DELANO, MN For five years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has allowed pastors and church leaders in same-sex, lifelong, monogamous relationships to serve congregations.
“Though it dealt with clergy, (that decision) opened the door that, if gay marriage is legal in the state, it would not be against church policy,” said the Rev. Lee Hallstrom of Light of Christ Lutheran Church.
The local ELCA congregation of nearly 1,400 members walked through that door together during a special congregational vote Nov. 2.
Members of the congregation had the opportunity to check “Yes” or “No” to the following statement: “Light of Christ Lutheran Church affirms the right of all Light of Christ members to exercise the duties and privileges of membership including marriages (either same sex or opposite sex) that are approved and authorized by the State of Minnesota.”
About 80 percent of voters supported that statement, according to Hallstrom. He said the vote was well attended, with cars lining County Line Road and Hennepin County Road 11.
Hallstrom said church leadership did not take the issue lightly.
“Our church counsel spent time studying and praying about this,” Hallstrom said. “We also knew we had gay and lesbian people here, and this would be a question that would be asked.”
The decision to extend marriage privileges to members in same-sex relationships followed the adoption of the church’s new vision statement in January, which references including and embracing all as children of God.
Hallstrom responded to some of the arguments against the church’s position.
“We, as an ELCA church, take the Bible very seriously,” Hallstrom said. “It’s our authority for faith and life. We realize those five to seven references to homosexuality in the Bible don’t speak of homosexual orientation. They don’t speak of two people wanting to love each other in a committed relationship.”
Another argument Hallstrom has heard suggests the ELCA, and the local congregation, is “caving in to culture” or “whitewashing the Gospel.”
“No, we’re saying, ‘What does the Gospel say to us through the power of the Holy Spirit today through God’s Word?’” Hallstrom said. “That’s very important to me because I don’t want people to think we’re irresponsible with the Bible.”
Instead, he suggests interpreting the Bible contextually and asking, “What would Jesus do?”
“Jesus said absolutely nothing about this issue in the Bible, so it leaves us with Jesus’ life,” Hallstrom said. “He spent his earthly ministry largely including the excluded of the day.
“Homosexuality is not a choice; it’s a given,” Hallstrom continued. “Would Jesus really want us to deny love, companionship and commitment to people just because they have a same-sex orientation? And, for those who question that it’s a given, the question to ask is, ‘Why would anyone choose this?’”
While Hallstrom is firm in his convictions, he also respects those who believe differently.
“We honor that some struggle with this,” Hallstrom said. “We want to walk together. I realize some are celebrating and some are hurting. Though there was a strong majority, I want us to be sensitive that, for some, it’s a difficult issue.”
He also doesn’t want one decision to define the church.
“We don’t want to be known as the gay church,” Hallstrom said. “Hopefully, we’re known as a Jesus church, with the arms of Jesus welcoming all people.”