From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Leaders and Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation Leaders

Date Fri, 15 Aug 2003 12:08:00 -0500


August 15, 2003

ELCA Leaders and Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation Leaders Meet

     MILWAUKEE (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America's (ELCA) clergy standards and the church's Studies on
Sexuality were topics of discussion in an Aug. 13 meeting of
leaders of the ELCA churchwide organization and the Lutheran
Alliance for Full Participation (The Alliance).
      The meeting was requested by leaders of The Alliance, which
encompasses several organizations involved in advocacy for gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Lutherans.	It was held here
in conjunction with the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
     The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of
the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 11-17 at the Midwest Airlines
Center.  There are about 2,100 people participating, including
1,031 voting members.  The theme for the biennial assembly is
"Making Christ Known: For the Healing of the World."
     In the ELCA, clergy who are heterosexual and homosexual are
expected to refrain from sexual relations outside marriage of a
man and woman.	The church also has no official policy on the
blessing of same-sex relationships, though its Conference of
Bishops, an advisory body to the church, said it does not approve
of such ceremonies.
     The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly asked the church for a
study on homosexuality that would address questions about
ordination of clergy who are gay and lesbian and in committed
homosexual relationships, and whether or not the church should
have a policy on the blessing of same-sex relationships. A
progress report is to be presented to this assembly Aug. 15; a
final report with possible recommendations is to be presented to
the 2005 assembly.  The 2001 assembly also asked for a social
statement on human sexuality, expected to be developed by 2007.
     Some ELCA synods have asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to
delay the final report with recommendations until 2007, so that
the social statement could be available first.
     "We oppose delay," said Jeff Johnson, Berkeley, Calif.,
president of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, an organization
of The Alliance.  "It is safe to say that we are invested in the
study process.	We see it as the end of a policy of oppression."
     Johnson said many have great hopes for the outcome(s) of the
studies on sexuality, but while the four-year process unfolds,
"this policy is still an active, intimidating animal."	The
policy "destroys and intimidates" people, he said.
     Several of The Alliance representatives said they would like
to see current ELCA policy on clergy behavior suspended while the
study progresses.  Some pointed out that they know of instances
where ELCA clergy behavior standards are being violated, and the
policy is not necessarily being enforced.
     "Once the policy is changed, and it will change soon, we
want to be able to trust that people in the church will abide by
that policy and not ignore it," Johnson said.
     The Rev. James M. Childs, director of the ELCA Studies on
Sexuality, said the studies' task force is focused on the 2001
assembly mandates and will work to fulfill those requests with as
much integrity as possible.
     Suspending policies during the study process will put people
whose views agree with current policy "on the defensive," he
said. "What would that say to people who aren't ready for
change?" Childs asked.	"Staying the course [with the studies]
makes a lot of sense to me."
     While the study process unfolds, the ELCA policy continues
to damage people, said Mari Irvin, co-chair of Lutheran Lesbian
and Gay Ministries (LLGM), San Francisco.  "It is a tremendous
violation to the integrity of a person," she said.  Having a
policy in place that is sometimes violated with no consequences
suggests the church seems to be living in "two different ethical
worlds," a situation she called "problematic."
     Emily Eastwood, Minneapolis, representing the organization
Reconciled in Christ, said she is concerned that during the study
process, people "on the other side" are becoming agitated with
the issues and in some cases have begun "outing" pastors who may
be in homosexual relationships to their bishops.
     Greg Egertson, LLGM co-chair, said it is odd for him to seek
pastoral care from the church whose institutional policy is
creating problems for gay and lesbian people.  "The pastoral care
that needs to happen is the policy needs to be changed," he said.
     Jeannine Janson, co-chair of Lutherans Concerned/North
America, Chicago, asked the ELCA leaders if they understood that
the ELCA policy forces people into deception.
     Johnson summarized the conversation, saying that many in the
gay and lesbian community fear that the study is prolonging a
period of "endless study."
     "You must make manifest the reality of the policy," Johnson
said.  "No one wants to enforce this policy.  We all know this."
     Childs disagreed.	While he acknowledged there may be people
who don't approve of the policy, "there are also a lot of people
who like the policy and want it enforced and don't like it when
it isn't."
     Many within the ELCA are seeking help with Scripture in
relation to questions about homosexuality, said the Rev. Stanley
N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Division for Ministry.
     "That is why I think we need this study and why we need a
high enough level of anxiety to be engaged in conversation," he
said. "Frankly, I think the Episcopalians helped us."
     Earlier this month, the Episcopal Church confirmed the
election of a bishop who is living in a committed homosexual
relationship.  That process resulted in enormous news coverage on
many issues related to gay and lesbian people.
     The studies and related questions are about the ELCA policy,
Olson added.  "I think it would be a worse step if we suspend the
policy in the interim," he said.
     Some Alliance members said they hoped the studies would
communicate to the church how the policy has affected people and
their lives.  Such a proposal may be raised through a voting
member to the assembly, Eastwood said.	  She also suggested
there could be "listening events" throughout the church at which
gay and lesbian pastors, and people whose same-sex relationships
have been blessed by a pastor, can talk to people in a safe
     The sexuality studies will attempt to address how the policy
has affected people "in brief form," Olson said.
     At the conclusion of their meeting leaders of The Alliance
and ELCA agreed they were open to possibly meet again in the near
future.  Organizations of The Alliance may make a formal request
to meet with ELCA leaders in Chicago.
     Those who attended the Aug. 13 meeting for the ELCA were
Joanne Chadwick, executive director, ELCA Commission for Women;
Childs; the Rev. Richard A. Magnus, executive director, ELCA
Division for Outreach; Olson; and the Rev. Eric C. Shafer,
director, ELCA Department for Communication. Representatives of
the ELCA News Service and The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA,
were also present.
     Attending for The Alliance were Eastwood; Egertson; Anita
Hill, St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn.; the
Rev. Katherine Hellier, Lutheran Network for Inclusive Vision,
Portland, Ore.; Irvin; Janson; Johnson; Laura Montgomery Rutt,
Soulforce communication director; Steven Webster, Soulforce;
Karen Weldin, Soulforce operations director.
-- -- --
Information about the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found
at on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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