Just after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made its historic vote today agreeing to allow partnered, monogamous gays to be pastors (until now they’ve had to stay celibate), a lot of folks were crying. I was wandering around the immense auditorium at the Minneapolis Convention Center, snapping photos of praying Lutherans after the assembly voted 559-451 in favor of allowing active homosexuals to be official rostered clergy within the denomination.There, standing in a clump with their arms about each other and tears running down their cheeks, were a number of women who I guessed were lesbians.
Sure enough, the Revs. Jenny Mason and Donna Simon were members of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, a credentialling procedure for gay Lutheran clergy who are (or now were) not permitted to be candidates for ministry in the ELCA.
“It’s been hard all these years,” Jenny Mason told me. She was removed from the ELCA’s clergy roster in 2001 when she revealed she was gay and partnered.
Outside the hall, Bradley Schmeling, another well-known gay Lutheran cleric from Atlanta who was also removed from the ELCA clergy roster, stood arm in arm with his partner, Darin Easler. Both wore clerical clothing and were talking with a TV crew. I, of course, listened in.
“For the first time, I can imagine a career in this church with Darin,” Mr. Schmeling told me. “Tears flowed for me, too. I was too afraid to hope (the vote to approve gay pastors) would happen this time.”
The Episcopal gay caucus, which just a few weeks ago, experienced dual victories at that church’s triennial convention (in terms of approving liturgical rites for same-sex unions and approving the election of additional gay bishops) chimed in with press release applauding the Lutherans.
“Today’s action in Minneapolis is not just good news for gay and lesbian Lutherans, it is good news to all who strive for peace and justice and are committed to respecting the dignity of every human being,” said the Reverend Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA.
“For decades the faithful have prayed for justice to roll down like waters for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered baptized in the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. The Summer of 2009 has become that watershed moment we have prayed for.”
About one-third of the assembly disagreed with these votes, many of them saying attendance in the ELCA will suffer greatly. They have a point; for those of you unfamiliar with the formation of the largest Lutheran church in the United States, the ELCA was 5.5 million members strong when a union took place on January 1, 1988, resulting from the merger of three predecessor church bodies; the American Lutheran Church (ALC), the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).
Today they number 4.7 million. The Episcopalians, which have been leaning left since the late 1960s, have likewise been losing members at record rates, especially since 2003 when they ordained their first openly gay bishop: V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Will the Lutherans follow suit?
- Julia Duin, religion editor