The president of the second largest Lutheran denomination in America told delegates of the largest that their decisions this past week to allow and support rostering of those in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" would "undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony" in their church body and beyond.
"I speak these … words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend," the Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), told the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly on Saturday.
"The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA," he added on the second-to-last day of the weeklong gathering of ELCA's chief legislative authority. "It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies."
On Friday, ELCA delegates approved a resolution to allow gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships to be ordained by a 559-451 vote, which effectively overturned the denomination's ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.
The denomination's leader, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, expressed concern that Friday's decision would push individuals and congregations to leave but encouraged them to stay in "the conversation."
"Are you willing to stay engaged with us in the conversation about how you can, with integrity, stay in this church body so that we might respect your bound conscience?" Hanson posed during a news conference.
He also noted that he was pleased with the respect that has been shown from both sides of the gay clergy debate over the past eight years.
The resolution to change ELCA's ministry policies was put forward by the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality which had been assigned to develop a social statement on human sexuality as well as make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to policies regarding practicing homosexual persons.
The panel's social statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," was narrowly adopted on Wednesday. The document acknowledges that there is neither a consensus nor an emerging one in the denomination on homosexuality and also recommends that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
In his remarks Saturday, LCMS's president acknowledged the division that currently exists between his church body and ELCA – a division that he said "threatens to become a chasm."
"This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality," said Kieschnick, whose 2.4 million-member denomination is about half the size of the 4.7 million-member ELCA.
"Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God's revealed and infallible Word," he added.
Still, despite the doctrinal differences that separate the two bodies, Kieschnick prayed that God grant members of the two Lutheran bodies "sensitivity, humility, boldness, courage, faithfulness, and forgiveness as we continue to strive toward God-pleasing harmony and concord in what we believe, teach, and confess."
"We have much to accomplish in the mission our Lord Jesus has entrusted to us. May God have mercy upon us all, and grant us His peace in Christ," he concluded.
As Kieschnick ended his remarks, Hanson expressed to him his "deep commitment that our shared confessions that hold us together as Lutherans … will be strong enough for us to continue to be in conversation" and to continue work together through several cooperative ministries.
The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis is set to conclude Sunday.