MINNEAPOLIS – Leaders of the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination prayed for unity as they waded into a weeklong debate over homosexuality and the clergy, while a rule change that would allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as ministers cleared its first hurdle.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is meeting this week in Minneapolis, is debating a proposal to allow individual congregations to hire gays and lesbians in committed relationships as clergy. A final vote is not expected until Friday.
But delegates on Monday rejected a move by critics of the proposal to require approval from a two-thirds supermajority instead of a simple majority when the measure comes to the final vote.
Supporters of the supermajority said a higher hurdle was needed to signal wide support for what they called a major change in the church's approach to homosexuality. But the move received support from just 43 percent of the 1,045 voting delegates.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said earlier in the day that the outcome of the majority versus supermajority vote shouldn't be seen as strongly indicating the ultimate outcome of the debate.
The ELCA delegates gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center also will consider a broader statement on human sexuality, a 34-page document that tries to establish a theological framework for differing views on homosexuality. Critics say it would simply liberalize the ELCA's attitudes. A vote on that document is scheduled for Wednesday.
At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA would be one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.
In 2003, the 2 million-member Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, deepening a long-running rift over homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion and leading to the formation of the more conservative Anglican Church in North America, which claims 100,000 members.