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(RNS) The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination approved a carefully balanced statement on human sexuality late Wednesday (Aug. 19) that progressives quickly welcomed as a possible step towards overturning a churchwide ban on non-celibate gay clergy later this week.
By a vote of 676 to 338 — the exact two-thirds majority needed for passage — delegates at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial assembly in Minneapolis adopted a “social statement on human sexuality.”
The 34-page statement does not take a position on homosexuality, an issue that has divided most mainline Protestant denominations for decades, but merely describes various views Lutherans hold on same-gender relationships. The statement will be used to guide church policy.
“The church … acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships,” the statement reads, “even after many years of thoughtful, respectful and faithful study and conversation.” The statement, which was written by a 15-member committee, was eight years in the making.
“We say that we can continue to live with different practices and different understandings around these issues, because they are not central to our faith,” said the Rev. Rebecca Larson, executive director of the ELCA’s Church in Society unit.
Though the wide-ranging statement addresses many aspects of human sexuality, from friendship to child pornography, most of the debate has centered on the few pages it devotes to homosexuality.
Pro-gay rights groups called Wednesday’s vote a step forward for the 4.6 million-member ELCA, and a hopeful sign that delegates will vote to lift a ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy on Friday. That measure requires only a simple majority to pass.
“This is a day of progress and compromise,” Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, said in a statement. “There is still much work to do, but the door to full inclusion of” lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual “members and their families is now most definitely open.”
By a more than three-to-one margin, delegates defeated an amendment that called the “practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God’s intent,” according to the ELCA’s news service.
Traditionalist Lutherans, on the other hand, called Wednesday’s vote a triumph of human desires over divine law.
“We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman,” said the Rev. Paull Spring, chair of the group Lutheran CORE said in a statement.
“It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years,” Spring said.
By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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