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CHICAGO (RNS) — Efforts to eliminate a celibacy requirement for gay Lutheran clergy failed Saturday (Aug. 11) at a churchwide assembly, but delegates urged bishops to refrain from disciplining sexually active gay pastors.
After five days of debate among delegates from the 5 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, voting members deferred any changes in clergy standards until a special task force on sexuality releases its report just prior to the next assembly, in 2009.
Phil Soucy, a spokesman for the pro-gay group Lutherans Concerned/North America, which brought dozens of supporters adorned with hand-knit rainbow scarves to the assembly, said the move to discourage discipline of gay clergy is a cause for celebration.
“We didn’t get policy change now, but in the intervening two years we are not going to have people like Bradley Schmeling hauled up on charges simply for falling in love,” Soucy said.
Bradley Schmeling of Atlanta was taken off the ELCA clergy roster after making public that he is in a relationship with another man. His congregation, St. John’s Lutheran Church, kept him as their pastor anyway. The actions taken by the church assembly will not affect his situation, Soucy said.
The Rev. Scott Grorud of Minnesota, a leader of WordAlone Network, a group of 235 churches calling for a biblical understanding that prohibits any same-sex relationships, said he prays that bishops will continue to enforce church rules that prohibit sexually active gay clergy.
“The assembly succumbed to a manipulative effort to get in the back door what they had not allowed to come in the front door,” Grorud said.
“It’s a devastating blow to the health and faith of the church.”
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who was re-elected this week to another six-year term, asked throughout the debate that the more than 1,000 attendees respond to any vote with prayer rather than emotion. He has previously said he prefers to wait for the social statement before any changes are made to clergy standards.
The assembly also voted Thursday (Aug. 9) to refer the issue of blessing same-sex relationships to its task force on sexuality as it develops broader teaching.
One delegate proposed Friday to allow local exceptions for non-celibate gay ministers, which was similar to a resolution in 2005 that fell short of the required two-thirds majority. The resolution this year failed to garner a simple majority.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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