- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

America’s largest Lutheran body on Thursday inched closer to ordaining actively gay clergy by releasing a statement outlining ways the 4.7-million-member church can allow “some flexibility” on the matter.

“It would best serve the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that … congregations and synods may choose whether or not to approve or call people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve on ELCA rosters,” said the 17-page statement released early Thursday afternoon.

The policy, known as “local option,” would insure that Lutheran synods that want to hire gays can do so and synods that disapprove would not be forced to. Gay clergy currently are allowed to serve in ELCA churches but they must remain celibate.

Although stressing repeatedly that the ELCA must vote decisively on the matter at their biannual meeting in August in Minneapolis, the 15-member task force of theologians, academics and laity behind the statement said a gay candidate can be the “best-suited” person for a certain church.

“I think the church should move toward inclusion, diversity and the maximum amount of flexibility,” said ELCA Bishop Richard H. Graham of the 40,000-member Metropolitan Washington Synod. “The question is how fast and to what expense.”

He has one celibate homosexual serving in one of his 130 churches, he added, plus “several people in our candidacy process who are in various stages of coming out publicly.”

Calling its existing policy forbidding gay clergy “undesirable and unrealistic,” the task force said the denomination has studied and debated the matter for seven years and that it already allowed celibate homosexuals in leadership posts.

They listed four proposed resolutions to be voted on in August. The first would be a vote on whether Lutheran synods and congregations can support monogamous same-sex relationships.

A second resolution would ask whether Lutherans would allow someone in such a relationship to join the ranks of Lutheran clergy.

A third would bind Lutherans into “respecting the bound consciences of those with whom they disagree;” presumably those opposed to gay clergy.

A fourth would grant local option to synods that wish to accept gay ministers.

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