MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - A respectful discussion on sexuality will show
the world that while Lutherans may not be "of one mind," they can still
be "united in faith and in our shared mission together," said the Rev.
Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) as the denomination opened its biennial assembly here
The assembly faces a controversial discussion on a social statement
on sexuality and ministry policies that could lead to policy changes
allowing gay and lesbian pastors in committed, same gender relationships
to officially serve on the roster of the church body, which has 4.6
million baptized members.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the
ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 voting members. The
theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Speaking at a news conference, Hanson said "We have an opportunity
this week to bear witness in a culture that often wants to polarize and
see all questions in their polar opposites." The bishop said he
approached the assembly "in a spirit of confident hope" that the church
could learn to live with its differences.
"The story of this convention has not yet been written," Hanson
said, referring to those who have predicted that the church will fracture
if some of the proposals on gay and lesbian clergy be adopted. "Those
talking about a dissension leading to division have not been listening to
the church over the past four years," he said. "The intensity of the
rhetoric has been diminished and replaced by a very thoughtful
When the assembly opens Aug. 17, the voting members will first
debate how to approach the issue. Adopting a social statement requires a
two-thirds majority vote, while some of the other proposals only require
a majority vote. Hanson said he expected there would be moves to require
all changes to be approved by a two-thirds vote.
The ELCA will also vote on a proposal to establish full communion
with the United Methodist Church, allowing for combined congregations and
exchange of clergy and members, a plan already endorsed by the Methodists
at a meeting last year. Hanson said the ELCA's ecumenical agreements,
such as those already in place with several other denominations, made it
possible for stronger outreach.
Questioned about his own preference on the sexuality issues facing
the ELCA, Hanson said he believed his call was to "shepherd this church"
through the discussion and, as president of the Lutheran World
Federation, represent Lutherans world wide, including those who are
strongly opposed to the changes being discussed by the ELCA. "I believe I
can do that best by making this as participatory a process as possible,"
Hanson said. He said he did not want his advocacy of a particular
position to become prominent and added, "Come next Saturday, I will lead
this church based on what it has decided, whatever that is."
Information about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at
http://www.ELCA.org/assembly/ on the Web.