Emotions Run High as Lutherans Discuss Role of Homosexuals

Emotions ran high at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s evening gathering in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, but nothing was resolved regarding what role homosexuals should have in the denomination.

Some 400 delegates and observers gathered into a hotel meeting room yesterday to talk informally about their view on the most critical issue facing the church: homosexual ordinations and same-sex marriage blessings.

While no one advocated the church to completely back gay marriage, some said barriers to gay ordination – whether or not the minister is celibate – should be taken down.

The Rev. Robert Goldstein, a gay minister at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago, said delegates should “go beyond the justice of incrementalism” and remove limits to homosexual leadership.

“I’m a gay pastor in this church. I serve faithfully. I love it,” said Goldstein, who wore a rainbow sash around his cleric’s collar. “Our church must go beyond institutionalizing fear.”

Later this week, the denomination will consider passing three recommendations on sexuality that would essentially keep the church’s prohibitions of sexually active gay ministers and blessings of gay marriages, but allow excepts to either case. These slippery exceptions have been widely criticized by conservative and traditional Lutherans, who are planning to call for amendments to clarify what the recommendations are really saying for the 1,018 ELCA voting members there.

On Sunday, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod asked the Church Council to spell out what it means in its second recommendation, which says the church should respect a 1993 Bishops’ statement against homosexual marriage blessings. At the end of that statement, there is a cause extending “pastoral care” to homosexuals, and some have used the 1993 statement to justify blessing homosexual partners as a part of “pastoral care.” The Church Council was therefore asked to clarify its recommendation, since people have had different interpretations of it.

However, the Council left the recommendation as-is, saying any further discussion would confuse matters more.

On Tuesday, Judy Biffle of Houston, a member of the church council who led the standing-room-only hearing crowd, acknowledged the recommendation “is ambiguous somewhat intentionally.”

Clear or unclear, some members said clashes with conservative partners overseas will be threatened should the ELCA take an open stance toward actively gay ministers.

The Rev. Carol Custead of Hollidaysburg, Pa. said a Lutheran bishop in Kenya had told her “ties may have to be broken” if the denomination moved toward approving gay relationships.

This would not come as a surprise to many observers. In 2003, the Episcopal Church, USA, consecrated its first openly gay bishop, and months later it was caught in one of the biggest schisms of Anglican history. Now, many of the world’s Anglicans choose not to associate with the Episcopal Church and have called for the American church’s excommunication.

A vote on the resolutions - or amendments or substitutes - is expected Friday.