How about those Lutherans (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)? On Thursday, August 20, 2009, they voted overwhelmingly for full communion with the United Methodist Church! This will provide more opportunities for working together in communities. I'm particularly hopeful about some of our rural communities where we could share clergy (UMC has had ELCA clergy but not the other way around). It was a great and celebratory event!
But you may not have heard about it on the news because on Friday, August 21, 2009, they voted that gay clergy could be placed on the roster for pastoral leadership in churches. The vote passed with the support of 68 percent of about 1,000 delegates at the ELCA's national assembly here in Minneapolis. It makes the group, with about 4.7 million members in the U.S., one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance.
While I was in attendance at the ELCA Assembly for their hearings and vote (and ultimately celebration) on being in full communion with the United Methodist Church, I heard some of their debate and marveled at their impassioned but not nasty discourse around homosexuality (at least what I heard). Their manner of being together didn't suggest to me that they will quickly or easily split or leave. They are also far more identified individually as Lutherans than we usually are as United Methodists. I wonder what that will mean for their way forward together as one.
I think that it's significant that the ELCA made this decision because they're the church of the "fly-over states." Lutherans are so mid-America, and not just geographically. What does this say about the American, Christian viewpoint on homosexuality, if anything?
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson writes, following the vote, that "we meet one another finally--not in our agreements or our disagreements--but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ." He affirmed the way in which the Assembly made the decision rather than the decision, but asked that those who "lament" and those who "rejoice" at it will continue to be in conversation and relationship with each other "for together we have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and engage in God's mission for the life of the world."
As United Methodist, we state that we will not ordain or appoint self-avowed, practicing homosexuals in our Church. We have people who have left because of this stance and also those who agree with the stance.
I had recently resolved to try to write a new blog entry for peoples' reflections and conversations on a more regular basis and it was time to write one. I wasn't going to write about the Lutherans, but then I read that good leadership doesn't allow an elephant to sit in the room! How could I ask a provoking question for people to reflect on when this decision has just happened?
I'm wondering how this decision should or could shape our own discussions on homosexuality. What can we learn from both their decision and how they made their decision? How does this decision impact us and our churches?
(Please remember the rules of engagement for civil discourse and I urge you to post your thoughts for others as opposed to writing me privately.)