot button issue before the task force was the place of gays and lesbians in "rostered ministry." The commission recommended no changes at this time, which means that both single heterosexuals and all homosexual clergy will be expected to be celibate. But the task force proposed a "local option" whereby Lutheran synods and conferences could decline to apply sanctions to such pastors.

At the same time, the task force threw a bone to conservative groups within the denomination. From the ELCA's press release:

The third recommendation's commentary pointed out that ELCA congregations are
"not forced to accept" any minister. The church strives to match the gifts of a
minister with the needs of a particular community of faith, it said, and those
doing that work should be trusted to do it with respect for the consciences of
those favoring and those opposing the church's policies.

This is a reminder to conservative congregations that they cannot be required to call a gay pastor.

Overall, it seems like the task force was trying to find a middle way between strongly polarized groups within the church. Their report stresses the need for continued dialog and mutual respect, but it's unclear if those pleas will be heeded.

After several steps in a review process, the group's recommendations will be voted on in a "churchwide assembly, which meets every other year; the next assembly will be Aug. 8-14 in Orlando, Fla." Both sides of the debate seem prepared to advocate strongly for their points of view.

No strong condemnation from this quarter; the task force's charge was to find answers the entire denomination could live with, and that's what they've tried to do.

But it is sad to know that they had the opportunity to take a real step forward--and passed.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Chris T. said...

This is not making it any easier for me to stay in the ELCA. (I actually attended a UCC church on Sunday and will be worshipping there for a while...)

My own reaction to this whole thing is that we should never have charged a task force with arriving at a compromise to mollify all sides. If what we wanted was a compromise, we could have done that at the CWA. What I expect from the denominational leadership, if they are going to take an action to recommend something to the CWA, is that they lead. No leadership was displayed here, in fact no serious discernment was displayed here--what the denomination did was waffle and try to make everyone happy. I am not a Christian, certainly not a fire-breathing Lutheran, to be made happy. I want my church to challenge me and all its members. That did not happen today.

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