The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted Aug. 20 to enter into full communion with The United Methodist Church. From left, Sarah Lancaster; Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck of Minneapolis wait for the vote. (UMNS photos courtesy of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
(UMNS) — The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's acceptance of pastors in same-sex relationships does not pave the way for noncelibate gay clergy to serve in United Methodist churches, according to officials from the two denominations.
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 noncelibate gay clergy is unchanged.
Our Book of Discipline … did not become null and void when they took that vote.
“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."
Palmer said there is an expectation that the denomination'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 & Inter-Religious Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), 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,” Trice said, “The United Methodist Church can say we are sorry but that does not fit our protocols,".
Not a merger
On Aug. 20, the ELCA’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly voted to enter into full communion with The United Methodist Church. The pact was approved in 2008 by the United Methodist denomination’s top policy-making body, the General Conference.
Full communion means that each denomination acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith.
Full communion means that each denomination 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 the turmoil over 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."
Unity, not uniformity
“Unity does not require uniformity in all cases," Trice said. "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."
For the past 11 years, Trice pointed out that the Lutheran denomination has been in full communion with the United Church of Christ, which allows homosexual clergy.
Unity does not require uniformity in all cases.
"We were in full communion long before this [denomination] made the decision it did last week,” Trice said. “We lived faithfully into that relationship and at the same time respected one another's differences of ecclesiology or polity."
The 4.7-million-member Lutheran denomination also shares full communion agreements with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Reformed Church in America.
It is the first such agreement for United Methodists. The United Methodist Church has almost 8 million members in the United States and 11.5 million members worldwide.
A joint commission of members of both denominations is being established to iron out details of the ecumenical pact, including the process of appointing and calling clergy to each other’s churches.
Editor’s note: Linda Green wrote this article for United Methodist News Service.