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The 2010 South Dakota Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America twice voted in support of gay clergy on Saturday, aligning the state assembly with the national church’s position -- a seeming switch from Friday’s vote opposing the national church’s acceptance of gay relationships.

The resolutions were responses to the national 2009 Churchwide Assembly's inclusive position on gay couples and gay clergy, which disconcerted many congregations and worshipers nationwide.

Although both resolutions voted on Saturday asked to rescind the policy allowing gay clergy to be in monogamous, same-gender relationships, the second resolution was more tersely worded, stating the national church’s adopted policy violated the ELCA’s Confessions of Faith, the foundation of the church's beliefs.

The first resolution was presented to the state assembly without recommendation from the resolutions committee, and the second resolution came with a “do not pass” recommendation by the committee. The assembly moved the resolutions for a vote, anyway.

The first resolution failed 256-246 with five abstentions; the second failed by a wider margin, 283-207 with 15 abstentions.

Clergy and lay people, representing South Dakota's 123,000 Lutherans, attend the annual state synod to vote on resolutions, hear reports on the state of the church and to worship.

This year, the three-day assembly was held at Calvary Lutheran Church in Rapid City. Although the church attended to other business during the assembly, much attention this year has been focused on three votes opposing the controversial Churchwide Assembly’s votes on gay couples and gay clergy.

That national vote resulted in some churches choosing to withhold funding from the national assembly and others choosing to leave the ELCA altogether. Seven South Dakota congregations have left the ELCA since the 2009 assembly’s decision, and seven more are waiting to take second votes on leaving.

The Rev. Thomas Stenzel of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Lead voted Saturday in opposition to the national policy to allow gay clergy, which is how his congregation feels on the issue. He said the national church’s decisions and the state assembly’s vote on Saturday signifies the overall political shift in the ELCA. That has left some in his congregation dissatisfied.

“There’s a definite turn in the house that not all are excited about the direction the church is going,” Stenzel said. “I think a lot of people are just giving in at this point,”

His congregation has not taken a vote about leaving the ELCA, but one of his parishioners has requested such a vote, and his parishioners are individually choosing whether or not to contribute to the state and national organizations. 

The Rev. Donald Lehmann of St. Paul Lutheran in Humboldt voted Saturday in support of gay clergy being able to serve while in monogamous relationships, which is in accordance with the feelings of his congregation. He said some congregations are struggling with the issue, and hopefully, the resolutions can help them decide on their relationship with ELCA.

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“I believe that we are called to be inclusive,” Lehmann said. “I think the vote was the appropriate move because I believe people in monogamous lifetime relationships of the same gender are children of God. They’ve also received a calling from God to serve in a variety of ways, even as clergy.”

The Rev. David Baer of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitewood said he didn’t know what caused the assembly to switch voting outcomes on the resolutions from Friday to Saturday but theorized that perhaps people were more concerned about the teachings of the social statement than gay clergy themselves. Baer’s church stopped contributing to both the national church headquarters and the state ELCA synod. He is also a part of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal -- commonly called CORE -- which formed in opposition to the proposed changes to ELCA policies and church teachings.

Regardless of the reason, Baer said, the split vote on the resolutions about gay issues reflects the lack of unity among the South Dakota congregations.

“There is still not a sense of what to do. We’re not that traditional stronghold that we used to be,” Baer said. “This is the first time when they’ve taken a significant step away from that.”

Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or holly.meyer@rapidcityjournal.com.

 

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