Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Evangelical Lutherans back same-sex marriage
Although she has the official green light to officiate at weddings of same-sex couples, Rev. Jennifer Marlor doesn't plan to marry anyone in haste.
"I think God's word is for everyone, God's love is for everyone. And I think in some instances those tent flaps need to be opened up," says the pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Charleswood.
"But I'm not sure how this will play out in my congregation."
Last weekend, the delegates at the national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada voted to allow ministers to perform same-sex blessings or marriages, according to the laws in their provinces, if they and their congregation choose to do so.
With 152,500 members in 607 congregations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is the country's largest Lutheran denomination.
Local ministers and lay leaders are invited to a series of meetings across the province in mid-September to discuss the implications of this motion and two others passed at the convention, says the assistant to the bishop of ELCIC's Manitoba and northwestern Ontario Synod.
"I think these consultations will outline for them what the possibilities are," says Larry Ulrich. "Each congregation will be encouraged to make their policy declaration and decisions around that (same-sex marriages)."
Just after the vote, Bishop Elaine Sauer issued a pastoral letter to the 64 churches in the regional synod, asking them to be conscious that not all churches welcome these motions equally.
"I hope and pray we can be respectful of each other as we experience this dual reality both within and among our congregations and rostered leaders in the synod," writes Sauer, who was not available for comment.
At the same convention, held in Saskatoon July 14 to 17, delegates also agreed that sexual orientation does not disqualify a candidate for ministry, rescinding a previous motion that did not allow practising homosexuals to be approved for ordination.
"We are hoping that congregations will make a big tent (where) everyone can find a place and no one is forced to extend same-sex blessings and no one is forced to call gay or lesbian pastors," explains National Bishop Susan C. Johnson, 53, who was elected to a second four-year term at the same convention.
Two years ago, the ELCIC's sister denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, voted to permit non-celibate gays and lesbians to become clergy.
Johnson asks congregations to decide their position on same-sex blessings or weddings before a couple actually comes to them asking for such a ceremony.
"Our hope would be if a congregation would not provide (blessings or marriage), they would help the couple find another option."
Johnson says she doesn't know what the demand for performing same-sex blessings or marriages might be within her denomination.
But another Lutheran group in the country moved quickly to clarify its position regarding same-sex marriages and homosexuals in the pulpit.
The more conservative Lutheran Church-Canada, with 70,000 members across the country, released a statement indicating not all Lutherans support same-sex marriages, says incoming first vice-president Nolan Astley.
"We're not speaking from the margins, but speaking communally with others that for 2,000 years, marriage is for one man and one woman, and that homosexuality is sinful in God's eyes, and that a person who is homosexual is not able to serve in ministry," says Astley, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kitchener, Ont.
He says his denomination also regards homophobia and actions against homosexuals as sinful.
Johnson says she understands the ELCIC's decisions may be controversial internally and externally, but she hopes to continue their relationship with the Lutheran Church-Canada through joint efforts with the Canadian Lutheran World Relief and the Lutheran Council in Canada.
Johnson says a handful of congregations have already left the ELCIC, and she expects more now that the motions have passed.
"We heard on the convention floor that there are some congregations, if we pass it, they will consider what their relationship with the national church will be," says Johnson.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2011 J13
(1 of 23 articles for this week)