Following a lengthy and emotional debate, ELCIC delegates at their biennial convention yesterday defeated a motion to allow blessings for same-sex relationships.
The motion, which would have given ELCIC pastors an option to perform same-sex blessings, failed to come close to the two-thirds majority required for approval.
Of the 408 ballots cast, 183 (45%) were in favour of the resolution and 220 (54%) were against it. There were five spoiled ballots. Voting was by secret ballot.
The margin of defeat was surprising, since a majority of delegates who spoke to the motion were in favour of it. An unofficial count showed over half of the 58 speakers at the microphones on the convention floor in support of the motion.
Normally, a simple majority vote would have been enough for the resolution to pass. But delegates agreed to raise the requirement to a two-thirds majority.
Yesterday's debate on the motion, while respectful, was emotionally draining for many, with strong opinions aired on both sides. The debate, which was supposed to have wrapped up by noon, stretched well into the afternoon as dozens of delegates lined up at the three floor microphones to express their views.
An attempt to table the motion for further study and a vote at the next biennial conference in 2007 was soundly defeated.
Supporters argued that same-sex blessings were necessary to make gays and lesbians feel fully included in the church.
"We feel the rightness of this motion with every cell in our bodies," declared one delegate who said he was gay.
However, opponents warned of a possible exodus from the church if same-sex blessings were approved. "If this resolution passes, it will mark the end of this convention for many," another delegate said.
Both sides frequently used Bible passages and to support their views, leading one delegate to ask, "How can the same spirit lead us in such different directions?"
Defeating the resolution leaves the Lutheran church in the same position as before on the same-sex issue. ELCIC bishops issued a letter in 2003 stating that the church would not approve same-sex blessings.
The ELCIC takes direction from a 1970 statement by the former Lutheran Church of America, which affirmed marriage as a lifelong commitment of one man and one woman.
But the statement is vague on homosexual marriage, causing the ELCIC National Church Council in its resolution to call the 1970 statement inadequate.
ELCIC Bishop Ray Schultz said he accepted the outcome of the vote. He predicted the issue would surface at the national level again.
"The vote was almost a 50-50 split, which means that half of our church is not satisfied with the outcome," Schultz said in an interview. "I can't imagine this going on for very long without people in the church starting another initiative."
Bishop Schultz said the fact that Canada now has national legislation for same-sex marriage means churches will have to determine what marriage means for them as opposed to state marriage.
The convention later defeated a resolution to provide therapeutic information for gays and lesbians on converting to a straight life. Some speakers expressed doubt about whether such programs work.