Tackling an issue that threatens to splinter many mainline Protestant churches in America, the chief legislative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will decide this week on whether to ordain homosexuals in committed relationships and to continue allowing clergy to bless same-sex unions.
Although embracing diversity has been a priority in the church in recent years, leaders say they will be more focused on preserving unity as they answer the question of whether homosexuality is a sin according to Scripture or a natural condition.
The assembly, which wraps up its biannual meeting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, will debate and vote on three proposals regarding sexuality later this week. The proposals stem from a four-year study on human sexuality.
The proposals, recommended by the church council in April, would allow exceptions to the ELCA's current policy of ordaining only celibate homosexuals. Gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships have been sanctioned in the past.
But forces - both liberal and conservative - are already aligned against the proposals. Gay rights advocates say the proposals do not go far enough to include homosexuals in the life of the church. Conservatives say liberal Lutheran leaders are imposing their point of view on the church and trying to supersede the authority of Scripture.