- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS | The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed several resolutions Friday that recognize committed gay relationships and, for the first time, permit non-celibate homosexuals to be Lutheran clergy.

The resolution on clergy, easily the most controversial, passed by 559 “yes” votes (55.3 percent) to 451 “no” votes (44.6 percent). It committed the ELCA to open its clergy ranks to people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson asked for silence and prayer for several minutes after the historic vote.

A klatch of female pastors, several of them lesbians, who were standing in the rear of the cavernous assembly hall at the Minneapolis Convention Center dissolved into tears.

“I feel a tremendous amount of joy and a tremendous amount of pain,” confessed the Rev. Jenny Mason, a St. Paul cleric who said she was ejected from the official list of ELCA “rostered” clergy in 2001 for having a same-sex lover. “This means our church can move forward and practice this welcome” toward gays.

The Rev. Donna Simon, pastor of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Mo., echoed Ms. Mason’s sentiment. “It was time our church was in front of our world and not behind it.”

But one of the top runners for vice president of the ELCA called the vote on gay clergy “appalling.”

“The assembly has voted to remove the ELCA from the universal Christian consensus on marriage and homosexual behavior,” said Ryan Schwarz, a leader of the Lutheran Coalition for Reform. “The church should not be voting on whether or not to follow the teaching of the Bible.”

A prior vote, which allows congregations to “recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships,” passed by 619 “yes” (60.6 percent) to 402 “no” votes (39.3 percent) Friday morning.

Bishop H. Gerard Knoche, head of the 90,000-member Delaware-Maryland Synod, said he wept after the first resolution passed.

“I was in despair over this; that the church has moved in this direction,” he said. “I went into the worship session and cried. That helped. I am now trying to deal this reality before I retire. I’ll do what I can to hold the church together.”

As they stood in long lines in front of the microphones during morning and afternoon sessions Friday, Lutherans passionately spoke, quoted Scripture and their founder Martin Luther, and prayed during one of the last days of their churchwide assembly.

Many warned the 4.7-million-member denomination will continue to lose disenfranchised members.

“What had been the teaching of my church has been reduced to personal opinion,” said Catherine Ammlung, a member of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. “[She and others like her] find ourselves not in step any longer in the foundational premises of our church’s teachings.”

Others, such as Allison Guttu of the Metropolitan New York Synod, said her congregation has grown with the involvement of gays.

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