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Northwest Minnesota Synod votes down gay clergy proposal

MOORHEAD - By a margin of just two votes, the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gave a thumbs-down Sunday to recommendations that would open the door for non-celibate gays to serve in the clergy.

"That's about as razor's edge as you can get," synod Bishop Larry Wohlrabe said.

Delegates to the synod assembly at Concordia College in Moorhead voted 225-223 to call on the ELCA to reject the proposals in an ELCA task force report on ministry policies. If passed by the Churchwide Assembly, the proposals would allow homosexuals in lifelong, monogamous relationships to be rostered as clergy. The Churchwide Assembly meets in August.

"I'm not surprised that it was close," Wohlrabe said. "I'm a little amazed that it was that close."

Delegate Mariah Ellefson was disappointed by the vote.

"I personally believe that gays should have the right to do whatever they feel and that they should be part of the church," Ellefson said.

One delegate, who said several of his family members were gay, told the assembly that God's challenge is to "love the sinner and hate the sin."

Delegates voted 256-202 against a resolution that would have urged the church to reject a proposed social statement on human sexuality. The report, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," addresses same-sex relationships, among other issues related to sexuality.

The results are similar to those from the Eastern North Dakota Synod assembly earlier this month. That body voted 187-167 against a resolution asking the ELCA to approve the recommendations on rostering non-celibate gay clergy. The Eastern North Dakota Synod passed a resolution calling for the church to adopt the report on human sexuality.

The Northwest Minnesota Synod also approved a resolution calling the Churchwide Assembly to require a two-thirds majority for any changes to its current policy on rostering of ministers. That resolution passed 248-130.

In other assembly news:

* The synod approved a revised 2009 budget. The new budget anticipates that the synod will receive $175,000 less in mission support from local congregations than was proposed in the original 2009 budget.

"Well, I think it's a very challenging time for us," Wohlrabe said. "We're up against some hard decisions if our income does not start to pick up again."

* Delegates also accepted a task force recommendation that would allow nominations for a synod bishop to be made in advance of the assembly. Currently, nominations can only be made at the synod assembly. That will require a change to the constitution, which would have to be approved by delegates at a future assembly.