Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with approximately 5 million members, has passed repeated resolutions to welcome gay and lesbian people since 1991. However, this welcome varies from synod to synod and congregation to congregation across the denomination.
During its August 2009 Churchwide Assembly, significant progress was made in the ELCA when the church adopted a social statement on human sexuality (Social Statement: Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust) Sexuality - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that supports a wide diversity of families, including those of same-gender couples. While the ELCA has no official rite for same-gender unions, it voted to "allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is now the largest Protestant church in the United States to permit noncelibate gay ministers to serve in the ranks of its clergy.
LGBT People in the Church
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially and unequivocally welcomes LGBT people and their families. In an open letter in 1996, the Lutheran bishops reaffirmed this message and condemned homophobia and anti-gay discrimination:
“To gay and lesbian members, we write to you in hope and out of faith. We all live with the pain of a church that experiences sharp disagreements on some issues. Yet we walk beside you and we value your gifts and commitment to the Church. … We repudiate all words and acts of hatred toward gay and lesbian persons in our congregations and in our communities, and extend a caring welcome for gay and lesbian persons and their families. We call upon all our pastors, as they exercise pastoral care, to be sensitive to the gifts and needs of gay and lesbian members.”
At its Churchwide Assembly in 2009, the ELCA adopted a social statement titled, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which recognizes:
"… the complex and varied situations people have in relation to human sexuality: being in relationships, being single, being a friend, living in a young or aging body, being male or female, being young or old, or having different sexual orientations and gender identities. In whatever the situation, all people are called to build trust in relationships and in the community.”
The statement repeatedly acknowledges that members of the denomination stand on very different sides of the issue of same-sex relationships and calls for mutual respect from all sides as individuals and congregations continue to discern God’s will. The social statement also recommits the denomination to its opposition to homophobia, discrimination, and harassment based on sexual orientation as well as committing to pastoral responsibility to LGBT people, stating that the ELCA:
"...supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families and to advocate for their legal protection. The ELCA recognizes that it has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes a pastoral responsibility to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. All are encouraged to avail themselves of the means of grace and pastoral care.
On October 28, 2010, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offered reassurance to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, saying, "You are a beloved child of God." Rev. Mark S. Hanson told young people 'It Gets Better in a video essay posted on You Tube. Hanson recorded the video in response to numerous reports of gay teenagers, who have been bullied, with some taking their own lives. The video can be viewed at http://www.ELCA.org/itgetsbetter on the ELCA website.
During its Churchwide Assembly in 2009, the ELCA voted 619 to 402 to commit to finding ways to “allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.” This resolution affirms congregations that choose to recognize same-sex relationships while continuing to respect the validity of conscience of congregations that will not recognize same-sex relationships. Since this resolution does not mandate that all ELCA congregations recognize same-sex unions, ELCA congregations will continue to vary in their beliefs regarding this issue.
Openly LGBT Clergy
In 1990 the ELCA approved official guidelines instructing gay and lesbian ministers, even those in lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, to remain celibate.
Nevertheless, in the decades following the approval of these guidelines, the denomination remained deeply divided on how to relate to people in same-sex relationships, and there had been much ambiguity regarding congregational and synodical practices related to couples and clergy.
In 2009, after eight years of thoughtful theological exploration and denominational discourse on the genuine inclusion of LGB Lutherans in their churches, the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis voted to allow congregations to call and ordain gays and lesbians in committed monogamous relationships to serve as clergy. By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" to serve as official ministers. The passage of this policy came on the heels of the assembly’s approval of a related resolution granting authority to congregations to chose to recognize publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-sex relationships. Both resolutions respect the autonomy of individual congregations with respect to their beliefs regarding lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships. Congregations that do not wish to call these persons to ordained ministry are not required by these policy changes to do so.
In reaction, Lutheran CORE, which opposed the decision, stated that it would, "initiate a process that we hope will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism." In February 2010, Lutheran CORE announced that it will secede from the ELCA and form a new denomination to be named the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). As of 2008, 37% of ELCA pastors were found to support same-sex marriage.
In April 2010, The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted revisions to ministry policy documents to bring them in line with the August 2009 vote, as well as adding sections on integrity, substance abuse and addiction. You can find these revised ministry policies here: http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Vocation/Rostered-Leadership/Ministry-Policies.aspx .
In July 2010 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, the denomination officially welcomed seven LGBT clergy members onto the official roster, who had until then been barred from the church’s ministry. The seven ministers had already been ordained and were serving at churches or outreach ministries in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they had not been officially recognized on the clergy roster. This was the first of a series of such services.
The denomination designed a special “rite of reception” to mark the formal inclusion of gay and lesbian ministers who were ordained in “extraordinary rites” that were not recognized by the church. The pastors had been authorized for ordination by a group called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Resources for LGBT Lutherans
- Lutherans Concerned is a national education and advocacy group with chapters nationwide working on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues within the church. It has a list of more than 440 LGBT-welcoming Lutheran congregations.
- Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) expands ministry opportunities for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders who are changing the through their ministry.
- Goodsoil.org is a coalition that aims to change official ELCA policies to become more inclusive of LGBT people.
If you would like to communicate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, here is their mailing address:
Evangelical Lutheran Church
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631