During the debates at the ELCA 2009 Churchwide Assembly in August, the opponents of LGBT friendly measures argued that such actions would jeopardize ELCA relationships with ecumenical partners. True enough regarding the more conservative Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Roman Catholic Church, but the ELCA does not have full communion agreements with either of these bodies. On the other hand, ELCA full communion partners (United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Reformed Church of America, and the United Methodist Church) are pretty much in the same boat as the ELCA regarding LGBT issues. The UCC and the Episcopalians allow gay clergy while the PCUSA and UMC are wrestling with the issue. In fact, some within the opposition would prefer the ELCA to make a sharp right turn toward the LCMS and Roman Catholicism and away from our communion partners.
A parallel situation exists with worldwide Lutheran bodies. While African Lutherans stand strongly against the ELCA actions, the European Lutheran allies appear to be of like mind; indeed, the Swedish Lutheran Church has moved faster than the ELCA. Earlier this year, Eva Brunne, a lesbian pastor in an open same-gender relationship, was elected bishop of the Stockholm diocese. About the same time, the Swedish government passed marriage equality legislation, and the Swedish Lutheran Church has quickly moved to allow gay marriage within the church, according to an Oct 22 press release from Lutherans Concerned / North America.
This morning the Board of the Lutheran Church of Sweden voted and announced that the church would conduct marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples, using gender-neutral liturgies for both LGBT and heterosexual weddings.
The vote of the board of the church was taken at its meeting this morning and is reported as 176-62, with 11 abstentions and 2 absences.
Thirty years ago, Sweden declared homosexuality was not a disease. The church has offered blessings for same-gender couples since 2007. In April, Sweden passed a law that granted marriage equality to all. That law went into effect in May.
Some in the Church of Sweden are of the opinion that marriage in the church ought to be reserved for man-woman unions, and argued for that position. Today’s vote ended that debate. The new ruling will go into effect on November 1, 2009.
UPDATE: The Lutheran Church of Germany has just elected its first female leader, thus adding further evidence that European Lutherans are pretty close to the ELCA in their thinking and internal politics.