Monday, August 17, 2009

ELCA Churchwide Assembly - Homomentum?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination, is holding their Churchwide Assembly this week in Minneapolis, an event which expects to be controversial this year. The body is voting on a set of GLBT clergy recomendations, which if passed, will open the denomination to ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy in longstanding partnered relationships.

The recommendations follow four steps which are built on one another, which means step 2 cannot pass if step 1 is not approved and so on:
Step One
Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, it is committed to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

Step Two
Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

Step Three
Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all. This means that any solution that serves only the conscience-bound positions of one or another part of this church will not be acceptable.

Step Four
Step four proposes how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. It recognizes that such respect will lead to diversity of practice. However, the majority of the task force believes that the conscience-bound lack of consensus will be respected most faithfully by providing some structured flexibility in decision-making so that congregations and synods may choose whether or not to approve or call people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve on ELCA rosters.

In reaching this conclusion, the task force acknowledges that the existing policies and practices of this church give responsibility for decisions related to the approval or disapproval of candidates for rostered service or for a specific call to synodical call committees, bishops, and congregations. That is, individuals and groups are trusted to make these decisions. The task force also acknowledges that such decision-making takes place within a carefully determined process of mutual discernment by those seeking call and the representatives of this church.

As expected, some churches in the synod are in favor while others are not. In a survey of ELCA clergy, 54% of clergy are in support of ordaining GLBTQ clergy with no restrictions while 32% say GLBTQ clergy should be able to be ordained if they remain celibate. 14% of clergy say gay and lesbian shouldn't be ordained at all.

Goodsoil is an organization working for full inclusion of GLBTQ folks in the ELCA church and is maintaining a blog during this week's Assembly. From yesterday's post:
Starting tomorrow, as the Assembly takes up (yet again) the matter of “us”—debating whether the Bible or the tradition can support the wonders that God is already busily doing in our lives (of which the stoles are just a hint)—we will send some portion of ourselves into deep prayer. Carrying all the anguish of our past and all the hopes of our future into the presence of God, we will wrap ourselves in these shawls. Clothed in this love, we will tend to maintaining a contemplative quiet, steadying the words that others of us will speak in Assembly and enlivening the stories that others of us will tell over meals.

We, who are Goodsoil—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally people of faith—are as yet exiles in our own church. Even as we hold our heads high, even when our hearts are happy and our spirits sound, there is no denying that the policies in place and the attitudes that remain pervasive in too many places mark us as exiles.

But in this room, we are exiles in good company. Besides the wealth of ourselves—and the energy of faith and hope is tremendous here—between the stoles and the shawls we have all the colors of the rainbow in this room.

As people of faith who support full inclusion of everyone in the church body, it's incredibly difficult to see faithful people return to institutions who do not value their contributions. As a Methodist, my denomination tells me that we're a people of open hearts, open minds, open doors and yet we blatantly close doors on GLBTQ people. How can we say that all have sacred worth but that some are incompatible with Christian teaching?

Good luck and god speed to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I fear the worst, hope for the best, and will mourn or celebrate accordingly. If you'd like to follow on Twitter, it's #goodsoil09 for GLBTQ-friendly Lutherans and #cwa09 for all tweets relating to the Churchwide Assembly.

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