CHICAGO (Reuters) - Homosexual Lutheran clergy who are in sexual relationships will be able to serve as pastors, the largest U.S. Lutheran body said on Saturday.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a resolution at its annual assembly urging bishops to refrain from disciplining pastors who are in "faithful committed same-gender relationships."
The resolution passed by a vote of 538-431.
"The Church ... has just said 'Do not do punishments'," said Phil Soucy, spokesman for Lutherans Concerned, a gay-lesbian rights group within the church. "That is huge."
The ELCA, which has 4.8 million members, had previously allowed gays to serve as pastors so long as they abstained from sexual
The conference also instructed a committee that is developing a social statement on sexuality to further investigate the issue. The committee is scheduled to release its report in 2009.
Since the ELCA was founded in 1988, the group has ordered three pastors in gay relationships to be removed from their ministries. The most recent case was decided in July when the ELCA's committee on appeals voted to remove an openly gay pastor from St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta.
The gay clergy issue has become a flashpoint in other faiths, including the Anglican Church.
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