Top Lutheran Council Rejects Synod's Same-Sex Resolution

A top legislative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected an effort by its New York Synod to override denomination-wide laws regarding homosexual ministers.

At an Apr. 1-2 meeting in Chicago, the Church Council of the ELCA concluded that a resolution adopted by the church’s New York Synod “contains inherently conflicting statements that may be read as being in conflict with the constitution and bylaws of this church.” The synod resolution addressed the “exercise of discipline” regarding lay leaders and ordained ministers who are openly and actively homosexual.

Last year, the ELCA affirmed its longstanding policy requiring ministers to refrain from any sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. Ministers who violate such policies can be lightly reprimanded or have their ministerial licenses revoked.

Despite the church-wide decision, the New York Synod adopted separate resolutions concerning the discipline of a minister “in a loving, committed, same-gender relationship.”

Under its resolution, the New York synod decided that the disciplining of an openly homosexual minister should be determined mainly by the “mission and pastoral needs of the congregation and synod.”

In four points, the resolution urged that the discipline committee refrain from disciplining the minister if the pastoral needs of the congregation are not served through such discipline.

The Church Council, which received the synod’s resolution in November 2005, rejected the resolution on the basis that “synods do not have the authority to adopt their own policies and guidelines for discipline.”

In further explaining the conflict, the council’s chair of legal and constitutional review told the ELCA News Service that the New York resolution would add additional requirements before submitting a charge against ministers who violate church policy.

The resolution suggested "that you can only submit a charge to the bishop if you describe how it would best serve the mission and pastoral needs of that specific ministry,” said the Rev. Kenneth M. Ruppar, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Richmond, Va.

“That's an additional requirement to the current requirements to submit charges. So, in our reading of it, that appears to add to the requirements, and it changes the basis for filing charges."

The ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod includes approximately 80,000 Lutherans in more than 230 congregations in the New York counties of Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester.