Lutheran congregations appoint openly gay pastors
April 15 2004 11:00 PM ET
Three Lutheran congregations have defied their denomination's rule prohibiting the ordination of noncelibate gays and appointed two gay men and one lesbian to serve as pastors. The Reverend Jennifer Mason is scheduled to be installed Sunday at Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino, Calif., followed by the installations of the Reverend Daniel M. Hooper at Hollywood Lutheran Church on May 2 in Los Angeles and the Reverend Jay Wiesner at Bethany Lutheran on July 25 in Minneapolis. The installations continue to focus attention on divisions within the denomination over how to treat gay men and lesbians in the ministry. "The emotions run very high, and I think the risks are very real," the Reverend Steven Benson told the Los Angeles Times. "The possibilities of deep division, and perhaps even schism, are there." Benson, who pastors at Bethany Lutheran Church, supports the installation.
However, others within the clergy strongly oppose the installations. Bishop Murray D. Finck, of the Lutheran Church's Pacific Synod, said he was saddened by the San Bernardino decision to call Mason an associate pastor and urged the mission to reconsider its decision. The Hollywood Lutheran Church and the San Bernardino mission would be the first Southern California Evangelical Lutheran bodies to call an openly gay man or lesbian a pastor. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America ordains openly gay men and women but requires them to be celibate. Conservatives such as the Reverend Christopher Hershman, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship, said he believes Christianity will eventually split over the authority of Scripture. "There are two different kinds of religion under the same denominational banners," Hershman told the Times. "One says what the churches taught for the last 2,000 years. The other approach says the Bible was a witness at its time, and people
have moved beyond that to a higher sense of enlightenment." Diane L. Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., also has noticed the recent division within the clergy and church. "I see increasing polarization. Among evangelicals in all these denominations [we are] quick to say we have more in common with each other than we do with the left in our own denomination. I'm sure the other side feels the same way."