Two close calls marked the third day of the General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Wednesday. The nearly 2,000 Lutherans, media and activists assembled at the Minneapolis Convention Center took cover as a tornado nipped one side of the building and damaged the steeple of a Lutheran church across the street. A short time later, the 1,014 voting members would pass a social statement relaxing church doctrine on homosexuality with a dramatic vote that was exactly a two-thirds majority. One vote against would have killed the measure.
“We trust the weather is not a commentary on our work,” said the Rev. Steven Loy, who was chairing the committee on the social statement.
The social statement is a long document that essentially says that the church will agree to disagree on the issue of same-sex relationships, but will neither punish congregations that decide to bless such relationships nor force congregations that reject blessing same-sex couples.
”This church also acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation,” the statement says in part. “We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships, uplift, shelter and protect them, or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.”
But LGBT Lutherans are hailing the vote, which came in at 676 to 338, exactly the 66.67 percent margin needed.
“This is a day of progress and compromise,” said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group that works for inclusive LGBT policies in the church. “By a two-thirds majority the church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding LGBT inclusion.”
But with such a close vote, opponents were inevitably not happy. “We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of Lutheran CORE, a group that opposes the relaxing of church teaching on homosexuality. “It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years.”
While the less controversial social statement passed by a two-thirds majority, an even more controversial vote is expected on Friday when the church will decide whether gay and lesbian pastors who are in committed relationships can lead ELCA congregations. That vote will need a simple majority to pass.
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