ELCA accepts sexuality report in a close vote

MINNEAPOLIS - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to accept a controversial and much-debated social statement on human sexuality by a close vote at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Wednesday.

MINNEAPOLIS - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to accept a controversial and much-debated social statement on human sexuality by a close vote at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Wednesday.

A two-thirds majority was required and 66.6 percent voted in favor of the statement, while 33.3 percent voted against it. In real numbers, that's 676 to 338.

"I wasn't surprised that it was close," said Northwestern Minnesota Bishop Larry Wohlrabe. "I was amazed that it was that close."

The human sexuality social statement, titled "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," covers a broad range of topics related to sexuality. Like all ELCA social statements, it is designed as a teaching and theological document that assists the church in making judgment on social issues.

Some have seen the statement as softening the church's traditional stance against homosexual relationships and as unfaithful to scripture. Proponents have differed with opponents' interpretation of key scriptural passages and see the statement as creating a more inclusive and loving denomination.


Wednesday's vote sets the stage for a bigger debate Friday, when delegates will discuss a proposal that would allow ELCA congregations to hire people in committed same-sex relationships as clergy.

ELCA officials said it shouldn't be assumed that passage of the social statement automatically means the proposal on gay clergy will be approved.

"We haven't yet had that debate, and I would not want to conjecture that," said the Rev. Rebecca Larson, an official in the ELCA's headquarters in Chicago.

Wohlrabe said he voted against the statement Wednesday.

"It did not have the theological depth we're capable of," he said. "I did not think it reflected or honored key Lutheran teachings that have served us well in the past."

He also saw the statement as tending to move the church away from "our long-standing conviction that the form of a sexual relationship is important and not just the quality of the relationship."

Wohlrabe believes that form is marriage between a man and a woman. And, while he said the statement "approves that understanding," he also believes it "implies, in my reading, that heterosexual marriage is not exclusively the normative form for sexuality."

Meanwhile, supporters of the proposal praised Wednesday's vote.


"We are encouraged and hopeful that ... this will result in the church's elimination of the current ban on ministers in same gender relationships,'" said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group of pro-gay Lutherans.

Western North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy did not wish to comment on how he voted on the statement.

"I need to be the bishop of the whole synod, so I'd really rather not answer that at this time," he said.

He did see the process of the assembly on the matter as a respectful one.

"If Christians are going to have disagreements, we're disagreeing about as well as we can with respect to each other,"

The day also was marked by severe weather moving through the area. Attendees got a bit of a scare when ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson told the assembly in the afternoon session that a tornado warning had been issued. Hanson would later report that a tornado had done damage to roofing at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Kristen Montag, marketing manager at the convention center, said they were not aware of any injuries and that the area where the damage occurred was unoccupied at the time.

The ELCA session, which was going on in a different part of the facility when the damage occurred, was not significantly disrupted, though sirens did sound and several announcements were made over the sound system regarding the hazardous weather.


Earlier in the day, the assembly gave the nod to a 3-year, $10 million fundraising campaign to support the HIV and AIDS strategy in the ELCA World Hunger Appeal.

ELCA assembly's hot topics

# Follow the 2009 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly by checking coverage through The Forum. The conference, which is being held in Minneapolis, will include discussion on several hot-button topics.

Here's how you can follow what's going on:

# For online updates, visit and Forum reporter J. Shane Mercer's blog at

# Listen to WDAY (970 AM) for live coverage from the assembly. Mercer will make appearances on "The Christopher Gabriel Show," which airs weekdays from 9 to noon.

What To Read Next
Get Local