Christian Living

ChurchWatch 08/20/09

Tornado Hits Lutheran Convention Voting on Homosexuality

In an ironic twist of fate, a tornado touched the convention center on Wednesday where delegates from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gathered to debate and then vote on a statement that acknowledges there are "differing views on homosexuality." 

Wednesday's debate was interrupted briefly in the afternoon when severe storms and a tornado passed through downtown Minneapolis, damaging the steeple of an ELCA church across the street from the convention center.

The weather event is being "spun" in both directions by liberal and conservative delegates.

"We trust that the weather is not a commentary on our work," said the Rev. Steven Loy, who was helping oversee the convention.

Christianity Today reports that WordAlone, a renewal group within the ELCA, reported that both sides sought to find commentary in the weather, stating, "A supporter of the social statement typified the storm as a mighty wind of the Holy Spirit and as a positive message. Some WordAlone Network members heard a different message, a warning of God's anger at the ELCA in the wind."

CT noted that John Piper, whose Baptist church is just down the road from the convention center, thought the storm was a message as well. "The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the apporoval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction."

On Wednesday, the delegates voted in favor of the statement that says the denomination is capable of staying together, despite conflicting opinions on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

The denomination is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to allow homosexuals in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

"For us, this isn't about sex," said Ryan Schwarz, a lay leader of a conservative group within the church that opposes the gay clergy. "It is a matter of the authority of the Word. The entire expanse of the Bible witnesses to God's plan... which is the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman."

More liberal members of the church support the proposal and believe they are not going against what the Bible teaches.

"There's no question about the authority of Scripture" in the Lutheran Church, said Phil Soucy of Lutherans Concerned, a pro-gay-rights group. "But we certainly can debate the interpretation of Scripture.... The very idea that questioning someone else's interpretation of Scripture constitutes an assault on the authority of Scripture is nonsense."

But conservative members disagree. "The Churchwide Assembly has no authority to be voting on these matters," said the Rev. Paul Spring of Lutheran CORE. "The constitution of the ELCA says that the Bible is the source and norm of the church's faith and life. A church meeting does not have the authority to overturn what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage and about homosexual behavior."

Members of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) have been working to defeat the proposal to affirm homosexuality within the Lutheran Church and allow pastors to be in same-sex relationships. "A Christian church has no business voting on whether the Bible is relevant to the faith and life of its members," said Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE. "These proposals will also severely damage the ELCA's relationship with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestant Christians."

Wednesday's vote was a prelude to a bigger debate Friday, when delegates will tackle a proposal that would allow individual ELCA congregations to hire people in committed same-sex relationships as clergy. The social statement lays a theological foundation for a liberalized policy on gay 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.

The social statement passed a higher bar than what will be required to approve the new clergy policy, which could forecast things to come. The social statement, as a foundational document for the church, needed to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the 1,045 convention delegates. It got exactly that, passing with 66.67 percent of the vote.

The new clergy policy needs only a simple majority to pass.

The Associated Press reports that the 34-page social statement actually touches on homosexuality only briefly, and is intended as a sweeping definition of the ELCA's approach to matters of human sexuality. It also sketches out the church's approach to gender, friendship, marriage and children, cohabitation outside marriage, the commercialization of sexuality, and the global sex trade.

But according to Larson, it also acknowledges an utter lack of consensus toward homosexuality and same-sex relationships across the ELCA's membership. The statement's drafters agreed that such differing views could be accomodated because the homosexuality issue is "not central to our faith," Larson said.

Related from CBN News: Evangelical Lutherans Take Up Gay Clergy Issue

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