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The ELCA and Gay Pastors - One Year Later

Cari Jean resides in North Dakota, where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.

One year ago I wrote the Hub, It's OK for Your Pastor to be Gay, Says ELCA. I thought it would be interesting to do a follow-up Hub to see how the ELCA's decision to accept non-celibate gays as clergymen has affected their denomination.

ELCA members pray for guidance during their 2009 Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

ELCA members pray for guidance during their 2009 Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

A Year Ago...

In August, 2009, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted to accept gays serving as clergy and professional lay leaders in the church. Before this vote, which passed 559-451, only celibate gays were allowed to serve.

The new rules, which began taking effect in November, 2009, allow for the installation of gay pastors. Congregations and synods, however, were left to make their own decision about whether to choose a gay pastor.

During the 2009 National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Tim Mumm, a lay delegate from Wisconsin stated, "We live today with an understanding of homosexuality that did not exist in Jesus' time and culture." Mumm is also a supporter of Lutherans Concerned, a gay-rights organization.

Javen Swanson, a seminarian who had recently wed his same-sex partner said, "The vote determined whether or not I was going to be able to continue through the ordination process."

Because of the passing vote, Swanson is able to be married to someone of the same sex and be an ordained pastor at the same time.


Gay Ministers Officially Accepted

On July 25th, 2010, 11 months after the policy change regarding gay pastors and clergy, seven gay ministers were welcomed into the ELCA. The ceremony took place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

This group of ministers was already ordained and serving in the San Francisco Bay area, but not officially a part of the clergy roster. Three more gay pastors will be welcomed at ceremonies in September and October—two in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area and one in Chicago. All together, 46 openly gay ministers who had previously been excluded from the church’s clergy roster will now be accepted. By being on the roster, these ministers can now be eligible for the full housing allowance and retirement benefits and be voting delegates to churchwide assemblies.

“It’s been a long and hard journey for a lot of people, and it feels like this is a new beginning in the history of the E.L.C.A.," says Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

While it seems Vagts fully supports gay ministers officially becoming a part of the clergy roster, there are those like The Rev. Mark Chavez who oppose it. “It’s just another steady step taken by the E.L.C.A. to move the denomination further and further away from most Lutheran churches around the world and from the whole Christian church, unfortunately.”

A New Denomination is Formed

With a total of about 4.5 million members, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. There are a total of 10,239 ELCA churches. Those numbers, however, are changing.

As of the beginning of August, 2010, 199 congregations have gone through the system to leave the ELCA while another 136 are awaiting a second vote in order to leave. About 75 percent of the churches that already left the ELCA have affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—another, smaller denomination. Others still may join the newest Lutheran denomination called the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

The NALC officially became a denomination when it's provisional constitution was approved on August 27, 2010. Eighteen churches from 12 states signed on as charter members. It is estimated that more than 200 churches will join the NALC by the end of 2011. The new denomination will have its main office in New Brighton, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The 18 churches which have joined so far are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Members of Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) gather for their annual meeting, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010, in Grove City, Ohio. Members of the activist group Lutheran CORE voted overwhelmingly to approve leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church

Members of Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) gather for their annual meeting, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010, in Grove City, Ohio. Members of the activist group Lutheran CORE voted overwhelmingly to approve leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church

The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois, has chosen to stay.

The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois, has chosen to stay.

To Stay or Leave

Many members of the ELCA have made or will make the decision to stay or leave. Those who choose to leave most likely will do so because of their scriptural interpretation of homosexuality. Some will stay because of their loyalty and because they see the positive effect of the ELCA's involvement with missions and other forms of outreach.

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Pastor Kathleen Meyers says, "I have friends who are gay — for me, it's a very personal issue, but I can't set aside the authority of scripture just because I have friends that I love."

Other members of the ELCA, like Bruce Winkler says he will not be leaving the ELCA, although he supports the formation of the new denomination because he is concerned over the loss of scriptural authority. He says, "it's the gospel of acceptance, rather than the gospel of redemption" He feels the ELCA focuses too much on just loving everybody and forgets the parts about obedience and sanctification.

The South Dakota bishop of the ELCA said he has no plans of leading his synod out of the denomination over last year's pro-gay actions. He also said that no congregation in the South Dakota synod will be forced to accept a gay or lesbian rostered leader and has assured local believers that the synod still does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Many members of the ELCA will wrestle with the decision to stay or leave. And with other churches, such as the Presbyterian and the Methodists churches debating whether or not to follow suit, those members will also be faced with the same decision.

I'm curious to know, what would you do?


Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on May 12, 2012:

Bob Thompson - I tried to do some searching for the answer to your question but did not find one. IT would be interesting to see that statistic though.

Bob Thompson on May 12, 2012:

How many of our 4.6 million membership are gay. Does anyone know.


Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on October 31, 2011:

GParbst - thanks for your comment. You raise some interesting points. As I stated in the article it seems that people are leaving the churches that have the noncelibate gay ministers and are branching off to form new denominations. I agree that churches need to be love and light to their communities. I might have to do a third follow up article to find some of the answers.

GParbst on October 30, 2011:

Great topic Cari. Just wondering how are the churches with noncelibate gay ministers doing? Are new members growing or declining, are these churches love and light to the community and are the congregates in these churches experiencing deeper personal growth and healing? Hope to see more unbiased comments from people attending churches with noncelibate gay ministers.

The Church (any denomination or religion) is to be leavening and light to the surrounding community. Bible support for and against will go on and on and on, but the bottom line: how is the leavening and light in these churches affecting their communities and attendees?

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on July 08, 2011:

ruffridyer - thanks so much for your comment. You may be right about the wheat and the tares - and for sure we need to follow God and not man.

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on July 06, 2011:

Perhaps this is part of the separating of the wheat from the tares before the final harvest. Will we follow God or man.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 19, 2010:

DeBorrah - thanks so much for your wise and insightful comment. You're so right when we say we are never to condone sin in anyone - including ourselves! Unfortunately though, emotion seems to be overcoming truth more and more in our society and if we're not careful it will lead us to our downfall.

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on September 11, 2010:

Cari Jean, Wonderful exposition! Very informative yet disturbing article! It is sad to see the trend to what is most popular continues to infiltrate God’s Church. The Scriptures shared by Captain Jimmy speak for themselves. What is happening is tantamount to what took place in the days of Noah. The Word of God is being fulfilled and the arrival of our Lord and Savior is fast approaching!

Amen Vladimir!

"There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus who DO NOT walk according to the flesh…." Romans 8. This quenches the HOLY SPIRT of GOD! How can one be set FREE when they embrace the very sins that JESUS clearly says; NO!

We are to have compassion on others but we are never supposed to condone sin in anyone including ourselves. The Word of God is our “Life Manual!” God is our Creator and Maker and KNOWS what is best for us. If a group can decide that only parts of the Scriptures are right then another group can come along and make that same decision… So what’s next? LORD HELP US!!! I believe ALL the WORD of GOD. GOD is LOVE and HE also certainly KNOWS what is best! So if He says Don’t who is anyone to question Him!

Thank you for sharing this I was not aware of this situation to this extent I have learned something here today, God Bless you In HIS Love, Peace & Blessings!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 06, 2010:

Elena - Those are very good questions and I'm glad you stated I didn't have to answer because I honestly don't know. I've never been in such a service. I pray for all pastors as well and hope they can have true peace in their hearts. Thanks so much for your comment.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 06, 2010:

bayoulady - thanks so much for you comment - it is very encouraging to me.

Elena from London, UK on September 05, 2010:

Hi Cari

This is an interesting Hub - I just wonder if the Spirit of God moves in churches where there are Gay Pastors. Are people being healed? Are people being free from depression and oppression? It's not a question you have to answer, I have just always wondered how the move of God is in such Churches......Just writing down my "wondering thoughts".

I pray for all pastors both Gay and Not Gay, may God lead them aright.

Wishing you a Blessed week, Elena.

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on September 04, 2010:

well written hub!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 02, 2010:

Vladimir - thanks so much for your comment. The problem is some don't think that living out a gay lifestyle is sin - which I really can't believe since it is so obvious what scripture says. Thanks for the one you shared.

Vladimir Uhri from HubPages, FB on September 02, 2010:

Thanks for this hub Cari.

I believe that sin kills and separate man from God.

Paul said that every overseer should be the husband of one wife. It does not say live in adultery man with man (1Tim 3:2).

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

HealthyHanna - thank you so much for your insightful comment. I don't want people to think that I don't love people who are gay - like you said, love the person, hate the sin. Exactly what Jesus did and exactly what He teaches.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

Dave - thank you for your comment. And YES, if it's wrong in God's eyes it has to be wrong in the eyes of those who willingly surrender their lives to Him. HE is truth and HIS truth must be ours as well.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

Thanks for sharing these scriptures. I was pretty incredulous when I read a quote from a lay delegate of the ELCA who said, "We live today with an understanding of homosexuality that did not exist in Jesus' time and culture."

WHAT?? That guy needs to be reminded that here is nothing new under the sun!

Thanks again for sharing the word with us - for sharing truth!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

Ken - thank you SO MUCH for your comment. It saddens me that there are so many denominations and churches are giving in to this lie. Like you said, there are lots of emtions but that's part of the problem. Decisions are being made on emotions and feelings not on truth.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

Hello, hello - Thank you so much for your comment. As far as a response to your comment, it would take a whole other hub to answer the issues you have raised. I hope you understand that it is not my purpose to "hurt and hunt" them. I have friends who are gay and who are very dear to me. I don't want to hurt them. It hurts me though for the lifestyle they are living because I believe by doing so they are going against how God created us and in turn are hurting themselves. I believe the Bible to be truth and believe that though it was written by man it is all God-inspired. I could go on, but I feel as though we will never entirely agree. I just believe it is not God's will for anyone to be homosexual and have a hard time justifying gays becoming pastors.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

stars439 - because God created us to have compassion for others, no one likes to see another get hurt. And of course God himself doesn't like to see anyone get hurt but that doesn't mean that He won't allow us to suffer or that He won't allow us to face the consequences of our actions. Part of the problem is we are not only dealing with God but the Devil as well who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. It seems God gets blamed when bad things happened but we forget about the adversary and about our own sinful actions.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 01, 2010:

Pamela - thanks for your comment. It is a tough thing that so many churches are going through this. Part of it is that there is so much distortion of the truth and the church is getting caught up in those distortions.

HealthyHanna from Utah on September 01, 2010:

A big problem for today. "your ways are not my ways" says the Lord. We can love the person, but hate the sin. And I think 'sin' is an interesting word. 'Sin' is anything that seperates us from the Lord. Does homosexuality put distance between us and God?

Marriage, sex, and the purpose of life is to create life. Homosexuality only satisfies selfish desires and not the purposes of God.

Who do we serve God or Self?

That being said. Thanks to all thoses who serve and administer good to mankind.

Dave Mathews from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA on September 01, 2010:

If God approves, who am I to Argue. If Holy Scripture in God's holiest of books the Holy Bible approves, then so be it. In this case Neither God nor His Word approve or agree, therefore it's wrong in God's Eyes and mine too.

Captain Jimmy from WV on September 01, 2010:

God's word say's it clearly! God destroyed Sodom and Gommorah for this sin!

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Romans 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Romans 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

Romans 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Romans 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

Romans 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

Romans 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

Romans 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

Romans 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Ken R. Abell on September 01, 2010:

Cari Jean - Good Hub. Thank you for putting it out there. My suspicion is that many denominations will be going through this same turmoil in the years ahead.

Not sure what the answer is--it is a complex issue involving high emotions on both sides.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 01, 2010:

I never understood what it is about the gays. They do anybody any harm. Of course, we as not be gay can't understand it but there is no need to hurt and hunt them. The bible has been written by people and therefore I can't accept it whole heartedly. How do we know it is the laws of God - apart from the ten commandment.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on August 31, 2010:

Cart, I am a bit confused. I do not like to see any people get hurt, but how do the laws of God relate to such situations ? God Bless You.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 31, 2010:

Cari, I don't really have the answers for those questions. This is an interesting hub and certainly something that many churches are dealing with today.

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