ELCA Urges 'Restraint' toward Gay Pastors

Article excerpt

FOR YEARS, the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination has avoided some of the rancor over the issue of same-sex relationships that has divided the Episcopal Church and, to a lesser extent, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church. That could change, given two different decisions by the 4.8-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at its 2007 biennial assembly August 6-11 at Chicago's Navy Pier.

The Churchwide Assembly voted August 10 not to overturn the denomination's rules that bar the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy. The 1,000 voting delegates appeared to prefer dealing with that policy in 2009 when the assembly will discuss a long-awaited study on human sexuality.

But a day later, the delegates approved a resolution that calls on bishops and synods to "refrain" from taking punitive action or to "demonstrate restraint" in disciplining gay clergy in committed relationships.

That resolution, which passed 538 to 431, may have been prompted partly by the case of Bradley Schmeling, an Atlanta pastor defrocked this year after he told his bishop of his relationship with a male partner. In addition, earlier at the assembly, more than 80 ELCA clergy and seminarians publicly declared their homosexuality.

While seeing the restraint resolution as an interim measure, Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned, a group advocating for gays, declared that the vote was "one giant step" by the Chicago-based denomination.

"Full inclusion and acceptance is still down the road, but the dam of discrimination has been broken," according to Eastwood, who also spoke for GoodSoil, a coalition of groups supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people active in churches. "It is a great day for LGBT clergy," she said.

Lutheran CORE, which opposes giving homosexuals in the church more rights, called the two votes an example of shutting "the front door for now on allowing ministers in same-sex relationships to serve the denomination," but then telling "them to go to the back door and come in. …