The nation's largest Lutheran denomination voted Saturday to avoid delaying further a decision on blessing same-sex marriages and allowing sexually active gays and lesbians in the clergy. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted 526-462 to defeat an amendment that would have postponed the decisions from 2005 to 2007. "I'm just afraid we're going to delay the healing of the world if we don't continue with what we'd said we do," Stephen Bouman, bishop of the metropolitan New York synod, said during 30 minutes of debate. Members wearing rainbow scarves, signifying support of keeping the time line on track, hugged each other and cheered after the assembly sang the
hymn "I've Got Peace Like a River" immediately following the vote.
The church's assembly in 2001 commissioned a four-year study on homosexuality in the church and called for the vote to be held at the completion of the report. Some members had sought to delay the vote until 2007, when the church's study on human sexuality is scheduled to be completed. The Reverend Michael Neils, bishop of the Grand Canyon synod in Arizona, spoke out in favor of delaying the votes until 2007. "I hate standing here and suggesting we change this time line," he said. "But I just think we need more time to do the task we've been asked to do for the healing of the world." Directors of a Lutheran study on homosexuality issued an interim report on their progress Friday that did not make any conclusions. The report outlined how the directors were conducting the study in terms of budget and time line.
The next step in the time line of the sexuality study is the release of interim findings to ELCA congregations in early September for further comment and debate. Last week the Episcopal General Convention ratified the election of that denomination's first openly gay bishop. The delegates also affirmed same-sex blessings as "an acceptable practice in the church." ELCA recognizes and shares Episcopalian sacraments and clergy under a full communion pact approved by ELCA four years ago. The assembly voted 832-139 not to break ties with the Episcopal Church. The motion had been brought by a church member but was not recommended by a committee studying the issue. Although ELCA doesn't have a definitive position banning same-sex unions, an advisory statement in 1993 said bishops do not approve of such a ceremony as an official rite because they see no basis for it in Scripture or church tradition. ELCA welcomes gay and lesbian members, and its ministers can be openly gay or lesbian if they are celibate.