Another major Christian denomination has taken a controversial step regarding gay clergy.
Meeting in Minneapolis, the 4.7-million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) , the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, voted Friday "to allow Lutherans in same-gender relationships to serve as pastors of congregations and serve in other professional leadership roles." Until now, only celibate gay men and lesbians could serve such church roles.
The ELCA's move is especially jarring and significant because "it is viewed by all of us as one of the more Reformation-rooted, broadly orthodox denominations" and takes its theology seriously, Richard Mouw, president of the multi-denominational and evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., told the Associated Press.
Church officials know full well that more than a single vote is at stake.
"This is not simply rules and procedures for implementing something new," said the Rev. Stanley Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education. "We have these policies because we are committed to having the kind of leaders who will serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who will respect this church and other churches, and who will have the world in view."
Some see a cultural and social broadening in this latest decision to allow gay clergy in same-sex relationships to hold pastoral positions.
"The message it's sending is, yes, not only are more Americans from a religious perspective getting behind gay rights, but these folks are not just quote unquote coastal liberals," Laura Olson, a professor of political science at Clemson University told The New York Times.
But controversy continues within the church. Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) represents 400 conservative congregations. The organization calls itself a "loyal opposition" which seeks "the reform of our church according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions."
"I am saddened that a Lutheran Church that was founded on a firm commitment to the Bible has come to the point that the ELCA would vote to reject the Bible's teaching on marriage and homosexual behavior," said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of Lutheran CORE. It breaks my heart."
CORE says it will encourage ELCA members and congregations to withdraw financial support from the denomination.
The Rev. Mark Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, asked those meeting Saturday to follow the Bible's (Colossians 3) mandate to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body."