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Local ELCA pastors weigh in on conference ruling

Delegates at last month's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America biennial conference in Minneapolis voted 559-451 to repeal the ban on gay clergymen and clergywomen unless they remain celibate.

Now, pastors who are in "publicly accountable monogamous same-gender relationships" can be called to serve ELCA churches. However, the decision whether to call pastors with same-sex partners is up to the individual churches.

"If that's not for them, it would not be forced on them," said the Rev. James Darchuk, senior pastor at First Lutheran Church in Bemidji.

"My personal position was to keep it as it was and not make the change," Darchuk said. "It's going to rumble through the church. It's kind of a break with tradition. "

Darchuk said he supports same-sex unions as a civil right, but being a pastor is a privilege and not a right. A person can feel the inner call to pastorhood, but that call must also receive approval by a candidacy committee.

He added that some Lutheran churches on the Reconciling in Christ Roster welcome believers of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

"I think it's a timely thing, but, on the other hand, there are people who don't think it's timely and we want to be respectful of them," said the Rev. Bob Kelly, pastor of the Peoples Church in Bemidji.

The Rev. Mark Kindem of Bethel Lutheran Church in Bemidji also said the former ruling was a better situation in that gay and lesbian celibate pastors were accepted, but not those with same-sex partners.

"I believe it's been consistently clear that the behavior is precluded," Kindem said. "That behavior is consistently prohibited. We are allowing congregations to choose what the standards of ministry are."

He said he also thinks the vote should have required a supermajority of two-thirds because of the importance of the issue.

The Rev. Carol Hendricks-McCracken of New Salem Lutheran Church in Turtle River was one of the delegates at the conference. She said she voted for the change.

"It was done prayerfully and weightily," she said of the vote.

She said much deliberation, discussion and prayer went into the decision, and some delegates who came to the conference intending to vote against the change reversed their planned votes.

"I deeply respect people who feel differently than I do because it wasn't too many years ago that I felt the same," Hendricks-McCracken said. "My personal decision and personal theology is to err on the side of grace if I'm in the middle, because our God's love encompasses all, and I'm not the one to judge."

The Rev. Jim Hiolthus of Lutheran Campus Ministry at Bemidji State University said he is emphatically in favor of the change.

"I think it's about time," he said. "From my perspective, the people in the church are always struggling about who is inside the church and who is outside the church."

He pointed out that the first ELCA women pastors were admitted in 1970, and before that, the question was whether a divorced man could lead a congregation.

"The fundamentalists will always say, 'What does the Bible say?' and the liberals will say, 'What does the Bible mean?'" Holthus said.

He said Jesus preached equality by giving rights to woman and social outcasts.

"You can, in my opinion, draw a trajectory from there to now," Holthus said.