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Lutherans move toward more open view on gays

MINNEAPOLIS — Leaders of the country's largest Lutheran denomination have agreed to disagree on homosexuality, endorsing an official statement on human sexuality that says there's room in the church for differing views on an issue that's divided other religious groups.

Delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's nationwide assembly in Minneapolis on Wednesday approved a "social statement on human sexuality." The vote was a prelude to a bigger debate Friday, when delegates will tackle a proposal that would allow individual ELCA congregations to hire people in committed same-sex relationships as clergy.

The social statement lays a theological foundation for a liberalized policy on gay clergy, and supporters of the proposal praised Wednesday's vote. "We are encouraged and hopeful that ... this will result in the church's elimination of the current ban on ministers in same gender relationships," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group of pro-gay Lutherans.

Opponents of the social statement said it ignores clear scriptural direction that homosexuality is a sin. "We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality based on a reality that's shaped not by Scripture but by today's culture," said Curtis Sorbo of Adams, N.D., a convention delegate from the ELCA's Eastern North Dakota Synod.