2016-06-30
(RNS) Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have asked for a report on whether an exception can be made to a churchwide ban on active homosexuals in the pulpit so that a lesbian could pastor a church in St. Paul, Minn.

The ELCA, with 5.2 million members, allows celibate homosexuals to pastor churches, but prohibits active homosexuals in the clergy. A church in St. Paul is asking for an exception to that rule to allow its lay minister to become an ordained pastor.

Anita Hill, pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Church, has led the church as a lay pastor for several years. She expects to graduate with a divinity degree soon and wants to become ordained. Hill is in a committed relationship with another woman.

The St. Paul Area Synod petitioned the ELCA's Church Council, the highest ranking legislative body outside of churchwide assemblies, to allow an exception to the ban on active homosexuals. The Church Council met in Chicago April 7-9 and forwarded the request on to the church agency that sets standards for the clergy.

Under the current guidelines, church rules state, "Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships." The proposed amendment to that rule states, "Exceptions ... may be granted by the Conference of Bishops. The Conference of Bishops may consult the Division of Ministry concerning exceptions it seeks to make."

In a vote, church leaders forwarded the proposed change to the Division of Ministry and asked for an opinion. They will reconsider the issue when the Council meets again in November.

At last year's Churchwide Assembly, the church voted down attempts to suspend the ban on non-celibate clergy and a similar move to develop strategies for ending the ban.

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