ELCA Bishops Delay Changes to Ordination Policy

Bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America requested more time to review ministry policy revisions that will formally open the ordination process to practicing homosexuals.

The changes were discussed at a Conference of Bishops meeting that ended Tuesday, but the synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary want another opportunity to look over the updated language before it's made permanent.

The ministry policy revisions were voted on in August at the Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA's chief legislative body approved a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained.

Previously, the ELCA allowed for the ordination of gays and lesbians if they remained celibate.

Delegates also adopted a new social statement on human sexuality that was released earlier this year. The document was developed by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality which agreed that the denomination cannot responsibly consider any changes to its policies unless it is able and willing in some way to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

The assembly's actions have prompted dozens of churches to reconsider their membership in the nation's largest Lutheran denomination. Community Church of Joy, a megachurch in Glendale, Ariz., voted unanimously last month to cut ties with the ELCA, arguing that the denomination was heading in a direction that was not consistent to where God had called them.

Other conservative congregations are choosing to hold off on hasty actions, at least until next year.

Meanwhile, ministry policy changes are not expected before April 2010, according to the ELCA News Service. Bishops plan to make drafts of the possible revisions public to the entire denomination for feedback.

"We will be well-served if there are [many] people reading these," said the Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director of the ELCA Vocation and Education Unit, as reported by the denomination's news service.

Olson explained that they intended to make only necessary changes and did not attempt to cover every possible situation. But they did discuss concerns such as whether the new language affirmed those who do not agree with the changes, whether it addressed a bishop's own conscience regarding ministers in same-sex relationships, and whether forms will indicate if a candidate for ordination is in a same-sex relationship.

The Rev. A. Donald Main, who chairs the ELCA Committee on Appeals, commented, "The committee feels our changes are unifying, not separating, and they establish one standard for all."

The Conference of Bishops' meeting took place in Chicago Oct. 1-6. Just as they began meeting, the bishops were urged by the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – the second largest Lutheran church body – not to implement the actions taken at the assembly.

"It would be a blessing to our ongoing cooperative relationships if the actions taken at the ELCA Assembly were not implemented, nor given influence, in the context of inter-Lutheran ministries involving the LCMS and the ELCA, so that these relationships would be neither damaged nor destroyed," the Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick said in an Oct. 1 letter to the Conference of Bishops.

Kieschnick expressed his sadness over the ELCA's gay-affirming actions and warned that they would negatively affect the relationship between the two Lutheran bodies. The LCMS will reevaluate its cooperative working arrangements with the ELCA during its next triennial convention, scheduled to be held July 10-17, 2010, in Houston.