ELCA Bishops Expected to Review Divisive Policy Changes

The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is currently meeting in Itasca, Ill., and expected to review a revision to ELCA ministry policies that would make it possible for gay members to serve in leadership positions.

The Conference of Bishops, which serves as an advisory body of the church, had requested last October to have another opportunity to review the updated revision before the ELCA Church Council takes final action in April.

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly, ELCA's highest legislative body, had directed the wider church body to revise its ministry policies after voting last August to allow noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained.

The vote has splintered the 4.6 million-member denomination, prompting a number of congregations to sever ties and a group of renewal Lutherans to work on an alternate North American Lutheran body.

Since the controversial vote, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson has urged congregations not to make any hasty moves and to instead engage in conversation. He indicated in an online "Town Hall Forum" last December that there's room for those on both sides of the debate – those who are pro-gay and those who hold homosexuality as unbiblical – in the denomination.

The passed resolution not only opens the way for congregations to ordain gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" but also recognizes that congregations with a traditional view of homosexuality have the right to teach and order their ministries accordingly, Hanson explained.

On Sunday, Hanson was expected to hold another hour-long "Town Hall Forum" to field questions on a variety of topics from members of the denomination.

The forum will be webcast live at 5 p.m. ET from Chicago, which is about 30 miles of east of Itasca, where Hanson and other members of the Conference of Bishops have been meeting since Thursday.

The Conference of Bishops – which consists of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary – concludes its meeting on Tuesday.