ELCA Legislative Body Passes New Two-Thirds Vote Rule

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a two-thirds majority rule to pass any “constitution, bylaws and continuing resolutions” in the church, during its meeting at the ELCA headquarters in Chicago, Il, Nov. 15. The newly adopted rule was passed in light of the ELCA’s upcoming report on human sexuality.

The Church Council is the ELCA’s board of directors, and serves as the legislative authority of the church between the biennial churchwide assemblies. The next assembly is scheduled for Aug. 8-14, 2005, in Orlando, Fla.

In the past, delegates to the churchwide assemblies needed only a simple majority to make changes in the ELCA constitution and bylaws.

During the debate over the new policy, Ellen T. Maxon, a council member from Washington D.C., defended the old simple majority system as more “fair” than a 2/3 majority standard.

"This is not a neutral recommendation," said Maxon. “The rule sets a high bar and sends a clear message that, if you want change, it's going to be harder to achieve.”

According to the ELCA news, Maxon added that “The cleanest way to avoid sending that message is by letting a simple majority vote prevail. Let the assembly do what it wants and not have the church council decide for it.”

However, the majority of Council members countered Maxon’s view.

“Initiating a two-thirds rule is consistent,” said Linda J. Brown, council member from Fargo, N.D. "It is critical that we act on the rules of procedure independent from upcoming recommendations to protect our integrity." Initiating a two-thirds rule "is consistent.”

Joseph G. Crippen, council member from Northfield, Minn., noted that without a decision to initiate a two-thirds rule now, there may be greater havoc at the upcoming assembly and at the council’s next meeting in April.

“If we leave [the two-thirds majority vote] out and not deal with it in April, can the assembly determine its own voting procedure?” Crippen asked.

The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, the ELCA secretary, said the two-thirs majority is “consistent with the present language” and that “all the rules being proposed by the church council are subjected to amendment by the churchwide Assembly.”

Much of the debate on the future of ELCA polity centered on the upcoming ELCA Studies on Sexuality – a complete paper on the denomination’s view on ‘human sexuality’ and homosexuality. The paper, similar to those being penned by several other denominations, addresses the contentious issue of homosexuals, ordination of homosexuals, and the blessing of same-sex unions in the church. The task force for the Study on Sexuality plans to share its report and recommendations confidentially with ELCA lay and ordained leaders via email on Jan. 12; the report will be released publicly on Jan 13.

In an interview following the Council meeting with the ELCA news group, Carlose Pena, the ELCA vice president and council chair said there were “different factors” involved in the council’s decision to adopt the two-thirds rule “verses a simple majority for accepting the task force report.”

Some council members "felt that maybe it just needed a simple majority, that we were actually changing the rules of procedure in anticipation of the task force report,” explained Pena.

However, Pena said the two-thirds decision is important because “allows us not to be swayed one way or the other by what the task force report" may yield. "It certainly sets the rules in place, before we even know what" recommendations may be forthcoming. "So, it makes it more neutral.”