Some N.D. ELCA churches object to clergy policy
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The western North Dakota bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says congregations are wrestling with a national church policy that allows gay and lesbian people to serve as pastors or in other church leadersh...
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The western North Dakota bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says congregations are wrestling with a national church policy that allows gay and lesbian people to serve as pastors or in other church leadership positions.
Bishop Mark Narum, who leads 192 congregations that make up the Western North Dakota ELCA Synod, said he met with pastors of those congregations this month. He described it as a "wonderful open conversation."
"But there is a whole group in the middle of the church wrestling over, 'What does it mean to be faithful?"' he said.
"An important piece of ... this change in policy allows any congregation to say, 'We disagree,"' Narum said. "Congregations may make statements of declaration as opposed."
Oak Valley Lutheran in Velva voted by a margin of 70 percent to stay within the ELCA; other congregations are still considering the issue, he said.
ELCA leaders emphasize it's up to individual congregations whether they want gay or lesbian pastors.
The Rev. Steve Schou, of Peace Lutheran Church in Dickinson, said the churchwide decision was a grassroots movement that included families of gay and lesbian children within the church, and not a "top-down" decision by national church leaders.
Lutheran tradition strongly emphasizes "the individual conscience of the believer," Schou said. "We are defined by the death and resurrection of Jesus, not our stand on social issues."
The ELCA is very "congregational," meaning individual parishes maintain authority, said the Rev. Paul Schauer, of Sunne Lutheran Church in rural Wilton.
Fargo's largest congregation in the ELCA has suspended its funding to the national group. A letter on the Hope Lutheran Church Web site says "leadership has suspended all financial support to the ELCA and will develop a process to define who our mission partners will be." The letter is signed "Hope Lutheran's Church Council and Pastors."
Narum said congregations can disagree with the ELCA policy and still be part of the church.
"I'm very proud of the church, that it is willing to wrestle with these (things) and not just be silent in the face of
society," he said.