Susan Hogan writing for Chicago Sun Times
The Lutheran pastor soon to be bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod wants his denomination to lift a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy.
"That's where I think the church is going," Bishop-elect Wayne Miller of Aurora said. "That's where I think it needs to go."
He's hoping the change will come next month in Chicago, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is conducting its churchwide assembly. Nearly a third of the denomination's 65 synods are asking for a policy shift in clergy standards.
Eventually, gay and lesbian clergy in monogamous, same-sex relationships could be allowed to serve.
John Roberts of Chicago also hopes it could lead to the reinstatement of gay clergy removed from ministry. He says he was ousted as pastor of a Michigan church in the 1990s after he confided to his bishop that he was gay.
"He gave me 11 days to leave the parish and not tell anyone," the 58-year-old Roberts said. "I still feel that call to pastoral ministry."
With 4.8 million baptized members, the ELCA, with headquarters in Chicago, is the nation's seventh-largest denomination. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod includes 217 congregations in Cook, DuPage, Kane and Lake counties.
Homosexuality is a long-debated issue at mainline church conventions. The ELCA opted for a middle-of-the-road path allowing for gay clergy who are celibate. Heterosexual clergy can be married.
A gay pastor from Atlanta was recently removed from the ELCA clergy roster because he was in a non-celibate committed relationship. Some synods, such as Chicago, have tried not to force the issue.
"Some of the churches with the most growth in this synod are led by gay pastors in committed relationships," said Bishop Paul Landahl, 69, who has led the Metropolitan Chicago Synod since 2001.
Landahl said he approaches the issue pastorally and with compassion.
"I have a daughter [who is in] a same-sex committed relationship," he said. "It's been part of my life. To see her connected to a church that's kind of slammed the door on gay and lesbian people is a miracle in and of itself."
More than 1,000 voting church members are expected at the Aug. 6-11 assembly at Navy Pier.
Miller, 57, will begin his six-year term as bishop on Sept. 1. He'll be formally installed Sept. 9 at the downtown Episcopal cathedral because it can accommodate the sizable turnout expected.
If the rules for gay clergy aren't relaxed, Miller acknowledges that he'll feel tension between his personal beliefs and his vows as bishop to uphold the policies of the church.
"That is the dilemma of a bishop at this particular moment in history," he said.
Sidebar: WHERE THE FAITHS STAND
Catholics: The church, which only ordains celibate men, says homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered," but that it is not a sin to have a "homosexual orientation."
Episcopal Church (U.S.): Supportive of gay clergy, including a bishop in a same-sex relationship, which put the denomination at odds with some in the worldwide Anglican communion.
Presbyterians (U.S.): Clergy are required to live either in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
United Church of Christ: Not only supports gay clergy, but endorses same-sex marriage.
United Methodist: Because homosexuality is considered "incompatible" with Christian teaching, "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" aren't ordained.
Judaism: More liberal branches allow for gay and lesbian rabbis.
Islam: Imams aren't ordained and homosexuality is considered immoral.