Martha Sawyer Allen
Star Tribune
Published 03/06/2004

A third congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the Twin Cities has voted to call an openly gay pastor, defying ELCA policy that forbids ordination of anyone in a same-sex relationship.

Bethany Lutheran Church, on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood, intends to ordain Jay Wiesner on July 25 and call him as a pastor.

Wiesner, who is on the church's staff, will work with the Rev. Steven Benson, who said the members gave the vote a lot of thought and decided they had no choice.

"We hope this action will have a positive effect" on the ELCA, Benson said this week. There is "some worry about creating a backlash" by doing something so public, but "we also realize no liberation movement has happened by people remaining quiet." Bishop Craig Johnson of the ELCA Minneapolis Synod could impose sanctions against Bethany ranging from a minor reprimand to removal from the roster of official ELCA congregations. In similar cases, bishops have tended to issue "censure and admonition" rulings preventing the congregation from active participation in the wider church for a period of time.

Benson said that when the church council met with Johnson he urged Bethany to wait until after the 2005 ELCA General Assembly, which plans to vote on ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians.

While the Bethany council gave the bishop's request "careful consideration," Benson said, they decided to go ahead.

"Meanwhile, people are dying because of the immense amount of pressure in society, which is often based on religious justification," Benson said. "There needs to be outspoken religious voices which offer dignity and alternatives to the negative religious voices."

Wiesner, 30, in a statement to the church following its vote, said, in part, "You have affirmed that I am called to serve you as an ordained pastor. I humbly accept your call and look forward to serving you as pastor." The century-old congregation has about 350 members and an average Sunday attendance of about 75.

Solid Rock Lutherans, a national group of ELCA leaders that formed this year to fight change in the church's ordination standards, opposes Bethany's decision. The Rev. Roy Harrisville, Solid Rock's director, said, "We think that every congregation and institution connected with the ELCA should remain faithful to the word of God. That means, especially now, those organizations should not ordain openly gay pastors or sanction same-sex unions. That currently is the policy of the ELCA, and we believe that policy should be followed."

The group is organizing opposition to the 2005 vote, Harrisville said, by working with individual congregations around the country. "We're doing what we can to raise the awareness of the traditional confessional Lutheran view and why we think it's important to uphold that. As Lutherans we believe that scripture is the foundation of what we believe, and when that foundation is clear on a certain moral issue we need to maintain that clarity. If we don't we chip away at the very foundations that uphold us."

Wiesner is on the roster of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP), an unofficial list of theologically trained ELCA candidates for ordination who are ineligible to work in a congregation because they are in same-sex relationships.

John Brooks, spokesman for the national ELCA headquarters in Chicago, said his offices don't track how many congregations have voted to accept people from the ECP roster.

Martha Sawyer Allen is at 612-673-7919, or

Copyright 2004 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.


I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.