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social sciences

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In 2011, however, the National Conference, meeting in Saskatoon, voted to allow same-sex marriages and the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships.

Following more than two hours of debate, delegates approved by a vote of 213 to 134 a human sexuality social statement that developed out of a four-year national study of sexuality. The statement calls upon the ELCIC to "denounce discrimination, including sexual discrimination, in all its forms."

By a vote of 192 to 132, the delegates agreed to allow ELCIC clergy to preside at or bless same-sex marriages, according to their consciences.

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By a vote of 205 to 114, delegates rescinded past actions that banned non-celibate gay and lesbian people from ordination and call.

During the debate over ordination, Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse said of the policy that banned gay and lesbian clergy: "I've seen the terrible results of this policy: broken people, broken families, broken congregations, substance abuse, broken lives. That's what happens when you demand celibacy of those who don't have the gifts to live celibate lives. This motion provides the opportunity for willing congregations to consider these candidates."

Delegates also voted 204 to 133 to affirm a statement that church members who disagree with one another will remain in dialogue and unity, and refrain from church-dividing actions.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The largest North American Lutheran denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has gradually moved toward full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in ecclesial life. With almost 5,000,000 members, and almost 11,000 congregations, ELCA is the fifth largest American Christian denomination, and the largest to permit the ordination of sexually active gay men and lesbians.

ELCA is among the most socially progressive of American mainstream Christian denominations, often taking public stands on behalf of liberal causes, including civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

In August 2009, after more than three decades of controversy over questions related to human sexuality and to the acceptance of openly gay clergy, the ELCA National Assembly approved a new social statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," and also approved resolutions authorizing the denomination to find ways "to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" and to permit the ordination of clergymen in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The new social statement acknowledges the diversity of opinion within the denomination as to whether homosexual acts are sinful and whether gay and lesbian relationships should be recognized, and asks that all sincerely held "conscience-bound" beliefs be respected.

More forcefully, the document reiterates the denomination's traditional advocacy for civil rights: "While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It 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."

In addition, the document acknowledges the pain that church teachings have caused gay men and lesbians: "This church acknowledges with regret the way in which the misuse of historical teachings concerning sexuality has harmed individuals, deepened suffering, or torn families apart. This includes actions that abandon or shun people . . . for a same-sex orientation. Hate crimes and violence against those who are regarded as sexually different sometimes have been publicly perpetrated in the name of Christ. Not only must such behaviors be denounced, but this church must work toward greater understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity."

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