Lutheran Meeting

DEBORAH POTTER, guest anchor: Mainline denominations continue to be sharply divided over issues surrounding homosexuality, and this week (August 17-23) it was the Lutherans’ turn. Leaders of the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination voted to lift their church’s ban against noncelibate gays and lesbians in the clergy. The issues dominated debate at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial assembly held in Minneapolis this week. Kim Lawton has our report.

PRESIDING BISHOP MARK HANSON (Addressing 2009 Churchwide Assembly): Have no fear, we will pray!

KIM LAWTON
, correspondent: They prayed for unity, but disagreements over homosexuality were clear as delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—the ELCA—gathered in Minneapolis this week (August 17-23).

UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE
: We cannot change what is right and what is wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE
: How about Jesus saying judge not, that you be not judged?

VOICE OF ASSEMBLY MODERATOR (Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson)
: If you’re in favor of the amendment, vote one. If you’re opposed, vote two. Please vote now.

LAWTON: After vigorous debate, clergy and lay delegates approved a measure that allows local congregations to hire homosexual pastors who are in “lifelong, monogamous” relationships. Previously, only celibate gays and lesbians could be recognized as ELCA pastors.

REV. BRADLEY SCHMELING (St. John’s Lutheran Church, Atlanta): Well, it’s certainly painful when people say that your relationship or your call are not valid.

LAWTON: After acknowledging his relationship with another man, Atlanta pastor Bradley Schmeling faced a church trial in 2007. He’s no longer officially recognized as an ELCA pastor, but his congregation kept him on. Schmeling says he hopes the denomination is entering a new era.

SCHMELING: Well, my dream for the ELCA would be that we could be a community that really celebrates gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender leaders in the church—not just tolerate our presence, but genuinely celebrate the gifts that people bring to the church.

LAWTON: Traditionalists argued that the measure violated biblical teachings.

REV. CORI JOHNSON (Northern Great Lakes Synod delegate): We have a clear witness in Scripture about homosexuality. Every time homosexuality is mentioned in Scripture, it’s mentioned in a negative light. We don’t have any positive references to homosexuality in Scripture.

LAWTON: Many said the same standards should apply to all pastors.

REV. MARK CHAVEZ
(Lutheran Coalition for Reform): And the proposals are just a flat-out rejection of what the Christian church for 2000 years, and most Christian churches today, and most believers today, still hear and believe: Don’t have sex outside of marriage. Period.

LAWTON: But supporters argued for a different interpretation of Scripture.

REV. GLADYS MOORE (New England Synod delegate): I think there are some who want to see the Word as a static book that we are to read literally, and others of us see it as a living, breathing, dynamic Word that continues to be revealed to us.

LAWTON: With nearly five million members, the ELCA is one of the largest denominations in the US. Delegates are hoping the debates won’t tear their church apart. They passed a social statement affirming that there is room in the ELCA to accommodate differing views on homosexuality—an issue, the statement said, which is “not central to our faith.”

VOICE OF ASSEMBLY MODERATOR (Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson): The social statement as amended is approved.

REV. MOORE: I don’t think this is a church-dividing issue. There are some who will say that, but I’m not one who believes that.

REV. JOHNSON: I think that there will be some deep hurt, and there will be some pain, and how we move forward and deal with that as a denomination will speak volumes as to our fidelity to the word of God and to the strength of our unity.

LAWTON: Both sides acknowledged more debates about homosexuality are still ahead. I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

DEBORAH POTTER: The Lutheran delegates also passed an agreement to have “full communion” with the United Methodist Church. That means the nation’s two largest mainline Protestant denominations will share ministers, missions, and other church resources. The United Methodists approved the agreement at their general conference last year.

  • JMarkes

    Forget the gay/straight issue. It’s just plain wrong for adulterers and fornicators to be practicing ministers.

  • Rev. Deacon Lee Adams (CEEC)

    RE: REV. GLADYS MOORE (New England Synod delegate): I think there are some who want to see the Word as a static book that we are to read literally, and others of us see it as a living, breathing, dynamic Word that continues to be revealed to us.

    The Bible is a static book, if we were to say it continues to reveal itself we ultimately are saying that God is unknowable. God is bound by the rule and regulations He has set forth, He cannot create a squared circle, just like He also cannot create a rock so big He cannot pick it up. This decision by the ELCA and the Episcopal church violates God’s law. We need to stop interpretating Scripture based on feelings and emotions, and get back to the historical grammatical way of preaching the Bible. After all, is the Bible the ONLY book that is allegorical, were one thing means something to someone, and means another thing to someone else? Talk about confusion, that is why we are so divided now.

  • andrea

    You have got to be kidding me…the Bible is completely clear that homosexuality is a sin! I am a recovering alcoholic who sought deliverence from drunkeness because the Bible says it is sin…the world (man)calls it a disease (no repentance needed). Yes we all sin but the Word is also clear that those who teach in the body of Christ are to have a Christ honoring lifestyle. It is amazing to many of us who read and BELIEVE the Bible how the “spirit of the world” is influencing the Church! There is one gospel, one God and one truth…stop settleing for a different gospel! I have bi-sexual and homosexual friends…but I speak the truth to them because I love them…and you know what…they do listen…seed are sown.

  • Rev. Margaret Hurst

    Thank you, members of the ECLA, for bravely setting an example of love and acceptance, in sharp contrast to the shameful path of condemnation and exclusion in most other “mainline” churches. I believe that the history of the church will look favorably on the action of your assembly and the rightness of your action will be vindicated. Thank you, and thank you again.

  • Sam Hays

    As a former ELCA minister and as a former Christian, I commend the ELCA for doing something humane rather than performing a not infrequent cruel act while hiding behind a biblical quote.

  • Floyd Lee

    Things are going to get worse from here. Count on it; make preparations for it.

    “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge…” (Prov. 22:3 NIV).

  • Dale

    I walked away from an ELCA church a few years ago because the church was dead; no sign of the Holy Spirit anywhere. This decision solidifies my feelings.

    Thank you Lord, for leading me to a church that truly believes in your word, and not the feelings that this world has come to accept.

  • Rodman

    Another wall in a broken culture has fallen. Pastors who either don’t believe the Bible or applaud sin, congregations who follow their “leaders” like lemmings off a cliff…The church will be in my prayers. The Lutheran church I knew as a child is gone.

  • Bruce Allan

    As a chairman of an lcms this is a big mistake on the leaders of you synd,thank God for his mercy.shame on them for not understanding his WORD

  • Bill from MD

    A well-reported, well-balanced look at a group of Christians, with divergent view points, struggling to be faithful. Many thanks.

  • Rev. Sean Esterline

    Rev. Margaret — Please don’t thank the ELCA (or any other church) for daring to decry God’s Word. God does not call us to “love” or “accept” sinful behavior. (And make no mistake, the living, breathing, Holy Word *clearly* describes homosexual behavior a sin.) Our call as Christians, and ESPECIALLY as Pastors, is NOT to make folks feel comfortable on their way to hell (which is where sin leads). No matter our sinful thoughts or feelings, we must follow what God’s Word clearly says–homosexual behavior is a sin. A totally forgivable sin (thanks be to the grace of God!!), but a sin none-the-less. Homosexuals, alchoholics, cheats, the prideful, and ALL sinners (myself included) are called simply to repent of their sins and trust in God for grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ–THAT is the source of our strength and peace of mind in this world. Let’s try preaching *that* for a while, instead of loving and tolerating “sin” to make people feel better about themselves.

  • Donna

    The arrogance of progressives in The United States rears its ugly head again. How can a small group of people in a dying denomination think they have new insight to what Christians worldwide have known to be truth for better than 2000 years? It’s astounding.

  • Margaret

    Since none of us are sinless, all of our pastors and leaders are guilty of sin. Is one sin any worse than any other sin? Are you truly saying that your sin makes you a better person than someone who acknowledges their homosexuality? Luther taught us that we are saved by God’s grace, not by works. When you can say that you are sinless, then you may throw the first stone!

  • Bishop Parker

    The very thought of being considerate to accept sin is a miscarriage of the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST.Where in the Word of God does He ever instructs His people to be acceptance of sin and not reject it.To bow to the people is to move God out of the way so they can be pleased to do whatever they please and still claim to love God.Hebrews 10:26 clearly instructs us that if we sin willfully after we have been told the Truth there remain no scarifice for the sin.How can we say we love God and God is Love if we CHOOSE to live a sinful life contrary to the way He calls us to live.

  • John

    Margaret: I think you miss read the arguement. No one is claiming to be sinless. The problem with the ELCA decision is that it blesses what has ALWAYS been known to be sin. How sad not to address brokeness and lead the way to God. Instead, Bishop Parker hits the nail on the head: this decision allows the (Lutheran)church to be contrary to the way God calls us to live.

  • Bruce allan

    I invite any elca to come and join lcms.

  • Perry

    Just Read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship today. ELCA delegates should have read chpt 8 on the righteousness of Christ. In it he points out that part of our call to follow him in faith is our calling to follow his Law as well. In other words, the more closely you cling to Christ, the easier it is to do his will. Sure, no one can follow it perfectly, that’s why we have to cling to Him. If we actively seek to do that which is counter to his will (disobey his commands/laws) we must ask ourselves whether or not we really have faith. Perhaps the RCL needs to include more from the book of James, Romans, and Ephesians. Just a thought.

  • Ann

    Churches are finally being honest that there have always been gay people who serve the church and serve it well. This is an identity, not a temptation–gay people want to be faithful members of churches and have their families treated with respect. God’s creation is good. Too many marriages have been ruined by gay people being forced to marry against their nature in order to serve in the church. Thank God that is coming to an end.

  • Ann

    Bishop Parker, Jesus was always teaching people to change their ideas about sin. They thought being poor, sick, bleeding, blind or barren was a sign of sin. We don’t think that way now but those beliefs are biblical. Mary was an unwed mother! That was God’s choice for Jesus’ mother–it was not God’s only option. If there was ever a message that our ideas about sin could change, there it is. Jesus was constantly sinning–taking food from the altar, working on the Sabbath, calling himself God’s son. He was particularly concerned about how ideas about sin were used to tell people they were outside of God’s love. But Jesus opened the door. And, like every generation that realizes that Jesus message really is good news–not the rigid thinking of church authorities–gay people are saying, “Who can keep me from the love of God? No one.”

  • Alecia

    Why should we discourage any person with the gift of preaching from being a pastor? If they have the gift let them do it.

  • Rev. Jan Ekstedt, MDiv.

    Jesus said, “a new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” God’s creation includes a rainbow of many types of human beings and a myriad of species, and in Genesis 1: 31, we read,”God saw ALL that He had made, and it was VERY GOOD.” GLBT’s are part of the very good creation that God made, and with the Fall, became sinners just like all of us heterosexuals. Heterosexuals have no right to bash other aspects of humanity, any more than men have any right to bash women. Like women, GLBT’s should have the same rights and responsibilities that heterosexual men enjoy, and should not be discriminated against because of the homophobic attempts by some in the Faith to build their churches, and themselves, on whom they discriminate against and try to exclude from God’s church. Jesus never said one word about GLBT’s, except to say that God is love, God is spirit, and we must worship God in spirit and truth, not build our church with anger and arrogance as a foundation. I welcome GLBT’s, as I also do all women who want to be ordained into the clergy. Meanwhile, we heterosexual male clergy need to see that God is, once again, showing up in surprise. Incidentally, God has the right to change His mind on what we read in Leviticus, just as he changed His mind in the garden of Eden, with Noah and the flood, with Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, and Jonah at Ninevah, to name just a few. Let’s allow everyone to play by the same rules when it comes to applying for ordination status, and not be the one who casts the first stone.