Chronological Timeline of Developments within the ELCA

1964   A statement of the Lutheran Church in America on Marriage and Family was released. LCA's first. (July 2-9) View the Document>
1966   The American Lutheran Church released a statement on sexuality. ALC's first.
1970   The Lutheran Church in America releases a statement on Sex, Marriage, and Family which supersedes their previous statement. (June 25-July 2) View the Document>
1974   Lutherans Concerned was formed to inform members about homosexuality and to promote understanding and acceptance. It urges individual congregations to welcome lesbians and gay as members.
1980   Statement of the American Lutheran Church on Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior superseded original statement from 1966 (resource of original document not found). (October) View the Document>
1983   Lutherans Concerned begins Reconciled in Christ program for local churches, modeled after the Presbyterian More Light Program.
1986   LCA study states that the church can "neither absolutely condemn nor ignore nor praise and affirm homosexuality." Suggests that "many more of our congregations can extend a welcome, withhold judgment, and offer pastoral support" to gay and lesbian persons.


  The American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) join to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).


  Three openly gay seminary graduates are ruled ineligible for pastoral calls and ordination because they refuse to state whether they intend to remain celibate.
1989   The church went on record as stating: "The Biblical understanding which this church affirms is that the normative settings for sexual intercourse is marriage... Practicing homosexuals are excluded from the ordained ministry." A "practicing" homosexual apparently means a sexually-active gay or lesbian. This policy was challenged by two San Francisco congregations: St. Francis Lutheran Church who had called a gay pastor, and First United Lutheran Church who had called a lesbian couple. In mid-1990, these congregations were tried and suspended from membership in the ELCA.
1990   Bill Kunish, a Berkeley seminary student urged Lutherans to prayerfully study the homosexual issue on their own. Because of this sermon, his church council suspended his financial support and the Synod Candidacy Committee withdrew their endorsement for his ordination. He was forced to leave the seminary.

  ELCA Church Council adopts Vision and Expectations - Ordained Ministers in the ELCA which sets standards for sexual conduct of clergy, stating that ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are "expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relations." A Similar document develops expectations for Associates in Ministry. View the Document>

1991   ELCA Churchwide Assembly acts to welcome gays and lesbians to participate fully in the life of ELCA congregations. It also encourages individuals and congregations to engage in deliberate and discernment on homosexuality.

  Division for Church in Society distributes to all congregations Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith, a study for the church's reflection and deliberation.

1993   The ELCA Church Council passed a resolution which: "reaffirmed that the historical position of the ELCA is... support for legislation, referendums, and policies to protect the civil rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services and accommodations"

  A committee of the church prepared a draft statement which stated that the Bible did not condemn homosexual relationships. It described both masturbation and homosexuality as a healthy part of human life. Unfortunately, the media obtained a copy before it could be sent to the churches for study. The ELCA leaders were met with a firestorm of angry members, including several death threats. They received over 21,000 responses; the vast majority were negative. The Division of Church and Society appointed a new committee to prepare a new social statement.

  Also in 1993, the church's bishops decided that they do not approve of rituals recognizing same-sex civil unions. There reason is that such unions are not mentioned in the Bible, and are not part of the church's tradition. They said: "We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church's ministry."

  The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective - First Draft of a Social Statement, a 21-page study discussing marriage, the deliberation of the church on homosexuality, as well as specific biblical passages misapplied to persons of homosexual orientation. "It interprets sexuality in the context of superb theology, of hospitality to strangers, in its Hebraic context, and Jesus' command to Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves." -Carol Stabel

1994   The church decided to avoid acting on any homosexual motions until its 1999 assembly. A new statement on human sexuality was issued which recommended few changes from its traditional policies on sexuality.
1996   In June, the ELCA's Southwestern Texas Synod held an assembly; they defeated a resolution which would have welcomed lesbian and gay Christians into its churches as members and clergy.

March 22

  In response to the request of 1995's Churchwide Assembly for "words of prayer, pastoral concern and encouragement" for gay and lesbian people in the ELCA, the bishops issued a letter, recognizing that "as we speak specifically to gay and lesbian persons and their families, we are also addressing the whole church" View the Document>
Nov. 9
  Sexuality: Some Common Convictions is a statement adopted by the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). View the Document>
August 21
  The Church wide Assembly is the legislative body of the ELCA. They had never voted on the issue of gay clergy. In a vote of 820 to 159, they decided to ban active gays and lesbians from ordination.
June 12
  Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the St. Paul Area Synod placed St. Paul-Reformation Church under "public censure and admonition for willfully violating the ELCA Constitution." They unanimously ordained Anita Hill, a lesbian in a committed relationship, who had been serving the church in a lay capacity since 1983. Bishop Hanson said that he was looking for a response that would be faithful to Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the church's governing documents, "while also recognizing the need for creative ministry ... in our growing and increasingly diverse metropolitan community. It distresses me that the congregation's actions threaten the ELCA's unity and sense of common mission." The censure took effect September 1, 2001.
  The ELCA held its week-long Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis, starting on August 8. The St. Paul, MN, and Chicago, IL, synods proposed memorials (synod resolutions) which would have terminated the ban on the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. A memorial by the Washington DC synod would have created "a rite of blessing for same-gender committed relationships of lifelong fidelity," which would not be defined as a marriage. There was a sense that there is a serious division within the denomination at this time over homosexuality. On August 13, they decided instead to start their first official, church-wide study of homosexuality, to be based on biblical, theological, scientific and practical considerations. The group issue an interim report in 2003. A final report in 2005 will recommend to the 2005 Assembly whether to institute the above changes.

  "In approving the study, the 1,040 voting delegates, joined by 1,500 other Lutheran observers, added a call for advocates to 'respect charitably one another' during the four-year process.' " The Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, director of the church's Division for Ministry said, "This is a good, clear request from the church for some in-depth study of what we believe about homosexuality and how the belief is formed." The vote for the study passed 899 to 115.

  During the debate and vote, two gay-positive groups (Soulforce and Lutherans for Full Participation) protested by standing silently. Later, 50 demonstrators from the two groups were arrested for blocking the walkway outside the convention center. Soulforce founder Mel White accused the ELCA of perpetuating "spiritual violence." He said: "They could have been prophets, they could have led the way... Studies kill us. They just passed four years of study, which is four years of suffering and death."

  Theologians remain divided over the homosexual issue. The Rev. Ronald Rude of Denver, CO asked "does the Gospel override the Bible." He said that when the church reached decisions over human slavery, the status of women in the church, and divorce, that various Bible passages were indeed overridden. Referring to a a homosexual couple who had asked that she provide a church blessing ritual for their union, the Rev. Kim Lengert of Reading, PA said: "We are about to deny the crumbs from the table. We have a part of our congregations that is starving spiritually."

  One possible indication of the future may be the convention's selection of its next presiding bishop. They elected Bishop Mark Hanson of St. Paul, MN. This synod is a leader within the denomination in promoting equal rights for gays and lesbians. Hanson said,"We have got to find a way to live together at a time when we do not agree on this issue."
June 16
  The Board of Directors of Lutherans Concerned / North America announces the unanimous selection of Emily Eastwood as RIC Executive. Forty applicants were considered by the call committee which made its recommendation. The new position has full time responsibilities for all phases of the Reconciling in Christ Program. The staff expansion represents a major step forward for Lutherans Concerned.

  "We are so happy that Emily has accepted our call to this full time position," remarked Tim Feiertag of Kansas City, Co-chair of Lutherans Concerned / North America. "This program has grown so much and now is poised for even more growth." Janelle Bussert, CO-Chair from St. Paul commented, "I have worked with Emily for so long and have seen her enthusiasm and spirit-filled witness. I couldn't be happier with the decision of the Board."

  Emily was installed at the LC/NA Assembly in Baltimore July 21, 2002 and began her work on August 1, 2002.

October 31
  Recent action by the ELCA Division for Outreach which acknowledges a formal relationship between them and Lutherans Concerned / North America, has been completed. The Board of Directors of the Division for Outreach passed a resolution which establishes a formal relationship to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, under new guidelines established this April by the Church Council of the ELCA.

   The formal relationship will mean some greater visibility for Lutherans Concerned. It should help in getting information tables for local chapters at Synod assemblies and other church related events. It will also qualify Lutherans Concerned / North America to apply for national grants and other programs administered by Thrivent Financial Services.

January 15

  St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church's (Rev. Anita Hill) sanctions were lifted by the current Bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod, Bishop Peter Rogness. Although the congregation is still censured, their voice may now be heard within the ELCA. View the Press Release>
2003 During 2003 the task force will consider the results of the earlier study of the message in terms of what additional work beyond the ongoing work on homosexuality may be needed to develop that document toward the production of a social statement on human sexuality.

The study document on homosexuality will be distributed to the church in the Fall of 2003.

2003-2004 In 2003-2004 discussion of the homosexuality study will occur throughout the church, together with hearings and focus groups.
By January 2005 reports and recommendations will be ready for the Conference of Bishops and appropriate action by the boards of the Division for Ministry and the Division for Church in Society and the Church Council will be taken in preparation for consideration by the Churchwide Assembly.
The social statement on human sexuality will circulate for discussions and hearings beginning in January 2006 with appropriate follow-up so as to be ready for the 2007 Churchwide Assembly.
Last Updated 2-24-2003

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