CHICAGO – A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommended Thursday that its leaders make changes to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
At the same time, the task force also proposed giving individual congregations the local option to reject a gay clergy member.
If approved, the measures would change current church policy that allows ordination of gay clergy, but requires them to be celibate. In the report, the task force proposed a four-step process that outlines a possible path for change, starting with recognition of same-sex relationships.
“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 recommendations will be voted on at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis in August.
Although the proposal was meant as a compromise to preserve the unity of the 4.7 million-member church, the measures drew criticism from Lutherans on both sides of the debate. Conservative members denounced it as a departure from Scripture. Advocates for inclusion of gay clergy said the measure fell short in not recommending a liturgical rite for gay unions.
The Rev. Peter Strommen, the Minnesota pastor who served as chair of the 15-member task force, said the intent is for same-sex couples to be held accountable to their relationships in the same way as heterosexual couples.
“Given we have no clarity or structure, we feel it’s important for there to be an equivalent of public accountability,” Strommen said.
In addition to the recommendations on ministry policies, the church task force released a proposed social statement titled “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” that recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but also acknowledged same-sex couples. That view laid the foundation for recommendations on possibly recognizing gay relationships.
However, the task force said the recommendations should be taken in four consecutive steps, seeking agreement on principles before addressing policy.
If the assembly rejects the first measure to recognize monogamous gay couples, the remaining three will die. If the first step passes, members will be asked if they want to permit clergy in committed same-gender relationships to work in churches that invite them to serve.
The third step asks the church to respect the “bound consciences” of those who disagree. The fourth calls for change in policy that would incorporate “flexibility in decision-making” to allow congregations freedom to approve or reject a gay clergy member.
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