More on the ELCA’s ‘gay ordination’ struggles

More on the never-ending “gay debate” in mainline denominations…

I mentioned last week the latest ELCA move on the question of ordaining gay clergy: a task force has recommended that a national assembly this summer decide whether congregations and synods (regional bodies) should have the flexibility to choose clergy in monogamous, same-sex relationships.

The task force recommendations are hard to absorb. Here is a summation from Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo, head of the Metro NY Synod of the ELCA:

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“In brief, the Churchwide Assembly this coming August will decide whether to create “space” for congregations and synods to publically recognize and hold accountable the relationship of same-gendered couples (step one), and (step two) whether our Church ought to find ways to allow the rostered ministry of such persons. The task force acknowledges that conscience-bound faithful Christians find themselves on different sides of this issue. The task force also acknowledges that we are bound not only in our own consciences but in love to the conscience of the other. Because of the lack of consensus in the church, the task force believes that we need to respect our differences and accept the different places in which the baptized find themselves. The recommendation affirms that our distinctive positions on this issue should not be church-dividing. No congregation or institution will be forced to call a leader they do not wish to call.”

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Rimbo also writes in a message to the NY synod:

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“There has been a range of emotions – from anticipation to anxiety – surrounding the release of the Social Statement on Human Sexuality. Now that it is here, it is important to familiarize ourselves with its contents. Most of the statement is a non-controversial, comprehensive, Biblically-based understanding of human sexuality. As mentioned above, theological themes like trust, hope, joy, grace and faith are extraordinarily helpful in our efforts to reflect on healthy human sexual response and behavior.”

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Also, the head of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — a somewhat smaller and more conservative national Lutheran denomination — has released a statement lamenting the step taken by the ELCA task force.

Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the LC-MS, writes that the ELCA move would “constitute a radical departure from the 2,000-year-long teaching of the Christian tradition that homosexual activity, whether inside or outside of a committed relationship, is contrary to Holy Scripture.”

ELCA task force calls for ‘structured flexibility’ on gay questions

An ELCA task force studying sexuality has determined that…there is no consensus on homosexuality within the 4.7-million-member denomination.

An executive summary states:

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It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to understand in new ways the need of same-gender oriented individuals to seek relationships of lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments. This has led to differing understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. Disagreements exist in this church and in the larger Christian community about whether marriage is also the appropriate term to use to describe similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships.

Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect and for guidance that seeks the good of all. As we live together with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.

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The ELCA’s Metro NY Synod has over 200 churches from NYC up through the Lower Hudson Valley.

Where does the ELCA go from here?

The task force recommends that the denomination consider allowing individual congregations to decide whether to call gays and lesbians in committed relationships as clergy.

It also says that the denomination should consider some basic questions when its biannual conference is held in August in Minneapolis: Does it want to find an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples? Does it want to allow local congregations to call gay clergy?

The process could end with what the task force calls “structured flexibility,” which it describes like this:

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  1. Add a new element of structured flexibility to existing candidacy and call policies;
  2. Move from a policy that says a person in such a relationship can never be considered for rostering to a policy that trusts those to whom this church already has given responsibility for these decisions to;
  3. Allow them to act, should they so chose, within their arenas of responsibility;
  4. Using consistent churchwide policies that respect bound consciences; and
  5. Discern whether or not the ministry of Christ may be served best by approving or calling a specific gay or lesbian person who is living in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship.