By Rachel Zoll
Saturday, August 13, 2005
ORLANDO, Aug. 12 -- A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal Friday that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions.
The measure would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gay men and lesbians, but it would have allowed bishops and church districts, or synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate -- if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.
Delegates voted against the measure 503 to 490. The proposal needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
Earlier in the day, delegates voted 851 to 127 to keep the church unified despite serious differences over homosexuality. They also rebuffed what many saw as an attempt to push the denomination toward approval of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
All the proposals -- the product of three years' work by a special church task force -- were meant as a compromise that would satisfy both those who support gay clergy and those who regard gay sex as sinful. The measures, however, drew immediate opposition from Lutherans on both sides of the debate.
Conservatives said the ordination proposal would have effectively overturned prohibitions against non-celibate gays in the Lutheran ministry. Advocates for gays were not satisfied, either. They said the measure would have created a second-class roster for homosexual clergy in the church.
In a news conference immediately after the vote, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said he hopes gay men and lesbians did not take the vote as a sign they are not welcome in the church, which has 4.9 million members. "They are. We have said that publicly and clearly," he said.
New Jersey Synod Bishop E. Roy Riley, chairman of the church's Conference of Bishops, said the vote was a good indicator of what the entire church was thinking: "This church is not ready to make major changes in its ordination practices."
Lutheran gay advocates were angered. A coalition called Goodsoil accused the church of sacrificing gays "on the altar of a false and ephemeral sense of unity."
During the debate, Louis Hesse of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod said those arguing for gay ordination had not made a convincing theological or scientific argument on why they were right: "A Gospel of full acceptance, accepting everyone the way they are -- what does that say about sinfulness?"
But the Rev. G. Scott Cady of the New England Synod said rejecting gays who feel a call to ministry was tantamount to questioning the will of God. "We have vacant pulpits and altars in congregations all over this country," Cady said. "The Holy Spirit has said, 'All right, here they are. Here they are.' Are we going to now say, 'Thanks, Holy Spirit, but we prefer something else'?"
Disagreement over what the Bible says about homosexuality has torn at Protestant denominations for years. The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop two years ago, and Anglicans worldwide are struggling to remain unified.
Last month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada voted against allowing local pastors to decide whether to bless same-sex couples. The other major U.S. Lutheran body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is staunchly conservative on gay issues.