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Panel suggests no change in Lutheran approach to gay issues
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Bishop Craig E. Johnson, left, of the Minneapolis Area Synod said "it is important remember that our unity does not lie in uniformity." The Reverend Peter Rogness of the St. Paul Synod, right, said "I also believe we can choose to go about these deliberations in ways that are different from the rancor and polarization of our culture." (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
A long-anticipated report from a task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is recommending no change to the church's policy on gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbian advocates say they had hoped for a more far-reaching policy of inclusiveness, but the task force members felt a go-slow approach would do more to foster unity in the church.

Chicago, IL — The task force affirms current ELCA policy, changing nothing. That is, homosexuals cannot be ordained as pastors unless they are celibate.

The task force also reaffirms the church's policy on having no policy on same-sex blessings, meaning the church does not recognize gay marriage and maintains the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. However, the proposal also reiterates current policy stemming from a 1993 Conference of Bishops statement saying that individual pastors are allowed to decide whether to perform the blessing of same-sex couples.

Bishop Craig Johnson, who leads the Minneapolis Area Synod, which claims the largest number of Lutheran churches in the state, says he and his synod are pleased with the the task force and its findings.

"My first read of the audience was that I got a lot of opinion that this was the proper way to proceed," he said.

The second largest synod in the state, St. Paul, is headed up by Bishop Peter Rogness, who says Lutherans in his district will have a mix of responses to the report.

"There are some people upset that think it's not even OK to talk about it. It should be very rigid and adamant. And others who think this is long since past, it's a justice issue and everything ought to be opened up. What this report seeks to do is to say we need to find a way to recognize those diversities of views and yet agree that we're going to live together with our differences," he said.

The report says the task force's journey has been "painful and difficult." Task force member Peter Strommen says the group of 14 could not escape the fact that church members have very divergent views on the subject of homosexualtiy in the church.

Strommen is one of two Minnesotans who took part in the task force. He's bishop of the the Northeastern Minnesota Synod headquarterd in Duluth. He says the task force did not find consensus on the recommendations, but he says that's just part of the Lutheran tradition of being engaged in society and culture.

"One of the things I value in the ELCA is that we are able to talk openly about differences. The Lutheran Church has core confessional values, which it does not debate, in terms of, who is Jesus Christ? And what does it mean to tbe redeemed and all those kinds of things. But in matters of ethical concerns, there often are a difference of opinion. You could just list them. Well this is just the latest," Strommen said.

Strommen says the task force members always treated each other respectfully.

For the gay Lutheran community, the recommendations are a disappointment.

Emily Eastwood, the executive director of "Lutherans Concerned North America", a national gay advocacy group based in St. Paul, calls herself a "would-be" pastor.

"I'm openly lesbian in an 18-year relationship with my partner, we've had a service of blessing and therefore the church says I can't be a pastor," she says.

Eastwood says the task force has elevated "selective discrimination" to the level of policy. She says while some people may question membership in the church, she doesn't expect gays to abandon the church over these recommendations.

"My group doesn't feel that the body of Christ is optional, the body of Christ just is. We are as committed to stay in the church. This is our church home. We're committed to stay," she said.

The task force recommendations go the the church council for approval and could become policy in August when they are up for a vote by delegates to the ELCA's Assembly.

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