What does it mean when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approves a “social statement on human sexuality” — a 34-page document that says while there’s no consensus on whether homosexuality gels with Scripture , “the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect” — just before tomorrow’s vote on whether sexually active gays can join the clergy? Well, it’s good news — but not OMG AMAZING news.
It’s sort of an “agree to disagree” statement, but it’s particularly notable because its wording took a more inclusive approach to gays (i.e. can’t we all just get along?) rather than exclusionary (i.e. get the F out). Also, the decision to approve the statement required a two-thirds supermajority vote from the 1,045 delegations; it received precisely that amount, with 66.67 percent. That’s a big deal, because tomorrow’s vote on gay clergy needs only a simple majority for passage.
The social statement lays a theological foundation for a liberalized policy on gay clergy, and supporters of the proposal praised Wednesday’s vote. “We are encouraged and hopeful that … this will result in the church’s elimination of the current ban on ministers in same gender relationships,” said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group of pro-gay Lutherans.
Opponents of the social statement said it ignores clear scriptural direction that homosexuality is a sin. “We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality based on a reality that’s shaped not by Scripture but by today’s culture,” said Curtis Sorbo of Adams, N.D., a convention delegate from the ELCA’s Eastern North Dakota Synod.
ELCA officials said it shouldn’t be assumed that passage of the social statement automatically means the proposal on gay clergy will be approved. “We haven’t yet had that debate, and I would not want to conjecture that,” said the Rev. Rebecca Larson, an official in the ELCA’s headquarters in Chicago.
And did we mention a freakin’ tornado hit the Minneapolis Convention Center yesterday while the delegates were voting? God challenged them, and they prevailed! Humans 1, Evil 0. (Nobody was hurt, thankfully.)
UPDATE: Witness the tornado’s damage to the church.
(Pictured, top: Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, via AP)