Gay clergy move advances among some U.S. Lutherans

Thu Feb 19, 2009 6:24pm EST
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By Michael Conlon, Religion Writer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The largest U.S. Lutheran church group should consider steps that might enable people in same-sex relationships to become clergy, a task force recommended on Thursday.

The study group also approved of congregations finding ways to recognize gay unions by prayer and other means but did not suggest a formal marriage rite or blessing be established for them.

The matters covered in two reports released by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, are subject to review by church bishops and possible revisions by its Church Council before going to the membership convention for a vote in August.

The church, which has 5 million members in the United States and the Caribbean, has spent years studying the issue, which has become divisive in other Protestant faiths as well.

The 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion has been in turmoil since 2003 when its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in over four centuries of Anglican history.

While gays may serve in the ELCA ministry, no pastor under the church's current policy may engage in sexual relations outside of marriage, and the church considers marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The task force set out four resolutions for possible approval, and said a "strong majority" of the 15-member clergy-lay group recommended them.

The first asks whether the church wants to find ways to recognize lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships. It said that did not suggest an official rite to bless such unions, but that most task force members believed congregations could find ways to provide prayer and public affirmation for such unions.   Continued...