- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America yesterday voted to begin its first official study of homosexuality, which in four years will recommend whether to ordain active homosexuals and bless same-sex unions.
By a huge majority, the Churchwide Assembly of the nation's largest Lutheran group also decided to let synods, or church regions, back state-sponsored school voucher policies. Several church delegates who work in public schools spoke in opposition of using state funding to allow students to attend private schools.
The homosexuality study was an umbrella response to several synod resolutions, or "memorials," to create rites for same-sex unions or to lift the ordination ban on active homosexuals. It will include discussions in all sectors of the church and be based on biblical, theological, scientific and practical considerations.
In approving the study, the 1,040 voting delegates, joined by 1,500 other Lutheran observers, added a call for advocates to "respect charitably one another" during the four-year process.
"This is a good, clear request from the church for some in-depth study of what we believe about homosexuality and how the belief is formed," said the Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, director of the church's Division for Ministry.
The vote for the study was 899-115, and the approval of school voucher guidelines passed 717-265.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the nation's fifth-largest denomination with 5.1 million members, operates 28 high schools, 265 elementary schools and 1,910 early childhood programs.
The guidelines for support of state voucher initiatives say they must help needy children, produce educational success, allow religious schools to keep their identities, but not sap the strength of public education.
The ELCA is the latest of the mainline Protestant groups to consider the role of homosexuals in their denomination.
Going into the seven-day assembly, which meets every two years, the main resolutions committee had rejected a churchwide study on homosexuality, but in midweek reversed its recommendation.
The Washington D.C. Metro Synod had urged the church to develop "a rite of blessing for same-gender committed relationships of lifelong fidelity," but not to define it as marriage. It was folded into the study legislation, as was a call by the St. Paul, Minn., and Chicago synods to lift the ban on ordination of homosexuals.
During the early 1990s, when Bishop Herbert Chilstrom was presiding bishop of the ELCA, the bishops' council banned ordination of active homosexual clergy and warned against same-sex-union ceremonies.
Yesterday, the retired bishop urged lifting the ordination ban.
The assembly narrowly elected Bishop Mark Hanson of St. Paul as presiding bishop of the ELCA. The St. Paul synod is in the forefront of advocacy for homosexual rights.
The ELCA bishops have approved ordination of clergy who were celibate homosexuals. All proposals for ordinations or "blessings," will apply only to people in what the church calls lifelong, committed relationships.
During yesterday's floor debate and vote, protesters with Soulforce, a homosexual rights civil disobedience group, and the caucus Lutherans for Full Participation lined up in silent demonstration.
Later, Indianapolis police arrested 50 demonstrators with the two groups for blocking the walkway outside the Indiana Convention Center. The infraction carries a $100 fine.

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