The top legislative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is set to take key votes this week on ordaining gays and blessing same-sex unions. Conflicts over what the Bible says about homosexuality have been tearing at Protestant denominations for years.
About 1,000 church members will meet beginning Monday in Orlando, where they'll decide whether to ordain gays who are not celibate and whether to bless same-sex unions.
No split is imminent. Conservative Lutherans have planned a November meeting to consider forming an association of like-minded churches, but within the ELCA.
Still, few Lutherans believe church members can reconcile their conflicting views of what the Bible says about homosexuality, and tensions rooted in years of wrangling over the issue are expected to spill over at the Churchwide Assembly, which runs through next Sunday, Washington Post informs.
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, head of the Chicago-based denomination, expressed hope that the church would stay unified despite these differences.
"I don't look to a tension-free church as the mark of a vital and healthy church in mission," Hanson was quoted as saying by Washington Post. "I think, as a large church body, we have great capacity to be in mission together that is diminished when we are apart." Turmoil over homosexuality in other Protestant churches is expected to influence the Lutheran vote.
The starkest example is the Episcopal Church, which set off a crisis among fellow members of the Anglican Communion by confirming its first openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire two years ago. Anglicans worldwide are now struggling to remain unified.
Another concern is whether a change in Lutheran policy would affect relations with other Christian groups and within the Lutheran World Federation, which represents 138 churches in 77 countries. Members of the association, which Hanson also leads, differ on gay issues.
The key proposals before the Orlando assembly are based on years of work by a denominational task force on sexuality that tried to find a compromise policy.
The measures would:
- Affirm the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays, but allow bishops and church districts called synods to seek an exception for a particular candidate if that person is in a committed relationship and meets other conditions.
- Uphold the denomination's prohibition against same-sex blessings, but give bishops and pastors discretion in deciding how to minister to gay couples.
- Call for unity, even though congregants disagree on the issue.
Despite this attempt to find a middle ground, the task force proposals failed to win support from Lutheran groups most active in the gay debate. Those on opposing sides plan, separately, to lobby against the measures on church policy.