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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for August, 2009

Lutherans Allow Blessing of Gay Unions

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2009

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted today to allow — but not require — congregations to bless same-sex unions. The vote was 619 in favor and 402 opposed. Next up later today: a vote on allowing gay clergy to serve while in committed relationships.

Lutherans Adopt New Statement on Sexuality

Timothy Kincaid

August 20th, 2009

Today the Lutheran convention voted 676 to 338 to adopt a new social statement of sexuality, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. This was exactly the two-thirds required for passage of the statement.

The statement specifies:

The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

But it also seeks to address the public accountability and legal support for “lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.”

We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships incerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

And, indeed, they are various:

This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such relationships as traditional marriage.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however, affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care, and may wish to surround lifelong monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.

· On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.

In other words, Lutherans run the gamut from those who think you’re a threat to society to those who want to plan your marriage to their nephew. However, they are in agreement as to some social positions impacting the gay community.

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection.

In synopsis, when it comes to Lutheran belief on same-sex relationships the church does not define marriage in an inclusive way but recognizes that there is no concensus on the approach to same-sex realtionships. However, it has endorsed employment non-discrimination legislation and opposes attacks, both physical and verbal. It also seems that it doesn’t buy into reorientation as either a requirement or a possibility.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, it has conceded that those who support same-sex relationships are not doing so out of some liberal appeasement or thwarting of the clear teaching of scripture. (“The difference between interpreters should not be understood as a conflict between those who seek to be ‘true to Scripture’ and those who seek to ‘twist the Bible’ to their own liking. The disagreements are genuine.”) Rather, they do so on the basis on conscience-bound belief and they are encouraged to “live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized.”

Conservative Lutherans were not pleased with the vote:

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) decried the document: “We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman. It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years.”

But I find this statement to an admirable step in the direction of full inclusion.

Hint of Hope from Minneapolis

Timothy Kincaid

August 18th, 2009

A vote at the Lutheran (ELCA) convention last night gives up a hint of hope that the body may side with inclusion in Friday’s vote on clergy in same-sex relationships.

Those opposed to allowing partnered gay ministers proposed that Friday’s vote require two-thirds for passage rather than a simple majority. (Christian Post)

supporters of the supermajority said a higher hurdle was needed to signal wide support for a proposal they view as a major change in the church’s approach to homosexuality

However, delegates defeated this parliamentary change by a margin of 57-43. Friday’s vote will be a simple majority.

All sides caution that Monday’s vote is not a predictor of the eventual vote on policy change. However, it does hint that the proposed change has significant support.

As an interesting side note, it was in Minneapolis in 2003 that the Episcopal Church ordained Gene Robinson as a Bishop, thereby igniting an international firestorm with has likely led to schism in the Anglican Communion. This midwestern city may earn a reputation as a site central to the greatest restructuring of American Christianity since the Civil War.

Lutherans to Vote on Gay Clergy

Timothy Kincaid

August 17th, 2009

This week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be holding their biennial convention in Minneapolis. And issues about the inclusing of gay clergy are predicted to dominate conversation and debate.

The ELCA has accepted celibate gay men and women as clergy, but has banned office from those who are in relationships. In February, a task force recommended that the leadership allow gay men and women in committed relationships to serve as clergy and further recommended that the church find some way to recognize “lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

This year the church will make two decisions about gay Lutherans, one ideological and one structural. (Washington Times)

Of the two main documents on sexuality issues that will be considered at the ELCA assembly, one is a proposed social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which, as a statement of church teaching, must be passed by a two-thirds vote (about 700 people) of the 1,045 voting members present.

Eight years in the making, the 33-page treatise is a theological and teaching document that sets out denominational policy on a variety of topics ranging from marriage to pornography, and defines human sexuality as a “gift and trust.” It will be debated Tuesday afternoon and put to a vote Wednesday.

The other document, called a “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies,” recommends a change in ELCA ministry policies so Lutherans who are in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships” can serve as ELCA associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers and ordained ministers.

The latter document, slated for debate on Thursday and a vote on Friday, would allow local synods to decide whether they would allow a gay minister in a committed relationship to serve. The vote is considered by all sides to be too close to call.

Should the 4.8 million-member church choose to follow the lead of the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, it will be the largest denomination to side with gay Christians in the debate over full inclusion in the body of believers. And it will likely experience defections and condemnation based on such a decision.

Ultimately, as gay men and women are viewed by parishoners as a variation on life rather than a perversion of God’s Plan, this is a decision that will be faced by all of Protestant Christianity.

Showing Christ

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2009

Christians speak of “showing Christ” to the world around you. Sadly, too often this is expressed in forms of self-righteousness and public condemnation of others. Frankly, I often think that if this is Christ that you are showing me with your arrogance, condescension, and careless condemnation of those whom you don’t think are as good as you, then I want nothing of him.

But some have found a Christ to show the world that is quite unlike the one whose primary purpose seems to be passing laws to impose religious adherence by non-believers. Their Christ is more interested in helping the needy, healing the hurting, and loving the loveless.

Such a Christ is observed in the actions of Christians in Worcester County, Massachusetts. They have become a haven of safety and help to gay men and women from around the world who are fleeing oppression and torture in their homelands. (Worcester Telegram)

For the past year, Hadwen Park Congregational Church has provided gay immigrants with food and money for clothes and rent, as well as spiritual and emotional support. Lutheran Social Services, which helps many immigrants apply for asylum, established a program to help gay immigrants apply for asylum.

Immigrants such as the Ugandan tortured for two days by men trying to get him to give the names of the patrons of his gay bar. Or the Jamaican who was beaten by crowds four times. Or the Lebanese man sent to the hospital with a broken neck.

The United States government allows those persecuted for their orientation elsewhere to see asylum in America. But few social service programs are available for these victims of brutality, and they are not allowed to work while waiting.

The church’s program is unique in the United States, church members believe; the Lutheran Social Services asylum program for gay immigrants is one of only a handful nationwide.

And theirs is no hand-off missions program designed to placate liberal guilt.

The church started by feeding the gay immigrants with its food pantry, then paying their rent and cell phone bills. Parishioners took immigrants on shopping trips for clothes and other essentials. Two parishioners offered to host two immigrants in their home. The immigrants started coming to the church, telling their stories, and connecting with people who don’t judge them.

Now the Christ of the Hadwen Park Congregational Church and Lutheran Social Services in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a Christ that the world could see much more of.

What Mainline Clergy Believe

Timothy Kincaid

May 22nd, 2009
National City Christian Church, Washington D.C. - Disciples of Christ

National City Christian Church, Washington D.C. - Disciples of Christ

“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

Timothy Kincaid

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

Timothy Kincaid

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.

The task force has concluded that those churches who wish to have a gay pastor in a committed relationship should be able to do so:

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

Timothy Kincaid

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

Timothy Kincaid

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.

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