The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s acceptance of pastors in same-sex relationships does not pave the way for non-celibate gay clergy to serve in United Methodist churches, officials from the two denominations said.
The Lutheran vote Aug. 21 to drop its ban on gay clergy, coming a day after the denomination approved a full communion pact including the sharing of clergy with The United Methodist Church, raised the question of whether practicing homosexual Lutheran pastors would be permitted in United Methodist pulpits.
Leaders from both churches said Aug. 26, however, that The United Methodist Church’s ban on non-celibate gay clergy is unchanged.
“Our Book of Discipline on that subject did not become null and void when they took that vote,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. “It still applies to United Methodist clergy.”
He said there is an expectation that the church’s stance “would need to be respected” by clergy appointed to serve United Methodist churches.
On the Lutheran side, Michael Trice, associate executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations of the 4.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the full communion agreement on Aug. 20 “did not compromise” United Methodist ministerial standards.
If clergy in “same-gendered, long-term relationships in the ELCA … want to serve in a United Methodist Church, The United Methodist Church can say we are sorry but that does not fit our protocols,” Trice said.
On Aug. 20, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to enter into full communion with The United Methodist Church. The agreement was approved earlier by the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top policy-making body.
Full communion means that each church acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the authenticity of each other’s baptism and Eucharist, observes the validity of their respective ministries and is committed to working together toward greater unity. Some church leaders are already looking forward to sharing clergy in underserved areas.
In Indiana, United Methodist Bishop Mike Coyner and ELCA Bishop James R. Stuck already acknowledged this new relationship as it was emerging through a joint communion service held at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis in January 2006 during an interim Eucharistic sharing agreement
In the decision about the Lutherans’ subsequent Aug. 21 vote to open the ministry to gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships, church officials made clear the pact was not a merger.
“The doctrine, polity and standards of ministry of the respective denominations in any full communion agreement are not wiped out when one denomination does something,” Palmer said.
The 2008 United Methodist General Conference upheld its decades-old policy that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Trice said, “Unity does not require uniformity in all cases. It requires faithfulness to the Gospel, honesty with our Christian partners, and wherever we can share a sense of mission and service in the world.”
A joint commission of members of both churches is being established to iron out details of the ecumenical pact, including the process of appointing and calling clergy to each other’s churches.
Linda Green serves as a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
Full communion means that each church acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith.