As predicted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America became the largest denomination in the U.S. to allow non-celibate gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be ministers, while also making way for the blessing of same-sex relationships. What makes the story interesting, as explained by the New York Times, is that the ELCA is a Midwestern denomination—headquartered in Chicago and strongest in Lake Wobegon country (Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin)—which adds a different level of significance and civility to the dispute.
One of the best stories so far has come from the Chicago Tribune, which sent reporters to two churches with opposing views on the decision. The story features a church in Chicago’s gay neighborhood-Wrigleyville—and in suburban Lindenhurst. The reporters focused on the words of the ministers, drawing sharp contrasts in the reaction to the vote.
Golden light filtered through the stained-glass windows of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Sunday, illuminating a congregation on its feet.
Everyone in the pews of the Wrigleyville church stood, some with tears in their eyes, applauding the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s recent decision to allow gay men and women in committed relationships to serve as leaders.
“It’s a good day to be a Lutheran,” said Patrice Macken, a member of Holy Trinity for six years. “I feel like it’s a long overdue decision … it’s just a human-rights issue.”
The reporters even focused on the Sunday hymns, painting a picture of how people were reacting to the vote.
At Holy Trinity, members celebrated the historic change but also expressed hope for unity with those on the other side of the issue.
Congregants sang hymns such as “All Are Welcome,” and in his sermon, Rev. Craig Mueller acknowledged a division on homosexuality and urged compassion for those who disagree with the denomination’s decision.
“Could it be,” Mueller asked in his sermon, “that the Holy Spirit isn’t revealed so much in the rightness of the position we hold on controversial issues, but in the ways we honor, respect and forgive those who disagree with us?”
At St. Mark, parishioners closed their service singing the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Shields remarked that the Scripture reading for the day, which urged Christians to “take up the shield of faith,” was particularly appropriate.
Rev. Terry Breum of St. Mark said he does not want to leave the denomination but said his congregation will discuss options over the next year.
“We’re going to have to evaluate our place in the ELCA,” he said. “I didn’t go into this church to leave it. We stand for a biblical view of marriage. … It’s dangerous to take a stand against the word of God.”
For more examples of how the story played out, check out this excellent roundup by Andy Towle at Towleroad.
Not all the reporting was first-rate, sadly. In a future post, I will talk about how the discussion quickly turned into a discussion of sex and showed a dis-ease in talking about gay and lesbian relationships without focusing on the bedroom. There was also some fairly one-sided reporting, especially by the conservative Washington Times, which became the in-house organ for those opposed to the ELCA’s move. The coverage by Julia Duin read as if it was written for the National Review instead of a mainstream, objective newspaper.
There were a lot of strong stories this weekend, with reporters delving beyond the surface without cheerleading or creating doomsday scenarios
The Des Moines Register counters the schism predictions and reports that there isn’t much talk in Iowa about churches bolting after the decision.
Atlanta’s LGBT newspaper Southern Voice focused on the local impact of the decision. An ELCA minister in Atlanta was removed from the clergy roster of the ELCA for acknowledging his relationship with his male partner.
The Associated Press‘ Eric Gorski looked at the impact of the decision on other mainline churches.