ELCA Closer to Adopting Policy Revisions on Gay Ordination

Leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Monday approved revisions to ministry policies that would officially accommodate gay and lesbian ministers.

New language in the policies pertaining to ordination makes room in leadership for those in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The draft proposal was drawn up during a six-day meeting by the ELCA Conference of Bishops. The meeting concluded Tuesday.

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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.

ELCA bishops acknowledge in the draft proposal that members of the church hold various convictions about same-sex relationship. But it adds, "Nonetheless, this church has committed itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships and to hold them publicly accountable.

"It has committed itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church. It also has committed itself to make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster people in such relationships."

Revisions were made to the ELCA's "Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" statement that was adopted in 1990 and to the "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline of Ordained Ministers" document.

A sentence reading "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry of this church" was crossed out along with the phrase "The biblical understanding which this church affirms is that the normative setting for sexual intercourse is marriage."

The draft proposal adds such language as, "The expectation of this church is that an ordained minister is to lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed. In keeping with this expectation, chastity and abstinence are required outside of marriage or outside publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, and chastity and fidelity are required within marriage or within such same-gender relationships."

Regarding relationship to family, the original statement in the ELCA's ministry policy read, "Individuals on the official roster of laypersons of this church, whether married or single, are expected to uphold Christian ideals of marriage in their public ministry as well as in private life."

The revised version changes "Christian ideals of marriage" to "this church's ideals of marriage, family, and relationship" and adds "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" to those on the official roster.

The revisions are expected to be approved by the Church Council next month.

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