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Proposal would open door for gay Lutheran clergy

Proposal would open door for gay Lutheran clergy

Lutheran bishops could allow gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships to become pastors of congregations under a proposal advanced Monday by a council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Church policy currently bars gay and lesbian clergy who are involved with partners but allows those who are celibate. The proposal--which would require that the bishop of a synod, or district, seek an exception to the ban for a particular candidate--will be voted on by the church's assembly at its annual meeting in August. With almost 5 million members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of the nation's largest Protestant bodies. Like several other major Protestant denominations, it has wrestled in recent years with issues involving gays and lesbians. Some supporters of the proposal--which the church council offered after three days of meetings at church headquarters in Chicago--voiced misgivings that it might not be approved by the approximately 1,000-member assembly because it is so complicated and filled with conditions. They also said they don't view the proposal as a step forward because several active ministers already are in committed same-sex relationships and have not been disciplined by church leaders. "They're creating a second-class roster and a complicated process of exceptions which will not serve gay or lesbian people well, and I'm afraid it won't serve the church well," said the Reverend Jeff Johnson, a pastor in Berkeley, Calif., and cochair of Good Soil, a group seeking to change the church's policy. Conservative groups had hoped for a reaffirmation of current policy, which they received on the issue of blessings of same-sex couples. Using the same wording as a 1993 letter from the church's bishops, the council approved a resolution saying the church does not officially approve of such ceremonies but recognizes the desire of pastors with gay and lesbian members to "explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister." Under the policy concerning gay clergy, the bishop of a synod could seek an exception for a clergy candidate from the 65-member Conference of Bishops. Heterosexual single Lutheran clergy are expected to remain celibate until they marry, and the gay or lesbian minister would have to provide evidence of "intent to live in a lifelong, committed, and faithful same-sex relationship," according to the proposal. The minister would then head a congregation that had "indicated its openness to" a pastor in such a relationship, according to the proposal. The Reverend Roy Harrisville III, executive director of Solid Rock Lutherans, a group dedicated "to maintaining the current polices on sexuality within the church," opposed the proposal. "It opens the door to crossing myriad sexual boundaries that I think should not be crossed," he said. "This strikes at the Christian identity." (AP)

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