- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the country’s largest and most liberal Lutheran denomination, kept in place a ban on active homosexual clergy yesterday at its annual convention, but took a more ambiguous stance on same-sex church “blessings.”

After eight hours of debate, 1,000 delegates meeting in Orlando, Fla., defeated by a vote of 503-490 a resolution that would have allowed bishops and church synods, or districts, to ordain homosexual ministers if they are in a “committed relationship.”

The vote was not as close as it appears, since changes in church law require a two-thirds majority vote.

The vote lets stand current ELCA policy that homosexual clergy must remain celibate.

Still, the presence of about 100 pro-homosexual rights demonstrators wearing rainbow sashes who stationed themselves at the front of the convention hall during the vote and refused to leave, despite pleas from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, might have influenced some delegates.

“It was a form of intimidation, and it did work on some voters by closing the gap on the vote,” said Jaynan Egland, president of WordAlone, a conservative Lutheran group.

A second resolution, which passed 670-323, reaffirmed a 1993 ban by Lutheran bishops on same-sex church “blessing” ceremonies, but affirmed ministry to homosexuals and “pastoral care” from congregations to “all to whom they minister.”

“The resolution stopped short of asking permission to conduct same-sex blessings,” ELCA spokeswoman Melissa Ramirez-Cooper said, “but it doesn’t preclude it, either. That’s where the ambiguity is.”

It’s conceivable, she added, that a congregation’s definition of ministry could include a same-sex blessing.

ELCA Bishop Theodore Schneider, head of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, called the vote on blessings “as ambiguous as the church is.”

“There is no stated policy in this church, and that’s the way it still is,” he said yesterday. “[Same-sex blessings are] still seen as the exception, not the norm in the church. There’s no bylaw that permits it, and no rule against it.”

Although the ELCA in 1990 ejected two San Francisco congregations that ordained three homosexuals, a few churches across the country have since then quietly employed at least 14 clergy and seminarians living in same-sex relationships, according to Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries.

The 4.9-million member ELCA has been debating homosexuality for years. In January, a church task force recommended the denomination not change its policy against ordaining noncelibate homosexuals, but that it not censure churches that break the rule.

There was no ruling yesterday on how to deal with churches that insist on ordaining active homosexuals. The matter is expected to come up again during the next ELCA convention in two years.

“In 2007, we’ll still be on the topic of sexuality,” Mrs. Egland said. “Some of us wanted to close the door and move on with the mission of the church, but the matter is still in front of us.”

To date, the 1.3-million member United Church of Christ remains the largest denomination to allow homosexual clergy. On July 4, UCC delegates meeting in Atlanta voted overwhelmingly to approve same-sex “marriage.”

Earlier in the day yesterday, Lutheran delegates passed a resolution 851-127 calling for unity within the church. After that, things got more convoluted.

“There are no winners,” Bishop Schneider said of the convention. “People who wanted to see change lost on this round.”

This article is based in part on wire reports

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