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Regional churches discuss ECLA decisions on gay clergy

MOORHEAD -- Lutheran congregations in Moorhead and Hawley, each engaged in passionate, yet polite, discussions on recent controversial decisions made regarding gays serving in the clergy.

The meetings at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Moorhead and Hawley Lutheran Church reflected much of the debate made at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Churchwide Assembly.

Both proponents and detractors of the denomination's actions on gay clergy took the floor at the Good Shepherd forum Saturday morning.

Mike Slette, a Good Shepherd member spoke of the weight that had been on "my mind and my heart."

He said he didn't see the decision on rostering gays in committed relationships as being "biblically justified." And he said he didn't see how it was possible for the decision on gays in the clergy not to cause division in the ELCA.

Carlton Paulson, church member and a retired Concordia College biology professor, supports the ELCA's decision. He expressed his belief that there is a link between homosexuality and genetics.

He said it's easy to say homosexuals don't fit God's natural order. But he said he doesn't think humans always have a clear picture of that order.

"I think there are a lot of things about the natural order that I don't understand," he said.

Bishop Larry Wohlrabe of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod spoke and answered questions at the meeting. He told those in attendance that two of the 271 congregations in the Northwestern Minnesota Synod had taken an initial vote to leave the ELCA. A second two-thirds vote would be required for those congregations to exit the ELCA.

Attendees were also informed that a recommendation had been made that the church hold a meeting and make a decision on how to respond to the changes on the ministry policies. The Rev. Dan Megorden said it is probably going to be "incumbent on them" to take a vote on how Good Shepherd will respond to those decisions.

While those who spoke at Good Shepherd seemed fairly evenly divided on the ELCA decisions, the general tone of comments at Hawley Lutheran decidedly leaned against recent denominational actions.

The group of between 60 and 70 gathered at tables in smaller groups to discuss the issues. Attendees then had the opportunity to speak to the larger group.

One woman said they needed to ask if they were going to allow people to "pluck" portions out of the Bible and what would be left of the Scriptures at the end of such an approach.

Melanie Odegaard, a member of the approximately 1,000-member church, asked what kind of information will be coming down through Sunday school literature and said that the church is "called to be different" from the culture.

Even so, the tone of the conversation wasn't uniform. One man said, "Gay people with great faith are great leaders."

Another man said he didn't know "what the right solution on this is," but said the church needs to look at "all of the Bible and not just look verse by verse."

Whatever the church decides to do - whether that means staying in the ELCA, leaving or something in the middle - the Rev. Jeff Teeples said there are likely to be those who will leave because they disagree with the decision.

Still, he believes his congregation will come out on the other side of the issue as a healthy church.

When asked what decision he thought his congregation would make with regard to the ELCA, Teeples smiled, shook his head and said, "I don't know."