What Mainline Clergy Believe
May 22nd, 2009
“Mainline Christianity” has deep roots and wide branches. With about 18% of Americans (and 24% of all voters), the denominations that makeup this more-liberal end of the Protestant Christian world trace to the founding of our nation. When Americans think of church – the steeple, the stained glass windows, the minister in a clerical collar – these are probably the Christians that come to mind.
However, in today’s sound-bite driven media and take-no-prisoners politics, moderate Christians with nuanced positions and non-combatant values don’t make for good television. Instead the fire-breathing “Bible believing” family values culture warrior gets to speak for all of Christianity. So to non-believers, the impression is that Christianity is at war with the rest of the world, and gays are enemy number one.
But a recent survey of Mainline ministers finds quite another Christian response to gay and lesbian Americans. On most issues, these denominations are quite supportive.
The six denominations included, in order of support are:
- United Church of Christ
- Episcopal Church
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Evanglical Lutheran Church in America
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- United Methodist Church
- American Baptist Churches (USA)
(for those unfamiliar, American Baptist Churches is a smaller Baptist organization that is not affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention)
Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey was released this month. And it provides us with better understanding of the beliefs of clergy in Mainline Denominations.
In general, these ministers are supportive of gay civil rights. Additionally, they are fairly supporting of the inclusion of gay persons into the body of the church – though that differs by denomination.
Some of the more interesting public policy issue findings are:
- 79% agree with the statement “Homosexuals should have all the same rights and priveleges as other American citizens”
- 67% support passing gay-inclusive hate crime laws
- 66% support employment non-discrimination laws
- 55% support adoption by gay persons
The one area where there is not majority support is for marriage equality. Only 33% support gay marriage with another 32% supporting civil unions. However, as I discuss in another commentary, support for marriage goes up to 46% when religious assurances are given.
There is also a large variance between denominations on this issue.
- 67% – United Church of Christ
- 49% – Episcopal
- 42% – Disciples of Christ
- 38% – Presbyterian
- 37% – Lutheran
- 25% – Methodist
- 20% – American Baptist
After clergy were reassured that churches and ministers would not be forced to conduct such marriages, support for civil marriage laws were over 50% for all denominations other than United Methodist and American Baptist.
The report goes on to break Mainline Christianity into three camps in relation to gay and lesbian issues; 29% are a supportive base, 30% are an opposing base, and 41% are in an uncertain middle. They find that on most issues the middle tends to side with the supporting base.
They also found that 45% of mainline clergy report that they are more supportive than 10 years ago. Only 14% are more conservative. The following is how those who became more supportive explain the change.
Among clergy who reported becoming more liberal on gay and lesbian issues, the top factors they cited as being very or extremely important to this change were discernment through prayer and reflection (66%), having a friend, congregant or colleague who is gay or lesbian (58%), and additional Bible study (55%).
We have long known that coming out is a valuable way to influence public opinion. Those who have real life examples from which to draw – rather than lies and stereotypes from anti-gay activists – are more likely to find that gay men and women are a valuable part of the social fabric.
But those within the Christian fold will also find it interesting that prayer, reflection, and Bible study can yield greater support for gay persons. Religion, when applied by devout and sincere people seeking to find meaning from sacred Scriptures for real life situations, need not be the enemy of freedom and equality.
As for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into religious life, the study found
- 94% – welcome gay persons in their church
- 63% – believe that the gospel requires their full inclusion in the church
- 51% – believe the church should not work towards making homosexuality unacceptable
- 45% – support ordination of gay and lesbian ministers without special requirements
- 13% – lead congregations that have formally become “open and affirming congregations”
These denominations have the potential to become strong allies in our question for civil equalities. Already many ministers from these denominations are active in showing legislators and voting citizens People of Faith who do not agree with the political agenda of “Christian” and “Family” groups that seek the exclusion of gay persons from civil equalities.
As time goes on, it is increasingly likely that Mainline Christianity is going to move in the direction of fuller acceptance, inclusion, and support. We should, as a community, be appreciative of their help and proactive in efforts to build bridges to these churches.
Supportive Lutheran Proposal Advances
April 4th, 2009
In February, a task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – the fifth largest denomination in the United States – presented a four part plan to address the question of non-celibate gay pastors:
1. Determine whether to recognize monogamous same-sex unions
2. Determine whether to permit ministers in same-sex unions to serve in churches that invite them
3. Determine that each view agree to respect those who disagree with them
4. Change the policy of the church to reflect the above determinations
Now this plan has been furthered in the process (post-gazette)
A key board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has voted to place before August’s Churchwide Assembly the possibility of local option to call partnered gay pastors.
The Church Council voted at a four-day weekend meeting to forward a proposed social policy statement on human sexuality and a related set of recommendations on ministry to the assembly in Minneapolis.
The Church Council serves as the Board of Directors of the organization. They review the proposals of other boards and task forces and before they are presented to the Churchwide Assembly for ratification. The Assembly will be held August 17-23 in Minneapolis.
Lutheran Task Force Supports Couple Recognition
February 21st, 2009
A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) was assigned the task of reviewing the church’s policy on recognition of gay pastors and making a recommendation to the body. The current policy is that gay ministers may serve, but must remain celibate.
A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommended Thursday that its leaders make changes to allow gay and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
Making this change gave birth to a larger question: if they allow non-celibate gay pastors, what rules apply? Surely they couldn’t just say that heterosexuals must be married but gays can play the field. So they decided that the church must establish some means by which it can determine which gay ministers are in compliance.
“The task force agreed that this church cannot responsibly consider any changes to its policies unless this church is able and willing in some way to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships,” the report said.
The task force did not define the recognition, other than that it should include commitments, public accountability, and prayer.
The denomination will vote on the recommendation in August in a four part process.
With 4.7 million members, the ECLU is the fifth largest denomination in the United States, and if they adopt the recommendations of the task force they will be the largest denomination in the United States to recognize same-sex relationships.
Presbyterians and Lutherans
This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of others authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
June 20th, 2008
From the Chicago Tribune:
The nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination will tackle the question of gay and lesbian clergy at its biennial General Assembly next week (June 20-28) in San Jose, Calif.
From Deutche Welle:
German Lutherans in northern Schleswig will decide on July 12 whether to elect an openly gay bishop. Conservatives have opposed Horst Gorski’s candidacy, saying it would lead to divisions within the church.
These are but two examples of the ongoing battle within Mainline Protestant denominations over the issue of homosexuality. And I think that the end result is predictable.
Those who favor full inclusion and social justice will continue in their efforts to bring gay and lesbians Christians fully into the fold. In the meanwhile, they can continue in fellowship with those whom they believe are not quite there yet.
In time, as younger more gay-accepting people gain influence, these denominations will reach a tipping point in which gay acceptance outnumbers hard-liners. When that happens, these denominations will vote for full inclusion… and discover that fellowship only works in one direction. Those who ardently oppose gay inclusion will not be willing to stay in fellowship with “heretics” and scism will result.
However, I think that this will result in fewer denominations rather than more. It is my belief that this is a time of great religious realignment in America. And that after division liberal mainline denominations will join in a uniting movement towards a common identity. And to a lesser extent, the conservatives will do the same.
My prediction is that within the next 10 years at least one, and probably several, splits will occur in mainline denominations and that at least two will merge.
But, of course, this is all just speculation.
Gay Lutheran Pastors in Norway
November 16th, 2007
International Herald Tribune reports:
Norway’s state Lutheran church on Friday lifted an outright ban on allowing those living in homosexual partnerships to serve in the clergy, but will leave it up to each bishop to make individual decisions on whether to employ them.