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Moving to 'Acceptance'

Mainline Lutheran assembly urges bishops not to discipline gay ministers.

A resolution against disciplining pastors in "a mutual, chaste and faithful, committed, same-gender relationship" is drawing criticism from some within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

The resolution, adopted on August 11 at the 5 million-member denomination's biennial assembly, seems to contradict a church policy that prohibits ministers from engaging in homosexual sexual relations. "We all know the old saying, 'Practice what you preach.' There has to be consistency," said Jaynan Clark Egland, president of WordAloneNetwork, a Minnesota-based renewal group of more than 230 ELCA churches.

ELCA delegates postponed any official changes to the denomination's policy until 2009, when a task force is scheduled to complete a sexuality report. Many who voted in favor of the resolution, which passed 538 to 431, cited embarrassment caused by a recent case involving the Rev. Bradley Schmeling. Officially defrocked after an investigation into his gay relationship, his Atlanta church nevertheless kept him as pastor.

"The trial of Bradley Schmeling put this into public focus throughout the country and throughout the church," said the Rev. Paul Landahl, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod. Landahl said he proposed the resolution as a temporary fix.

"It's not a matter of looking the other way," Landahl said. "There's a movement toward acceptance. To me, it's a gospel issue."

The resolution may do little to quell sexuality disputes, however. Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran core, another renewal group, said most bishops would continue to abide by the church's policy. "I had several bishops speak to me personally [at the assembly]," he said, "and they said they have no intention of restraining discipline."

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