Conservative, Liberal Lutherans Criticize Proposed Gay Clergy Bill

Liberal and conservative Lutherans criticized a resolution released Monday that could possibly open doors to the ordination of sexually active homosexuals in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

After a three-day meeting a the denomination's headquarters in Chicago, the ELCA Church Council proposed three resolutions that, if passed, would alter the current standards on ordinations to allow exceptions to the ban on sexually active gay clergy.

The five-million-member ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the US and one of the largest mainline protestant bodies. Like many other mainline Protestant denominations, the ELCA battled over homosexuality for several years and has managed to maintain its standards on ordination.

By Monday evening, traditional and liberal groups within the ELCA released statements criticizing the bill - though for opposing reasons.

According to the president of WordAlone – one of the redoubts of conservative Lutheranism in ELCA – the resolutions threaten the future of the entire denomination.

“The ELCA leadership and church council are gambling with the future of the ELCA and any hope of being a mainline denomination that will move forward and yet stand firm for a faithful future,” said WordAlone President Rev. Jaynan Clark Egland.

“Someone needs to ask the church council, ‘By what authority do you do these things?’ Certainly they don’t believe they can un-sin sin for certain people in specific places. Do we really want to make room for that kind of practice? Talk about setting a precedent,” he said.

Liberals, meanwhile, criticized the resolutions for not allowing a big-enough step forward for homosexuals.

"They're creating a second-class roster, and a complicated process of exceptions which will not serve gay or lesbian people well, and I'm afraid it won't serve the church well," said the Rev. Jeff Johnson, a pastor in Berkeley, Calif., and co-chair of Good Soil, a group seeking to change the church's policy.

Gay supporters also expressed concern that the proposal – which must be approved by the denomination’s churchwide assembly this summer – may not be adopted because it is so complicated and filled with conditions.

Clark Egland predicted the churchwide assembly will maintain a more conservative stance than that of the Church Council.

Said Egland: “Jesus often asked his followers if they had ears to hear. Perhaps the same question needs to be directed at the church council and elected leadership who seem to be deaf to both the Word of God and the clear voice of the majority of ELCA members, churches and synods. They have responded clearly and consistently, ‘No change.’ Is anyone in the churchwide organization listening?”