The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is suggesting that the Bible isn’t the last word on homosexuality. In a town hall meeting Sunday, Bishop Mark Hanson said, “the understanding we have of homosexuality today does not seem to be reflected at all in the context of the biblical writers.” Therefore, he said, Lutherans should consider more modern views on sexual orientation.
At its churchwide convention in August, the ELCA lifted its ban on partnered gay and lesbian clergy, prompting some traditional congregations to withhold funds and begin forming a separate denomination. But Hanson insisted the ELCA can accommodate both views. In his words, “God is still speaking to us.” He also suggests that more homosexual-friendly policies may help the denomination grow.
The head of the nation’s largest Lutheran church took questions Sunday during an unprecedented hour-long “virtual” town hall seen and heard live on the Internet by several thousands of Lutherans. Presiding Bishop Hanson took 19 questions, including some from a small studio audience of about 20 invitees at the Chicago headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Rev. Jeri Bergquist, pastor of Zion in Reynolds, N.D., and nearby St. Olaf Lutheran, listened Sunday to the town hall and encouraged her parishioners to do so as a way to get their information more directly without relying only on media reports. “There were good questions brought up,” she said. “I think they have to continue to work on their format to allow more people to get on.” “I would like to see more such town halls, simply because it’s an opportunity to comment directly with the national bishop.”
The questions focused not solely on the homosexual issue but on other issues in the 4.6-million-member ELCA revolving around major budget cuts not unrelated to the policy change. Many congregations have announced they are cutting their donations to the ELCA as a protest of the new clergy policy, and some have began taking votes to leave the ELCA.