The vote came just two days after representatives to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial meeting voted by a two-thirds margin to adopt a “social statement” essentially agreeing to disagree over how to interpret Scripture passages dealing with homosexuality.
The assembly stopped short of officially endorsing same-sex marriage or creating a rite for such marriages.
“Today I am proud to be a Lutheran,” said Emily Eastwood, director of the pro-gay group Lutherans Concerned/North America, in a press statement released shortly after the vote.
“Supporters and advocates of full inclusion have longed for this day since the inception of the ELCA, and for many of us what seemed like a lifetime,” Eastwood said. “The ELCA has always had gay ministers, now those and all ministers are free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, which is all we ever asked.”
The denomination was formed nearly 30 years ago out of the merger of three regional Lutheran groups. Its approximately 4.6 million members are spread throughout the nation, but concentrated most heavily in the Midwest.
The ELCA is generally considered to fall in the middle of the ideological spectrum of mainline American Protestantism. Two smaller national denominational groups, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, are more conservative than the ELCA.
ELCA members opposed to homosexuality expressed displeasure with the two votes. A coalition of conservative-leaning congregations was scheduled to gather in Indianapolis in September to consider their future course of action.
“Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians. The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years,” said Bishop Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the conservative group Lutheran CORE, in a press release. “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. It breaks my heart.”
Lutheran CORE announced plans to convene a Sept. 25-26 meeting in Indianapolis to discuss how to respond to the decision. “We are encouraging individuals and congregations to join us in Indianapolis to discuss what the future for faithful Lutherans in the ELCA might look like and how faithful congregations and individuals can work together,” Spring said.