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Lutheran Denomination Won't Delay Gay Decisions

Evangelical assembly will keep to timeline for ruling on same-sex marriages and sexually active homosexuals as clergy members.

August 17, 2003|From Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — The nation's largest Lutheran denomination voted Saturday to stick to its schedule for making decisions on blessing same-sex marriages and allowing sexually active gays and lesbians in the clergy.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted 526 to 462 to defeat an amendment that would have postponed the decisions from 2005 to 2007.

"I'm just afraid we're going to delay the healing of the world if we don't continue with what we'd said we do," said Stephen Bouman, the bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod.

Members wearing rainbow scarves, signifying support for keeping the timeline on track, hugged each other and cheered after the assembly sang the hymn "I've Got Peace Like a River" immediately following the vote.

The church's assembly in 2001 commissioned a four-year study on homosexuality in the church and called for the vote to be held when the report is completed.

Some members had sought to delay the vote until 2007, when the church's study on human sexuality is scheduled to be completed.

"I just think we need more time to do the task we've been asked to do for the healing of the world," said the Rev. Michael Neils, bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod in Arizona.

Later Saturday, the ELCA assembly rejected 832 to 139 a motion to break ties with the Episcopalians.

Earlier this month, the Episcopal General Convention ratified the election of that denomination's first openly gay bishop, and affirmed same-sex blessings as "an acceptable practice in the church."

The ELCA recognizes and shares Episcopalian sacraments and clergy under a full communion pact the ELCA approved four years ago.

Although the ELCA doesn't have a definitive position banning same-sex unions, an advisory statement in 1993 said bishops do not approve of such a ceremony as an official rite because they see no basis for it in Scripture or church tradition.

The ELCA welcomes gay and lesbian members, and its ministers can be openly gay or lesbian if they are celibate.

Meanwhile, Episcopalians and their sister churches worldwide anxiously watched to see if the denomination splits over Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Robinson, 56, a divorced father of two, has lived with his male partner for more than 13 years.

Conservatives plan to seek authorization from the global Anglican Communion for a separate North American province as a result of Robinson's confirmation. The 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member association of churches.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who leads the communion, has summoned the world's Anglican leaders, or primates, for an October meeting to discuss international fallout from the convention.

Some bishops have threatened to cut ties with the U.S. denomination.

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