Leaders of the nation's largest Lutheran church have voted to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal to change that passed on Friday with 68 per cent approval.
At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in US, the ELCA is one of the largest US Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy. The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.
Some critics of the proposal have predicted its passage could cause individual congregations to split off from the ELCA, as has been the case with other Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church.
The debate over the so-called "ministry recommendations" got under way first thing yesterday, and delegate Al Quie, a former Republican governor of Minnesota, proposed an alternative: "Practicing homosexual persons are excluded from rostered leadership in this church."
The proposal, which would have left the church's policy more or less unchanged, failed. Conservatives had lost an important vote Wednesday night when the convention's 1,045 delegates approved by a two-thirds supermajority a "social statement on human sexuality" that said the ELCA could accommodate diverging views on homosexuality.