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Lutherans
maintain ban on openly gay clergy

Lutherans
maintain ban on openly gay clergy

A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted Friday to rebuff what many saw as an attempt to push the denomination toward approval of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. On a day when the weeklong meeting focused on gays' role in the church, delegates stripped language from a same-sex blessings measure that many Lutherans thought would give local pastors leeway in deciding whether to conduct the ceremonies.

Once the language was removed, the proposal then became an affirmation of current church practice, which bans such blessings and expresses "trust" in pastors' ministering to gays and lesbians. It was approved overwhelmingly. Earlier in the day delegates voted 851-127 to keep the church unified despite serious differences over homosexuality. The issue that was expected to be the most contentious still hadn't been decided: whether to allow ordination for partnered gays.

A proposal before the assembly would affirm the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians but allow bishops and church districts, called synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate if that person is in a committed relationship and meets other conditions. Discussion on that measure began late Friday afternoon.

All the proposals--the product of three years' work by a special church task force--were meant as a compromise that will satisfy both those who support gay clergy and those who regard gay sex as sinful. Disagreement over what the Bible says about homosexuality has torn at Protestant denominations for years. The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop two years ago, and Anglicans worldwide are now struggling to remain unified--something conservative Lutherans noted in handouts to voters Friday.

Conservatives say the ordination proposal would effectively overturn prohibitions against noncelibate gays in the Lutheran ministry, and advocates for gays aren't satisfied either. They say the measure would create a second-class roster for gay clergy in the church. Opponents worry that easing the rules also would strain relations with other Christian denominations and with the many conservative Lutherans overseas. And they said any change would unravel church teaching on sexual ethics and marriage.

Gay rights advocates, meanwhile, contend that nothing in Christian teaching supports the current stand of the 4.9 million-member denomination. The Reverend Patrick Gahagen of Detroit spoke on the assembly floor about one of his gay congregants who was "ostracized by family, criticized by friends, and demonized by the president," yet could find safe haven in church. (AP)

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