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July 17, 2011

Delegates to 2011 ELCIC National Convention Approve Motions on Unity, Same-Sex Blessings and Qualifications for Ordination

Delegates of the 13th Biennial ELCIC National Convention approved three highly anticipated and vigorously debated motions related to the ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality. Delegates approved an Affirmation Concerning the Unity of the Church; a policy statement allowing rostered ministers to preside at or bless legal marriages, including those between same-sex couples, according to the laws of the province; and a policy paving the way for the ordination and installation of gay and lesbian pastors.

These motions, put forth by National Church Council (NCC), were drafted by the ELCIC Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee “to allow us to move forward if the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was approved,” said committee member and Saskatchewan Synod Bishop Cindy Halmarson. The social statement itself was approved during Saturday’s business sessions, following more than two hours of debate.

Affirmation Concerning the Unity of the Church (Motion #26)

Passed by a vote of 204 to 133, the affirmation states that the church should: not be divided because of disagreement over moral issues and that ELCIC members, congregations, synods, and churches who disagree with one another remain in dialogue and unity; maintain unity in the gospel and the sacraments; refrain from actions that will divide the body of Christ.

Delegates offered a wide range of perspectives during the debate from serious reservations to gratitude.

“I speak against the motion,” said one delegate. “The fruit of the spirit are love, peace and joy, and since we have discussed this issue, there has been no peace, love, or joy.”

“We are losing the heart of our people, and it shows in their giving,” expressed another delegate. “You can not legislate the hearts of the people we are serving.”

One church member expressed her appreciation for the work of the committee and NCC for putting forth the motion and offered this comment: “I have consulted with theologians and biblical scholars, and they have verified that in the original language ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ there is no ‘except’ or ‘but.’”

Delegates cast their votes as the last order of business on Saturday night. “I want to commend you for the respect and patience you’ve shown,” concluded National Bishop Susan C. Johnson following the announcement of the vote results.

Motion on Same-Sex Blessings (Motion #27)

Passed by a vote of 192 to 132, Motion #27 allows ELCIC rostered ministers to preside at or bless marriages according to the dictates of their consciences and according to the laws of the province in which they serve, including those of same-sex couples.

Early in the debate, a delegate made a procedural motion to table the discussion until the 2013 National Convention. “I believe the motions we have passed are a good framework to build on. I am suggesting we take a bit of time to let this document breathe before we take further steps,” he said.

The motion to postpone failed, and debate continued.

“I’ve heard several people say that this issue has been dealt with, but the status quo is unacceptable—to love the sinner and hate the sin,” said one delegate. “That is hate, discrimination, exclusion and alienation. That is saying I can ride the bus but sit at the back. That is not love. That is not what Jesus would do.”

“I have serious misgivings about how this might play out in practical terms,” expressed a delegate. “The day will come when a couple will ask to be married in a congregation that won’t participate in that kind of service. What will be the ramifications?”

Another speaker encouraged delegates to open the door for the congregations who do wish to participate in same-sex blessings. “I speak in favour of this motion even though I know I won’t be performing these marriages,” he said. “My congregation has made its position clear: it is not a place they are prepared to go. As a pastor, I can marry couples because I have been called by that congregation. I marry in their name, and it behooves me to consider their wishes. I would be surprised if these marriages happen in five per cent of our congregations. But the question is, can we still work with the congregations that will do this? Let them do their ministry as we do ours.”

National Bishop Johnson led the delegates in song (Lord Listen to Your Children Pray) as ballots were cast.

Motion on Rostered Ministry (Motion #28)

Passed by a vote of 205 to 114, Motion #28 states that sexual orientation is not in itself a factor that disqualifies a candidate for rostered ministry. The motion rescinds two past convention actions that disallowed self-declared, practicing homosexuals to be approved for ordination and call.

“I thank you for your love and patience during this debate. On behalf of my congregation, I speak against the motion,” said one delegate. “It is against God’s will and Gods word, the Bible.”

“When I look at my experience of 20 years, I can’t see that anything good has come from church’s current policy on this issue,” said Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse. “I’ve seen the terrible results of this policy: broken people, broken families, broken congregations, substance abuse, broken lives. That’s what happens when you demand celibacy of those who don’t have the gifts to live celibate lives. This motion provides the opportunity for willing congregations to consider these candidates.”

“I urge you to not vote for this,” expressed a rostered delegate. “Will congregations be allowed to ask a candidate’s orientation? Are we opening a can of worms for congregations that are on the orthodox side? Will pastors have to hide their orientation to get a job? Is this a decision that’s made too soon?”

At the end of the debate, one rostered delegate broke her silence. “I rise to speak in favour, and I do so praising God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God made me gay, and I celebrate God’s gift,” she said. “This church has nurtured me and helped me become the person I am. As I prepared myself to take this call, no one ever asked me about my sexuality, but we were told we could stay if we were celibate or silent. Today I break my silence on behalf of my sisters and brothers who cannot speak. I implore that gifted gays and lesbians may be embraced, empowered and sent.”

Over 500 Lutherans and special guests are meeting in Saskatoon, July 14-17 for the ELCIC's 13th National Convention. Full agenda details, highlights, and a live link to the proceedings are available on the National Convention website: elcic.ca/In-Convention/2011-Saskatoon.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 152,500 baptized members in 607 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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