National Lutheran News

ELCA Church Council adopts revisions to ministry policy documents

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a series of historic and sweeping revisions to ministry policy documents April 10, the result of months of extensive writing, comment and review by hundreds of leaders and members following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

The Church Council serves as the interim legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met in Chicago April 9-12.

The changes were called for by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which directed that policy documents be revised to make it possible for eligible Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders.

The council adopted revisions to two documents that spell out the church’s behavioral expectations of ELCA professional leaders — “Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA” and “Vision and Expectations: Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses, and Diaconal Ministers in the ELCA.” The council also adopted revisions to a document that specifies grounds for discipline of professional leaders, “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline,” and it adopted revisions to the “ELCA Candidacy Manual,” used by regional committees to help guide candidates seeking to become professional leaders in the ELCA.

Only minor editorial changes were proposed and adopted by the council. Each revised document was adopted overwhelmingly.

The Rev. Keith A. Hunsinger, council member, Oak Harbor, Ohio, who said he does not agree with the sexuality decisions made in August 2009, announced April 11 that he had abstained on each vote on the documents. He explained that he didn’t believe that the first drafts of the documents released last fall embodied the full range of decisions made at the 2009 assembly. “My conscience won’t allow me to vote for any of these documents, but as a member of the board of directors, I can’t vote against the will of the churchwide assembly,” he told the ELCA News Service.

Hunsinger told the council that the final forms of each document reflected “the breadth and depth” of the decisions, including the fact that “we agreed to live under a big tent,” and that multiple voices would be heard. “Because those documents now said that, I feel my ideas and I are still welcome in the ELCA,” he said.

The revised policies are effective immediately, said David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary. Final revised text of each document will be posted online at www.ELCA.org/ministrypolicies by the end of April, he said.

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