The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is having it's biennial convention this week and we're seeing coverage about the most politically exciting topic that will be debated -- homosexuality. There have already been a couple of good stories. It may seem like such a minor thing but I'm impressed that Patrick Condon of the Associated Press had an anecdotal lede with someone opposed to changing the church's teaching on whether clergy who are in same-sex relationships should be on the church roster. Here it is:
FRIDLEY, Minn. -- The Rev. Dave Glesne stood before the members of Redeemer Lutheran Church a few weeks ago and told them there might be some painful decisions in the near future.
Glesne is against letting people in same-sex relationships serve as pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and he says his congregation is behind him. They're worried this suburban Minneapolis church could find itself on the losing side as leaders of the nation's largest Lutheran denomination vote on whether to take that step at their biennial national convention, which starts Monday in Minneapolis.
"Of course the question was asked: What will we do, Pastor Dave, if this goes?" Glesne said. "The conversation we had left me no doubt that we will definitely have a discussion about leaving the ELCA."
I'm just so used to seeing the heartbreaking stories from the other perspective and only from the other perspective that it's a refreshing change and reminds us that there will be heartbreak and loss no matter who wins the theological debate. In fact, that's a major theme of the story and includes some great quotes from people on opposing sides.
There was one point that was unclear from the story. The piece says that a variety of views are represented at Redeemer, a congregation of about 2,000 that has grown in recent years. But, the pastor says, most of the congregation sides with him regarding church policy on gay clergy:
"I think I'm a voice that represents the great majority of the people in the ELCA who are sitting in the pews," Glesne said.
That wasn't the case, however, in recent synod votes on the proposed change. Thirty-four synods approved resolutions supporting the change and 12 called for its rejection. The votes put synods on record for advocating for a position, which ultimately will be decided by voting members at the national assembly.
Here's the thing. I have no idea whether Glesne is right that the great majority of congregants agree with him. But whether or not it's true, the fact that 34 synods approved the change doesn't necessarily contradict him. The ELCA -- like many other mainline denominations with a top-heavy governing structure -- is known for being much more liberal at its regional and national church headquarters than in the pews. In fact, some folks are downright upset at how hard the ELCA press office has been gunning for one side of this issue.
Still, the story is good. (And here's a look in the Arizona Republic at the local implications of the vote and retaining membership in the ELCA should the church change its doctrine.) The other story I wanted to highlight was Julia Duin's in the Washington Times. I believe Duin will be reporting on site from the convention, which is nice to see in this day and age of dwindling travel budgets. Her story has some interesting and easy-to-understand explanation of the process and what each step in the process means. She speaks with both the Maryland and Virginia bishops to better understand the theological underpinnings of the issue. Here's a sample:
Bishop [H. Gerald Knoche of the 90,000-member, 182-church Delaware-Maryland Synod] said "many" Lutherans are concerned about the sexuality statement "for what they see as a false starting point theologically. The document bases most of its theological work [about sexuality] on the idea of trust."
The Lutheran understanding of sexuality traditionally begins with the creation account in Genesis and "is based on [mankind] being created male and female," he said. "This document does not begin there. They base their reasoning on faith and trust," in order to include same-sex relationships, he added.
To the untrained eye, many of these disputes seem political and secular. But for those debating these issues from within the church, they come down to some pretty serious theological disagreements. It's nice to see that acknowledged and mentioned in an article.
The AP followed up with a report on a rule change that would allow people in same-sex relationships to serve clearing its first hurdle