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Lutherans reject "sexually active" gay clergy
Fri Aug 12, 2005 9:08 PM ET
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Leaders of the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America narrowly rejected on Friday the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian clergy during a biennial national assembly in Florida.
Assembly members voted 503 to 490 against a provision that would have accepted gays and lesbians who are in "life-long, committed and faithful" relationships into the clergy.
The vote maintains the church's current policy of ordaining unmarried clergy only if they are celibate.
It came after dozens of Lutheran gay-rights activists dressed in white shirts and rainbow stoles filed to the front of the meeting room and took up positions around the podium in what one assembly member objected to as "disruptive and intimidating behavior" but another characterized as a "silent witness" to the group's decision-making.
A motion to eject the demonstrators failed.
"I feel if we ask them to leave they will refuse and we will have something here we don't want," said one unidentified member.
On a second hot-button issue, the assembly by a 2-1 margin passed a resolution -- criticized by many as ambiguous -- addressing the blessing of gay and lesbian unions.
Interpreted by some as allowing same-sex unions and by others as maintaining the status quo, the resolution keeps the denomination's stand against official church blessings of gay and lesbian unions.
But the resolution also gives some assurance to local parishes and clergy that they will not be penalized for performing blessing ceremonies, stating that the church will "trust in and continue dialogue with pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons."
The vote was 670 for the resolution and 323 against. An early attempt to more explicitly approve same-sex unions failed by a nearly identical vote, 665-334.
John Brooks, the ELC spokesman, said this is the first time the church-wide assembly has addressed same-sex union blessings, and that the effect is negligible.
"I'm aware that there are congregations that have conducted such ceremonies, but I know that from media reports. But I'm not aware of any discipline cases," Brooks said. "There is nothing in the action of the assembly that permits it. There is nothing in the action that precludes it."
Gay-rights issues have simmered at several Protestant conventions in the past year. A decision by the U.S. Episcopal Church to ordain an openly gay bishop created a rift within the worldwide Anglican church. And the United Methodist Church voted to maintain its ban on non-celibate gay clergy.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the sixth-largest church in the United States and the largest of several Lutheran churches in the country.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America