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No change advised on Lutheran gay policy

Area reaction mixed on ELCA task force's report

CORRECTION RAN TUESDAY (1/18/05)

A story on Page 2A Friday misidentified the pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Austin. The pastor is the Rev. Dr. Glenn L. Monson.

---------------------------------------------------------- By Matt Russell

mrussell@postbulletin.com

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A highly anticipated report released by an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America task force Thursday recommended no major changes in the denomination's policies on same-sex blessings and ordaining sexually active gay clergy.

Regarding same-sex blessings, the 14-member Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality didn't recommend a new policy for the ELCA to follow. Since the denomination has no official policy on the issue, the task force recommended that the ELCA "continue to respect the guidance" of a 1993 statement from the ELCA Conference of Bishops that disapproved blessing homosexual relationships.

The bishops' statement apparently allows some flexibility, however, by adding that bishops trust and will continue to communicate with pastors and congregations "who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons" while also affirming the desire of pastors and congregations "to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister."

The task force also recommended that the ELCA continue its policy requiring all clergy to be celibate unless they are in a marriage between a man and a woman. The recommendation added, however, that the ELCA "may choose to refrain from disciplining" congregations who accept sexually active gay or lesbian pastors and may also refrain from disciplining "partnered" gay church leaders as well.

The Rev. Scott Monson of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Austin praised the task force's report, saying "it allows for Christian conscience, but it takes the word of God seriously."

The Rev. Dan Baker of First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea criticized the report, however, calling it "doublespeak." Baker, co-president of the Albert Lea/Austin area chapter of the Word Alone Network, added that without explicitly saying so, the task force was calling for a new "local option" allowing churches to ordain sexually active gay clergy. The Word Alone Network is a Minnesota-based group of ELCA clergy and laypeople that opposes changes that would allow same-sex blessings and the ordination of gay clergy.

The release of the task force's recommendations culminates a process that started in 2001, when the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly asked that the denomination conduct a four-year study on homosexuality. Final votes on the gay ordination and same-sex blessings issues are expected at the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in August in Orlando, Fla.

On the Web:

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The report and recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality is available at www.elca.org/faithfuljourney/tfreport.

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