The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made front page news over the weekend sanctioning, by a wide margin, gay and lesbian clergy involved in long-term relationships to serve.
Another vote at the national ELCA conference in Minneapolis is what undoubtedly gives Lutherans a necessary pause.
The body approved a social statement pledging greater recognition of gays and lesbians within the church community by one vote. By church bylaws, the statement had to pass with a two-thirds majority. It received 66.67 percent support and paved the way for the clergy vote.
Certainly division and discord exists over extending more rights to gays and lesbians. The crucial steps moving forward will be for the denomination to let cool heads prevail and avert the civil war underway in the American Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglicanism.
Starting with the ordination of openly gay New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, the Episcopal Church has become a fractured and contentious body. Earlier this summer the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America officially became a breakaway sect, launching a blatant opposition to the Episcopal Church’s loosening of views on gay clergy and gay rights.
At its convention this summer the Episcopal Church ended its self-imposed moratorium on consecrating gay bishops. Within days, dioceses in California and Minnesota accepted nominations of gay bishops to fill vacant spots.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams also recently announced the development of a “twin-track” structure whereby churches which don’t conform to traditional Anglican views – including on homosexuality – could be downgraded to “associate” status. This would essentially strip them of decision-making ability within the worldwide body.
Lutherans have their work cut out for them.
Their ability to reconcile differences of opinion will be essential to their survival as a denomination in its current form. If they are successful in being able to agree to disagree and still keep relative unity, they could provide an important blueprint for other Protestant denominations that will almost certainly face similar challenges in coming years as the rights homosexuals seek in society at large is played out in the church.