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Today is the day: ELCA rosters gay clergy

From the moment they called the question and the resolution passed by a 55-45% majority at last August’s ELCA churchwide assembly, Lutherans knew that partnered gay clergy would soon become rostered on the list of ELCA ordained clergy.

Today is the day.

A visible sign of the wondrous changes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the reinstatement of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and Pastor Darin Easler to the roster of ministers of the ELCA. Both had been removed from that roster for being in a committed, same-gender relationship.

The leading Minnesota newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reported on the local angle, noting that Darin Easler had earlier served in the SE Mn synod (now my home) and also mentioned Anita Hill whose own celebrated case in St Paul was an important waypoint on the journey toward full inclusion.

Because they both had been rostered before, the process was different than for them than, say, the Rev. Anita Hill, who has been pastoring St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul since 2001 without being on the ELCA roster. She said that she’s going to apply for rostering but is waiting so that the distinction of being first goes to a California minister who was the first lesbian to challenge the old ELCA policy.

And, speaking of the 20 year old California extraordinary ordinations of gay and lesbian pastors, here is a video that retells and celebrates the story of Jeff Johnson, Phyllis Zillhart, and Ruth Frost.  The video was released on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) blog.  Susan Hogan at Pretty Good Lutheran’s blog has more background information, and I also cite my own past post.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal blog.

6 Responses

  1. Obie,

    How is the ECLA dealing with their self-imposed requirement that the relationships had to be “publicly accountable”? Are same-sex marriages publicly accountable in Minnesota?

    • David,

      Are you expecting the ELCA to be peeking through the bedroom window?

      I think the terminology, “publicly accountable” is self-explanatory. It doesn’t say marriage or civil union, but if either status is legally available to a committed same-gender couple, I think there is an expectation that the couple will avail themselves of such legally recognized relationships. But, the terminology recognizes that such legal relationships may not always be available; thus, publicly accountable includes but is not limited to marriage or civil union.

      As you well know, Minnesota does not recognize gay marriage nor offer civil unions, but that does not prevent the ELCA from recognizing publicly accountable same-gender relationships for partnered gay clergy in this state. Note that Pastor Anita Hill of St Paul is now eligible for rostering.

    • Obie,

      How is “publicly accountable” self-explanatory?

      I don’t expect people to be peeking through the window. But, I would expect that there would have to be some kind of accountability mechanism. As I recall the debate, there was concern with regard to how to distinguish various kinds of sexual relationships, and “publicly accountable” meant that there had to be some kind of official secular recognition.

      I had understood that for heterosexuals, clergy had to be within a marriage relationship. For homosexuals, I understood that there had to be some kind of equivalent institution. I never understood that homosexual clergy could make up their own rules on what constitutes publicly accountable.

    • Obie,

      I reread the ELCA Sexuality Statement. “Publicly accountable” clearly means within the legal contract of marriage.

      • If your interpretation held sway, the ELCA would be in the awkward position of allowing states to determine whether partnered gays were eligibile for ordained ministry. That is, if a state allowed gay marriage or civil unions, then the ELCA could ordain those gays who were married or in a civil union under the laws of that state. But, if the state allowed neither gay marriage nor civil unions, then the ELCA could not ordain partnered clergy in that state.

        I cite the situation of Pastor Anita Hill in St Paul who is now eligible for rostering and will become rostered soon, but who is not eligible for marriage or a civil union since Minnesota allows neither.

      • Obie,

        Here are some quotes from the document:

        1. Lutherans have long affirmed that the public accountability of marriage, as expressed through a legal contract provides the necessary social support and social trust that are intended to be sustained throughout life and within changing and often challenging life situations.

        2. The public character of marriage also implies a civil responsibility.

        3. This also suggests a way to understand why this church teaches that the greatest sexual intimacies, such as coitus, should be matched with and sheltered both by the highest level of binding commitment and by social and legal protection, such as found in marriage.

        4. … it [the church] does not favor cohabitation agreements outside of marriage.

        I don’t see much room for interpretation.

        Do you know if the ELCA provides the opportunity for religious ceremonies in states that don’t have civil marriages for same-gendered partners? Perhaps that is the solution in states like Minnesota that don’t have same-gendered marriages.

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