The ELCA and Gay Pastors - One Year Later
One year ago I wrote the Hub, It's OK for Your Pastor to be Gay, Says ELCA. I thought it would be interesting to do a follow-up Hub to see how the ELCA's decision to accept non-celibate gays as clergymen has affected their denomination.
A Year Ago...
In August, 2009, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted to accept gays serving as clergy and professional lay leaders in the church. Before this vote, which passed 559-451, only celibate gays were allowed to serve.
The new rules, which began taking effect in November, 2009, allow for the installation of gay pastors. Congregations and synods, however, were left to make their own decision about whether to choose a gay pastor.
During the 2009 National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Tim Mumm, a lay delegate from Wisconsin stated, "We live today with an understanding of homosexuality that did not exist in Jesus' time and culture." Mumm is also a supporter of Lutherans Concerned, a gay-rights organization.
Javen Swanson, a seminarian who had recently wed his same-sex partner said, "The vote determined whether or not I was going to be able to continue through the ordination process."
Because of the passing vote, Swanson is able to be married to someone of the same sex and be an ordained pastor at the same time.
Gay Ministers Officially Accepted
On July 25th, 2010, 11 months after the policy change regarding gay pastors and clergy, seven gay ministers were welcomed into the ELCA. The ceremony took place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.
This group of ministers was already ordained and serving in the San Francisco Bay area, but not officially a part of the clergy roster. Three more gay pastors will be welcomed at ceremonies in September and October—two in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area and one in Chicago. All together, 46 openly gay ministers who had previously been excluded from the church’s clergy roster will now be accepted. By being on the roster, these ministers can now be eligible for the full housing allowance and retirement benefits and be voting delegates to churchwide assemblies.
“It’s been a long and hard journey for a lot of people, and it feels like this is a new beginning in the history of the E.L.C.A.," says Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
While it seems Vagts fully supports gay ministers officially becoming a part of the clergy roster, there are those like The Rev. Mark Chavez who oppose it. “It’s just another steady step taken by the E.L.C.A. to move the denomination further and further away from most Lutheran churches around the world and from the whole Christian church, unfortunately.”
A New Denomination is Formed
With a total of about 4.5 million members, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. There are a total of 10,239 ELCA churches. Those numbers, however, are changing.
As of the beginning of August, 2010, 199 congregations have gone through the system to leave the ELCA while another 136 are awaiting a second vote in order to leave. About 75 percent of the churches that already left the ELCA have affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—another, smaller denomination. Others still may join the newest Lutheran denomination called the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
The NALC officially became a denomination when it's provisional constitution was approved on August 27, 2010. Eighteen churches from 12 states signed on as charter members. It is estimated that more than 200 churches will join the NALC by the end of 2011. The new denomination will have its main office in New Brighton, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The 18 churches which have joined so far are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
To Stay or Leave
Many members of the ELCA have made or will make the decision to stay or leave. Those who choose to leave most likely will do so because of their scriptural interpretation of homosexuality. Some will stay because of their loyalty and because they see the positive effect of the ELCA's involvement with missions and other forms of outreach.
Pastor Kathleen Meyers says, "I have friends who are gay — for me, it's a very personal issue, but I can't set aside the authority of scripture just because I have friends that I love."
Other members of the ELCA, like Bruce Winkler says he will not be leaving the ELCA, although he supports the formation of the new denomination because he is concerned over the loss of scriptural authority. He says, "it's the gospel of acceptance, rather than the gospel of redemption" He feels the ELCA focuses too much on just loving everybody and forgets the parts about obedience and sanctification.
The South Dakota bishop of the ELCA said he has no plans of leading his synod out of the denomination over last year's pro-gay actions. He also said that no congregation in the South Dakota synod will be forced to accept a gay or lesbian rostered leader and has assured local believers that the synod still does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Many members of the ELCA will wrestle with the decision to stay or leave. And with other churches, such as the Presbyterian and the Methodists churches debating whether or not to follow suit, those members will also be faced with the same decision.
I'm curious to know, what would you do?
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