Members of two of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States are gearing up for national conventions this summer, when the topic of homosexuality once again promises to heat things up.
The 4.7-million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will hold its biennial Churchwide Assembly Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis, while the Episcopal Church will meet for its triennial General Convention July 8-17 in Anaheim, Calif.
Sixty-five Lutheran synods, or regional bodies, are in the process of voting on issues that their delegates will address during the national assembly.
The Northwest Ohio Synod of the ELCA is holding its annual meeting this weekend in Bowling Green. Among the topics on the agenda is deciding whether synod delegates should accept or reject the denomination's recently released study on human sexuality.
The sexuality study, drafted by a special task force, makes four recommendations for delegates to vote on:
•Whether the denomination wants to find a way to recognize publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
•Whether the church wants to move in the direction of ordaining people living in such relationships
•If both previous resolutions are adopted, will the church commit to doing so with respect for the bound consciences of others?
•If the three resolutions are approved, then how should this process be implemented?
Bishop Marcus Lohrmann, leader of the Northwest Ohio Synod's 99,000 members and 185 congregations, said in an interview this week that he does not support changing the ELCA's ban on recognizing same-sex relationships, but he believes Christians should show more compassion, humility, and love for one another.
"I'm not yet persuaded that the church ought to change its position on those in same-gender relationships, but I also know that the church often is not very helpful to those who are gay or lesbian," Bishop Lohrmann said.
He said it has been "a difficult conversation but our need to engage and wrestle with these issues is really important. And when the day is done, I can be wrong."
Bishop Lohrmann, 58, is finishing up his second six-year term as bishop of northwest Ohio. Election of a synod bishop is set for the 2010 meeting and Bishop Lohrmann said he will spend time this fall praying and discerning whether to seek a third term.
The 500 delegates to the Northwest Ohio Synod Assembly, which started yesterday and concludes today, also are reviewing resolutions on an ELCA Social Statement on Human Disability; designating 2009 as the Year of the Parent, and whether a "super majority" should be required to change ministry policies.
Leaders of the Episcopal Church, which has 2 million members nationwide, held a live online "webcast" this week to discuss the upcoming Anaheim convention.
Participating were Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the leader of the Episcopal Church; Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies; the Rev. Gregory Straub, General Convention executive, and the convention's host bishop, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles.
It was the Episcopal Church that propelled the issue of gay clergy into the national headlines when it elected an openly gay priest, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
Nearly six years later, the issue continues to tear at the seams of the denomination.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the global Anglican Communion, this week compared the divisions within the church to the deep-seated and longstanding tensions in the Middle East.
"The other day we were giving quite intense attention to the situation in the Holy Land, and in that discussion I thought there are echoes of language we hear nearer home," Archbishop Williams said. "Emergencies mean all the rules and standards are suspended. We can't discuss while there are tanks on the lawn. We can't discuss when there are facts on the ground."
He added that "our divisions and our fears are not as deep and as poisonous as those between communities in the Holy Land."
The archbishop was addressing a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Kingston, Jamaica, where church leaders sought to approve an Anglican Communion Covenant.
Discord over the fourth and final section - on enforcing a covenant that affirms belief in, and cites the need to abide by, Holy Scriptures - forced further review and possible revisions.
Bishop Jefferts Schori said in Wednesday's webcast that she believes that discussions on homosexuality have been productive.
"People, when they meet face to face, discover that our brothers and sisters don't have horns," she said, "that they may hold positions that differ from ours and that when we are careful and considerate we can have a very productive conversation in the midst of these differences."
Bishop Jefferts Schori said the covenant is likely to be discussed at the convention although it won't come to a vote.
Ms. Anderson said a dozen resolutions have been submitted regarding Resolution B033, passed on the last day of the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, that called for restrictions on electing openly gay bishops.
Bishop Jefferts Schori said she opposes efforts to retract resolutions, calling it "bad legislative practice."
"I would far more prefer us to say where we are today, in 2009, to make a positive statement about our desire to include all people fully in this church and that we be clear about who we are as the Episcopal Church."
Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles discussed some of the events the host diocese is planning in the Anaheim area, which is the home of Disneyland.
"We're right next door to a 'magic kingdom' but General Convention will be our own magic kingdom," he said.
- David Yonke