MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a doubly historic day for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Friday as the Churchside Assembly voted to open the rosters of the clergy to non-celibate gays and moved to find ways for congregations that so choose to "recognize" and "support" homosexual relationships.
The resolution opening the clergy to individuals in "life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships" passed 559 to 451. Previous policy had required gays in the clergy to remain celibate. The assembly passed the resolution on recognizing and supporting life-long monogamous gay relationships by a margin of 619 to 402. Resolutions also passed on how to implement the clergy changes and on the character with which the denomination would deal with the issue.
The assembly runs through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Ben Carlsen, a pastor in Sebeka and a voting member for the Northwest Minnesota Synod, said he wasn't sure how he felt about the passage of the four resolutions. He came to the assembly in Minneapolis unsure of how to vote and said he was "drawn in by both sides of the debate."
One of his main concerns was that he "wasn't convinced that this was the right move at this time for this church," he said. "And the only thing that will bear that out ... is more time and discernment."
To no one's surprise, the package of four proposals dealing with gays in the clergy stirred up emotions as people spoke to the assembly with tears in their eyes.
One of those was Tim Housholder, of the St. Paul Area Synod, who referred to himself as a rostered ELCA pastor "at least for a few more hours."
"I stand here finally on God's holy word, which calls homosexuality sin," he said.
There was emotion on both sides. One assembly member told of the help she'd received from a gay pastor after her son Jeremy "came out" in high school.
Timothy Mumm of the South Central Wisconsin Synod told the assembly, "I think for me to marry a woman would be wrong ... for many reasons. Also I'm not convinced (God) has gifted me with celibacy."
Mumm said he couldn't believe that God has put him and others in a "no-win situation."
Paul Koch, a pastor from the Northwest Minnesota Synod, took the microphone to oppose the measure on recognizing gay relationships.
"My whole life I have known gays and lesbians; these are Christian brothers and sisters whom I love and admire," Koch said. But he also said that, because "this resolution asks us to ignore God's Word about homosexual intercourse, we must follow God's word and vote against it."
John Pederson, a voting member from Mayville, N.D., saw that resolution differently, saying after it passed that "it's a measure I support."
"I have family members who are directly affected by this," he said, adding that he very much supports their being able to be embraced by the church in which they were reared.
Northwest Minnesota Bishop Larry Wohlrabe voted against both the clergy and recognition proposals. He didn't believe they'd build a compelling "scriptural base" for them.
One of the resolutions dealing with opening the rosters to non-celibate gays includes a section on "structured flexibility" that is intended to give individuals congregations the options to call or not call a non-celibate gay person to serve as their minister.
Talk of people and congregations leaving the denomination over the actions taken at this year's assembly hung in the air. But Bishop Mark Hanson in a press conference after today's votes said, "It would be tragic if we walked away from one another."