The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may become the only US-based Lutheran denomination to sanction the ordination of active homosexuals as clergy and lay ministers.
On Monday, the denominations Church Council released a statement with three resolutions tackling two key questions regarding homosexuality: should the church bless same-sex unions and should the church ordain non-celibate homosexuals.
The Councils statement has been forwarded to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, slated for Aug. 8-14 in Fla., during which delegates will choose to accept, reject or amend each of the three resolutions.
The critical resolutions resembled the recommendations made several months earlier by a 14-member Task-Force on Sexuality that had studied the contentious homosexuality debate for three years before drafting a final statement in January.
The Task Forces statement, which has drawn mixed reactions from church-members across the theological spectrum, listed three separate recommendations for the church:
--concentrate on living together faithfully despite disagreements
--uphold the 1993 ELCA Conference of Bishops opinion opposing the blessing of homosexual relationships while providing pastoral care for such couples.
--continue under the current standards on ordained ministers where no clergy member can be sexually active outside of wedlock - marriage being defined as a union between a man and a woman only - but refrain from disciplining those who find the standards in conflict with the mission for the church.
The first two recommendations were easily adopted by the Church Council without many modifications. However, the third recommendation the most hotly contested one was changed significantly by the board after several votes.
Going beyond the Task Force recommendation to refrain from disciplining those who choose to ordain active homosexuals, the Church Council called for the creation of an actual process to allow for exceptions regarding the sexual conduct of lesbian and gay clergy.
The third Church Council resolution calls on the denomination to "create a process for the sake of outreach, ministry and the commitment to continuing dialogue, which may permit exceptions to the expectations regarding sexual conduct for gay or lesbian candidates and rostered leaders in life-long, committed and faithful same-sex relationships who otherwise are determined to be in compliance" with the conduct the church expects of its ministers.
This recommendation, while not changing current policy, provides an official denomination process for the ordination of active homosexuals provided they remain faithful to their partner.
Current ELCA policy allows the ordination of celibate gays but prohibits active homosexuals from taking the pulpit.
Should the Churchwide Assembly members adopt the new policy, the ELCA will likely become the only US-based Lutheran denomination with official guidelines for such ordinations. Most other mainline denominations have struggled with the homosexuality debate for decades, but have managed to maintain laws that prohibit the ordination of active gay clergy.
According to ELCA News, the first two resolutions need only a simple majority to pass, but the final resolution needs at least a two-thirds vote to be accepted since it would change the denominations book of bylaws.