A vote to allow gay pastors to preach in member churches has led some congregations to consider leaving the largest body of Lutherans in the United States.
On Aug. 21, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted 676-338 — a two-thirds majority — to adopt a social statement regarding homosexuals, ""Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust."" The statement describes the group's stance on same-gender relationships and homosexuals as members of the church's clergy, said Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop.
Individual congregations may choose to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, and can accept homosexuals as registered leaders in the church, said Ron Rude, campus pastor for the ELCA at the UA.
""ELCA congregations who believe God is calling them to welcome gay and lesbian couples, individuals and their families into fullness of life and fullness of ministry, are no longer barred from doing so,"" Rude said. ""ELCA congregations who believe God is calling them to refrain from welcoming gay and lesbian couples, individuals and their families into fullness of life and fullness of ministry, can continue to minister in this manner.""
This stance has caused a significant rift in the ELCA's congregations, officials say.
The Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz. — the 10th largest congregation of ELCA Lutherans in America — voted in July to end their affiliation with the ELCA after rumors spread that the ELCA would allow homosexual affirmation.
""They've always been a congregation that was kind of on the edge in terms of the denomination,"" Rude said of the Glendale church. ""They felt they could not be part of a denomination that had within it congregations that welcomed gay people to fullness of life and fullness of ministry — they felt that was going against God, against Jesus.""
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is the second largest body of Lutherans in America — with approximately 2.5 million members — and is also represented on the UA campus. The group has a much different viewpoint, said Ian Pacey, campus pastor for the Missouri Synod.
""The Missouri (Synod) is more of the traditional Christian church body and the ELCA has been the more progressive body,"" Pacey said.
The differences stem from biblical interpretation and defining terms, Rude said.
""There's been terminology between orientation and behavior,"" he said. ""So some people would say being gay is not a sin but finding someone to love and share your life with, that's a sin.""
The Missouri Synod believes that since homosexuality is defined as a sin in the Bible, it cannot be redefined by any governing body, Pacey said.
""Essentially the position we hold to is — the catch phrase they use is — ‘that which has been declared sin cannot be declared or voted out as sin,'"" Pacey said. ""When it comes to sexuality, we think of it as it's taught in the scriptures.""
Until August, the official ELCA stance on homosexuality was less liberal.
The group is split roughly in half, Rude said, with some saying they support homosexual relationships and others who say they support gay individuals but not their relationships.
""We're divided as a church,"" he said.
The question is more clear-cut for Pacey, who said the recent liberal position adopted by the ELCA is unacceptable because it cannot be upheld by scripture.
""I'm being perfectly blunt. There's a little bit of arrogance going on here,"" he said. ""Most Christians in the world do not hold to this position. Most Lutherans in the world do not hold to this position of allowing active homosexuals to serve as clergy or marriage and so on and so forth,"" Pacey said.
The recent vote shows just the opposite, Rude said.
Nevertheless, ELCA officials say they hope this statement will not shut down ongoing discussions about delicate issues with other religious groups.
""Now — perhaps more than ever — we need to stay engaged with one another,"" Hanson said.