Back in September, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in general assembly considered whether they should pass a resolution that permits the ordination of practicing homosexuals in the church. According to the report on the issue by the Lutheran, the official publication of the ELCA in an article entitled "Churchwide Assembly: Assembly defeats ministry exceptions":
On Friday, Aug. 12—at the end of a full day of difficult and often-impassioned debate—the Churchwide Assembly defeated the proposed change to permit exceptions regarding expectations for sexual conduct of gay or lesbian rostered leaders (recommendation 3). The 490-503 vote fell far short of the two-thirds required for adoption.
The change to the bylaws would have allowed synod bishops to seek exceptions from the Conference of Bishops “to permit the assignment of a candidate who provides evidence of intent to live in a lifelong, committed and faithful same-sex relationship,” and for the synod bishops to ordain or commission the candidates.
I imagine that many in the ELCA were hoping that would be the end of the issue, but unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Less than three months after the general assembly's votes, some ELCA churches in New York apparently have decided to openly violate the policy. According to "Metro New York Synod votes openly to ordain 'partnered' homosexuals" by Betsy Carlson, WordAlone editor:
At a special meeting of the Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly Oct. 29, supporters of ordaining gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships carried the day and appeared determined to try out that old saw in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
While adopting statements about maintaining unity in the ELCA in the three resolutions passed by the assembly, the voting members went against a decision of the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and decided 130 to 114 to endorse ordaining, commissioning or consecrating "partnered" gays and lesbians. They also issued guidelines that basically say not to discipline a minister or pastor solely for being in a same-sex relationship.
(There were four resolutions, but the assembly ran out of time before it could take up the fourth. The resolutions can be found at: http://www.mnys.org/headlines/Materials/Proposed%20Resolutions.doc )
The long and the short of it is, the Metro NY Synod is defying current ELCA regulations and rejecting the 2005 assembly's vote against a proposition that would have allowed for such ordinations, but only through a special approval process.
On my quick review, I didn't see anything in the most recent issue of the Lutheran Magazine which reports on this uprising in New York.
I have before said, while I am open to the possibility that I may be wrong and I don't think that this issue is one of those that one side is "Christian" and the other is "non-Christian", I think that the homosexuality issue is one that the Bible speaks clearly about. I have no qualms about the fact that what the Metro New York Synod has done is not in accordance with the Bible as I understand it and as it has been understood virtually unanimously for 2,000 years. Yet, to a certain extent I have to applaud the Metro New York Synod for taking a stand for what it thinks is right (even if they are wrong in doing so). If they feel strongly that this is the most Christian thing to do, then they should proceed because we should not allow general assemblies any more than individual pastors to counter the Word of God.
I think that the ELCA Bishops will not be too critical of this move because they are in agreement with the underlying premise, i.e., that there is nothing "sinful" about homosexuality because Paul didn't understand "constitutional homosexuality." But I think that they are being left with a real problem: if they don't come down very hard on these churches for taking this action in direct violation of the general assembly of the church, then members should ask what was the point of the general assembly? After all, if the membership debates this matter for two or three years and then comes down with a position rejecting what the Metro New York Synod chose to do, and the Metro New York Synod is allowed to do it anyway, then the vote and the general assembly become practically irrelevant.
Do the ELCA Bishops really want a split? I think that if they don't act, that will follow. Not tomorrow or next year, but in the next ten years many of the ELCA churches will fall away. At the same time, if they do act, I think that will lead to an almost immediate reassessment by the churches in the Metro New York Synod whether they want to continue in a church body that is -- in the eyes of its member churches -- violating the Word of God by being "hateful" and discriminatory. So, it is possible that a split is coming anyway they act.
In the interest of full disclosure, the WordAlone article notes that the ELCA and the Metro New York Synod both agree that the Metro New York Synod "was not creating new standards for ordination or ministry or discipline but would 'exercise its constitutional duty' to implement those standards" -- standards that have somehow become unclear. Personally, I think that the standards were not the difficult, and this is an example of searching for loopholes by the supporters of the defeated resolution.
I await anxiously the next move -- it should prove interesting.