This is complicated. Allow me to try to simplify, but bear with me.
Broadly speaking, there are two LGBT issues that will come before this 2009 ELCA Church wide assembly. One is the adoption or rejection of a Sexuality Social Statement. The second is a proposed change in Ministry Policies.
According to the ELCA Constitution, there are three matters that require a 2/3 supra-majority. 1) Amendments to the Constitution, 2) Full communion agreements with another denomination, and 3) Social Statements. Since the Proposed Sexuality Statement is a Social Statement, it will require a 2/3 supra-majority to pass. This requirement was not at issue this evening.
On the other hand, there are proposed changes in the existing Ministry policies of the church. The present policies require gay and lesbian persons to remain celibate in order to become ordained. This policy came into existence by majority votes of previous bodies, specifically the Council of Bishops, many years ago. Recently, the Council of Bishops has proposed a change in the Ministry policies that will allow gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships to become or remain ordained. In proposing the changes for consideration by the Assembly, the Council of Bishops established a simple majority rule, which would be consistent with prior decisions on ministry policy.
It was this latter rule that was the subject of the conservative’s motion. The motion was to change the rules to require a 2/3 supra-majority to adopt or amend the proposed changes to ministry policy.
Debate went on for over an hour with speakers alternating between those favoring and those opposing the motion. The arguments were varied but two predominated. For the conservatives, the “wisdom of the ages” and similar sentiments came up often. Changes to long standing policies and attitudes should only come about through strong consensus, defined as a 2/3 majority.
Those who argued against the proposed rule change also argued history. It has always been the history to adopt ministry policies by a simple majority. Since the prohibitions against gay clergy were adopted by simple majority vote, reversal of the prohibition should also require only a simple majority. When the decision was made to allow women clergy, (a Ministry policy change), a mere simple majority was required. A gay man spoke, asking why gays should be singled out for a more stringent procedural rule than other ministerial policy decisions.
In any case, the motion to change the requirement from simple majority to supra-majority failed. 43% voted in favor of the motion and 57% voted against.
Clear as mud? Sorry, that’s the best my addled brain can do at this hour after conventioneering all day.
Suffice it to say, this was a huge victory for those who promote a change in ministerial policy that will open the door to ordaining gays and lesbians. If this vote in any way presages the vote on the substance of the measure (and many think it will), then a 57-43% split suggests a strong probability that the substantive measure will pass when it comes up for a vote later this week.