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Lutherans turn down gay clergy

Area Lutherans rejected a proposal that would create space for gay clergy during two separate Saturday gatherings. Delegates of northwestern Minnesota's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met all day at Concordia College. The group, represent...

Area Lutherans rejected a proposal that would create space for gay clergy during two separate Saturday gatherings.

Delegates of northwestern Minnesota's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met all day at Concordia College.

The group, representing 110,000 members, voted against the most controversial of three recommendations from an ELCA task force that studied sexuality.

On the recommendation that would allow the church to not discipline gay clergy, 192 voted in favor, 316 against and 38 abstained.

Eastern North Dakota delegates, meeting in Jamestown, approved a resolution that opposed this recommendation and called for the discipline of those who violate current policy.

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The resolution passed, with 244 voting yes, 164 no, and 14 abstaining.

"I'm very pleased with it," said the Rev. Rob Buechler. He is pastor of Trinity-Bergen Church in Starkweather, N.D., and Faith Lutheran Church in Hampden, N.D.

"If we choose local option, then no doctrine of the church can be considered sacrosanct," Buechler said.

Bishop Rick Foss of the 100,000-member Eastern North Dakota Synod said delegates tried to be respectful and caring.

"The spirit and the tone and tenor have been really good," he said. "They care about one another as well as the issues."

The actions of both gatherings will be forwarded during an August churchwide ELCA gathering in Orlando, Fla.

The Northwestern Minnesota assembly voted on all three recommendations individually.

The other two were easily approved by clergy and lay members, who held up green vote cards for yes votes and red vote cards for no votes. The first recommendation asked the church to faithfully live together amid disagreements.

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The second affirmed a 1993 statement opposing the official blessing of same-sex unions.

The third recommendation on gay clergy proved most divisive for Northwestern Minnesota delegates, as it has been for other church groups nationwide.

Of delegates in opposition, some thought the statement was not strong enough. Others thought it provided too much local discretion.

Chris Ueland, a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls, Minn., said the church needed to be careful of the example it sets.

"We need to be raising man up above their sinful nature," he said, "... not adjusting God to meet the needs of the church."

The Rev. Allyne Holz, pastor of Glyndon (Minn.) Lutheran Church, said the church needs to care for gay and lesbian Lutherans.

"What I see this recommendation doing is offering the bishops a chance to do pastoral care on a case-by-case basis, to work with people and not just throw a law down at them," Holz said.

Bishop Rolf Wangberg of northwestern Minnesota said he was pleased with the respectful and thoughtful discussion. He said he wasn't surprised at the outcome of the vote, but was surprised so many people supported the third recommendation.

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The Northwestern Minnesota synod also approved a resolution stating that gay and lesbian Christians are welcome in ELCA congregations. It was written by Steve Nowicki, a member of Houglum Lutheran Church in Lake Park.

Nowicki, who is gay, is a former pastor of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He spoke often during the assembly. Other delegates thanked him afterward for his testimony.

Nowicki said the resolution simply opened the ELCA church doors wider to gays and lesbians, regardless if they can be ordained or have their unions blessed.

"It's important that everyone know that everyone is invited into God's house, particularly the one we call the Lutheran church," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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