Jamaica Gleaner
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US Church divided on issue


AN EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church in America assembly narrowly elected as national leader Bishop Mark S. Hanson, who has coped with divisions over homosexuality and relations with the Episcopal Church as bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Chicago-based church, with 5.1 million members in 10,816 local congregations, ranks fifth among U.S. Protestant groups.

Hanson, 54, defeated the more conservative Bishop Donald J. McCoid of Pittsburgh on Saturday for a six-year term as presiding bishop. The delegates' vote was 533 for Hanson to 499 for McCoid.

After the announcement, Hanson told the assembly that "there are people in this church who are not rejoicing in this moment and are feeling great anxiety."

The election followed an intense debate on whether to allow clergy ordination of people involved in committed homosexual relationships. Action on that and other issues regarding homosexuality is pending.

At Saturday's session Lutheran delegates also approved a rewrite of an ecumenical pact with the Episcopal Church that went into effect in January. It would allow clergy on grounds of conscience to be ordained by pastors rather than bishops.

The Episcopal Church strongly opposed the revision.

Hanson has been at the forefront of the homosexual controversy. His synod (regional governing unit) petitioned this assembly to allow ordination of actively gay and lesbian clergy and asked the national church council to allow an exception to ordain Anita Hill, who lives with a lesbian partner and has led a ministry to gays and lesbians for two decades in St. Paul. She is not related to the Anita Hill who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Hanson's synod censured Hill's congregation when it ordained her as pastor without authorisation, but did not expel the congregation from the denomination, as was done in other cases.

In a question-and-answer session, Hanson told delegates he would seek to draw on that experience in handling divisive issues as national leader. He also made strong appeals for evangelism and activism on social justice.

Hanson supported the unity pact with the Episcopal Church, though many of his parishioners did not. The pact calls for sharing of clergy, sacraments and ministries without merger.

When some Lutherans resisted the requirement that only bishops ordain clergy, Hanson was a key leader in developing a pending proposal here to allow exceptions.

After the vote, the head of the Episcopal Church, presiding bishop Frank Griswold, issued a statement that the Lutheran decision "appears to be a unilateral alteration of the mutual commitment that both of our churches have solemnly made."

He said it may create "two classes of clergy" in the Lutheran church and appears "to jeopardise the role of bishop as a focus of unity."

Articles In This Series
I was born this way July 25,2001
Sexuality and the law July 25,2001
Homophobia remains HIGH July 26,2001
Bisexual woman struggles with identity July 26,2001
Is there a gay gene? July 26,2001
Homos at risk July 26,2001
Sexual orientation: Is there a conclusion? July 278,2001
'I was sleeping with their husband and father' July 27,2001
Sexual orientation:Critiquing the theories, looking at the realities (new) August 13, 2001
US Church divided on issue (new) August 13, 2001

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A Go- Jamaica Feature 2001