Friday, by a vote of 559 to 451, delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran in America’s national assembly in Minneapolis approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships” to serve as official ministers. Previously, Lutherans only allowed celibate gay men and lesbians to become members of the clergy. The historical decision follows an earlier vote allowing individual churches to recognize and support same-sex partneships within their general congregations. After the final vote, clusters of men and women around the convention hall hugged one another and wept, according to the The New York Times.
The vote made the denomination, with its 4.6 million members, the latest mainline Protestant church to permit such ordinations, contributing to a halting sense of momentum on the issue within liberal Protestantism.
“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.”
Their more conservative, evangelical Protestant counterparts, both the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ already allow gay clergy members. The Episcopal Church has endured the most visible public flash-points over homosexuality, grappling in particular in the last few years with the consecration of gay bishops. It affirmed last month, however, that “any ordained ministry” was open to gay men and lesbians.From left, Orinda Hawkins-Brinkley, Diane Yeager, Marj Ellis and Steven Schnittke, all clasping hands in prayer at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Friday, 8-21-09 photo
Earlier this year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected a measure that would have opened the door for gay ordination, but the margin was narrower than in a similar vote in 2001. The United Methodist Church voted not to change its stance barring non-celibate homosexuals from ministry last year, after an emotional debate at its general conference.
Photo of Janet Metcalfe in Minneapolis at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America convention. She paused for prayer Wednesday 8-19-09 after a tornado warning. See video at the bottom of this post.
But the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s heavily Midwestern membership and the fact that it is generally seen as falling squarely in the middle of the theological milieu of mainline Protestantism imbued Friday’s vote with added significance, religion scholars said. Wendy Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University who has studied Evangelical Lutheran churches grappling with the issue, said, “It does show, to the extent that any mainline denominations are moving, I think they’re moving slowly toward a more progressive direction.”
Photo of two Lutheran men shaking hands after the historic Evangelical Lutheran vote to allow active committed gay clergy to be ministers in the church
Not everyone is pleased with the decision, however. Just before the vote but sensing its outcome, the Rev. Timothy Housholder of Cottage Grove, Minn., introduced himself as a rostered pastor in the church, “at least for a few more hours,” implying that he would leave the denomination, eliciting a gasp from some audience members. “Here I stand, broken and mournful, because of this assembly and her actions,” Mr. Housholder said.
The Rev. Mark Lepper of Belle Plaine, Minn., who had called for the inclusion of gay clergy members, said, “Let’s stop leaving people behind and let’s be the family God is calling us to be.” Right on!
Tornado damage in Minneapolis 8-19-09 photo. Fundamentalist John Piper, pastor of the 3,000 member Bethlehem Baptist Church, warned that Wednesday's minor tornado damage to the convention center and the city's largest Lutheran church was a "firm warning" against accepting sexually active gay clergy. See video below!
Watch this hilarious video “Lutherans Endorse Homosexuality, God Sends ‘Miracle’ Tornado!” complete with doomsday music, uploaded one day before the final vote. Sadly, it was meant to be serious:
Check out this KOKI Fox 23 Tulsa video report on the gay clergy vote in the Evangelical Lutheran church: