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Lutheranism  
 
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The social statement, which needed a 2/3 vote of the delegates to be approved, was adopted on a vote of 676 to 338, the precise number needed.

The resolution that ELCA "commit itself to find ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" was passed by a vote of 619 to 402.

Sponsor Message.

The resolution to permit the ordination of individuals in "publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" was passed by a vote of 559 to 451.

The adoption of the social statement and the new policies regarding the recognition of same-sex partnerships and ordination requirements was the culmination of decades of work on behalf of the inclusion of gay men and lesbians in the ecclesial life of the denomination. Growth in support of these changes was notable over the last two years, for in 2007 Assembly delegates rejected a proposal to permit sexually active clergy by a vote margin of 56 to 44 percent.

[The resolution "to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" did not change the Lutheran confessions that define marriage as between a man and a woman, but it has subsequently been interpreted to permit same-sex marriages in jurisdictions where marriage equality has been recognized.

The decision to perform and host same-sex marriages is up to the discretion of the pastor in consultation with his or her congregation and must comply with local law.]

Most of the news coverage following the 2009 Assembly emphasized the likelihood of a schism in the denomination over the new policies, and indeed some congregations have already left and more are likely to do so. Many have affiliated with a group called Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal), which is dedicated to upholding "Biblical norms for marriage, family and sexuality."

But Lutherans have a long history of leaving denominations over points of doctrine and forming new associations. So there is nothing new in the fragmentation that may occur as the result of ELCA's new inclusiveness.

It may well be that new, currently independent congregations will join ELCA as a result of its decisions in favor of inclusiveness.

Indeed, two churches in San Francisco, St. Francis Lutheran Church and First United Lutheran Church, which were expelled from ELCA in 1995 for ordaining openly gay, sexually active pastors, were expected to return to the denomination. (In 2010, St. Francis did vote to return; however, the First United congregation has not followed suit.) Ebenezer Lutheran Church, an inclusive congregation in Chicago, was on the verge of leaving the denomination over the issue but has decided to remain in the fold.

While some conservative congregations have voted to withhold or redirect funds away from ELCA in protest of the 2009 Assembly's decisions, other congregations have voted to increase their contributions to the denomination.

Moreover, the 2009 decision in retrospect seems inevitable. At the 2007 Assembly more than 80 glbtq ministers had publicly identified themselves, thereby risking expulsion from the ministry. The Church simply could not function well if all its time were taken up with investigating the sexual orientation of its clergy and holding trials to expel those glbtq ministers who were in committed relationships.

In addition, several congregations had already defied the denomination by ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy or by employing gay clergy who had been removed from the denomination's roster after having been disciplined for being in a committed homosexual relationship.

In recognition of these hard facts, the 2007 Assembly, while rejecting the resolution to permit sexually active clergy, passed a resolution that called for "restraint" in disciplining clergy who were in violation of the policy. These somewhat contradictory actions created a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that could not be sustained very long without sacrificing the denomination's integrity.

The movement toward inclusiveness in ELCA is the culmination of a long struggle. While as early as 1991, the Assembly had affirmed the right of gay men and lesbians to participate fully in the Church, proposals to acknowledge that there was a diversity of opinion in the Church about the sinfulness of homosexuality and to bless same-sex unions and ordain sexually active clergy had repeatedly been voted down until 2009.

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