The Lutheran Church and Homosexuality in the U.S.: Timeline

1964 July At its convention, the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) releases the statement “Marriage and Family,” its first on the subject, which contains no mention of homosexuality. [1]

1966 June-July The American Lutheran Church (ALC) releases its first statement on sexuality at its biennial convention. [2] 

1970 June-July At the convention, the LCA produces a statement on “Sex, Marriage, and Family” is released that supersedes the previous statement on these subjects. This statement contains the Church’s first mention of homosexuality, which is referred to as a sin, but also claims that homosexuals are “often the special and undeserving victims of prejudice and discrimination in law, law enforcement, cultural mores, and congregational life.” The statement concludes with a defense of “understanding and justice in church and community” of homosexual persons. [3] 

1971 March An article in the New York Times claims that the LCA is one of only two “national church denominations” that have released a statement in support of “homosexual rights” The other denomination is the Unitarian Universalist Association. [4]

1974 Lutherans Concerned for Gay People [or Lutherans Concerned], a group comprised of laypeople, pastors and congregations, forms in order to promote tolerance and acceptance among members of the Lutheran churches. Individual congregations are urged to welcome gay and lesbian members. [5]

July The Program in Human Sexuality at the university of Minnesota Medical School holds a conference that is partly sponsored by the ALC for medical students and seminarians. Among the other topics discussed, there are seminars on homosexuality led by homosexual individuals. [6]

1975 October Lutherans Concerned is given $2,000 by the ALC’s Division for Service and Mission in America, marking the first time a gay group has been given direct financial support from its parent denomination. [7]

1978 July The LCA elects a new president, Rev. Dr. James Crumley, who responds to questions about his stance on homosexuality in the church by stressing an emphasis on creating less individual regulations while keeping church principles “basic.” [8] 

1979 June The ALC’s Standing Committee for the Office of Research and Analysis approves a paper “Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior,” which states that it is acceptable to be homosexual providing there is no “erotic behavior.” The paper will be submitted for approval at the 1980 convention. [9] 

1980 October At its convention, the ALC releases a statement “Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior,” authored in 1979, which supersedes the previous statement from 1966. [10]

1984 Lutherans Concerned begins the “Reconciled in Christ Program,” modeled after the Presbyterian “More Light Program,” that focuses on individual congregations. The program recognizes and keeps a roster of all Lutheran congregations and organizations that are welcoming to LGBT members. [11]

1986 Undated The LCA releases a study stating that the church can “neither absolutely condemn nor praise and affirm homosexuality,” and also suggests that more of the Church’s congregations should welcome gay and lesbian persons. [12]

1988 January The American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) join to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). [13]

February-April Three “openly gay” seminary students are certified by the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley CA, provoking a controversy. The students are later declared ineligible for official ordination because all three refuse to state whether or not they intend to remain celibate. Later, the bishops of the newly formed ELCA block the publication of two articles written about the situation by the former bishops of the ALC and LCA in the Church’s magazine, The Lutheran. [14]

1989 June The Church officially establishes guidelines that “practicing homosexuals” are to be excluded from ordained ministry. Two San Francisco congregations, however, announce plans to defy the official policy and ordain a gay pastor and lesbian couple respectively. [15] 

1990 January Two San Francisco churches proceed with their ordination of gay and lesbian pastors, making them the first openly homosexual individuals to be ordained in the Lutheran church. The action provokes an immediate controversy and the ELCA brings official charges against the churches. Bishops later submit a statement expressing fear that the ordinations pose a “challenge to the unity” of the church. [16]

July The two San Francisco churches are officially suspended by a disciplinary committee of the ELCA for ordaining openly homosexual ministers who did not take a vow of celibacy. The suspensions will last five years with the possibility of permanent expulsion if the churches do not come into line with church policy. The committee also suggests an “extensive study” of homosexuality and ordination. [17]

Undated The ELCA’s Church Council drafts a document called “Visions and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA” that, among other things, states that homosexual ordained ministers are “expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relations.” [18] 

Undated Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries (LLGM), a “national mission society that supports openly identified sexual minority pastors, seminarians, and lay ministers who have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” is founded at the two San Francisco churches who were punished for ordaining gay ministers in contradiction to the Church’s official policy. [19]

1991 Undated The Churchwide Assembly acts to welcome gays and lesbians as members of ELCA congregations, but does not “bless their committed relationships, nor does it allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained or to remain as clergy.” [20] 

December The ELCA releases a study entitled “Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith,” analyzes sexuality-related issues without prescribing solutions to any of the problems. Among other things, the document examines homosexuality and affirms that “sexuality is God’s good gift…to all people,” and states that “Many gay men and lesbian women are well-adjusted and live out faithful, committed sexual relationships, but without the social approval and support that heterosexual couples take for granted.” The report challenges “some moral rules and practices we have inherited,” stating instead that “morality…is continually changing.” It does, however, condemn “casual” sex, both hetero- and homosexual. [21] 

1993 Undated The ELCA Church Council passes a resolution that “reaffirm[s] that the historical position of the ELCA is…support for legislation, referendums, and policies to protect the civil rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services and accommodations.” [22]

January One of the San Francisco churches suspended for ordaining a gay man has further defied the conditions of its suspension by officially hiring the gay minister. The church is expected to be officially expelled from the ELCA in 1995 when the terms of the suspension are over. [23]

October The Conference of Bishops of the ELCA releases a statement that the ELCA does not approve of rituals recognizing same-sex relationships because of lack of biblical basis. [24]

November After a four-year effort, the first draft of a statement on human sexuality by a committee of the ELCA, which claims that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and that both homosexuality and masturbation are described as a “healthy part of human life,” is leaked by the media and provokes a firestorm of controversy among Church members. Over 21,000 responses, mostly negative and including some death threats, are received by the ELCA who appoints a new committee to prepare a new statement.” [25]

1994 February A regional panel of the ELCA votes to “defrock” an Oakland pastor after he announces that he is homosexual. This marks the first trial of an openly gay pastor in the denomination. [26]

1995 Undated At its Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA calls for “words of prayer, pastoral concern, and encouragement” for gay and lesbian members of the Church. [27]

1996 March The bishops of the ELCA release an open letter to Church members in response to the call for made at the 1995 Assembly, in which they reiterate the Church’s previous statements welcoming gays and lesbians into ELCA congregations and supporting civil rights for homosexuals. The letter acknowledges the “bitter” debates around homosexuality within the Church but tries to create a greater sense of unity. [28]

June The ELCA’s Southwestern Texas Synod defeats a resolution at its assembly that would have welcomed lesbian and gay Lutherans into its congregations as both members and clergy. [29]

November The Church Council of the ELCA adopts a statement entitled “Sexuality: Some Common Convictions” which discusses the importance of healthy sexuality within marital and committed relationships. The report barely mentions homosexuality at all, but does not include it in a list of “some misuses of sexuality” that the church opposes including adultery, promiscuity, prostitution, “practices that spread sexually-transmitted diseases,” and pornography. [30]

1998 A gay Lutheran pastor in Iowa is brought to a church trial for being homosexual and ultimately has his ordination revoked. [New York Times 02/01/1998] 1999 August The Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, the major legislative body, officially votes for the first time on the issue of gay clergy. In a vote of 820 to 159, “sexually-active” gays and lesbians are prohibited from ordination. [31]






3.; also reported in New York Times 07/03/1970 p16 and Chicago Tribune 07/03/1970 pA3

4. New York Times 03/25/1971 p30

5.; complete records of this group through 1994 are archived at the Gerber/Hart Library in Chicago

6. New York Times 07/08/1974 p21

7. Chicago Tribune 10/05/1975 p8

8. New York Times 07/16/1978 p22

11. New York Times 06/14/1979 pA16





14.  Washington Post 02/27/1988 pD1; Washington Post 04/30/1988 pB8;

15. Chicago Tribune 06/24/1989 p2; 10/30/1989 p6;

16.  Chicago Tribune 01/19/1990 p8; New York Times 01/22/1990 pA10; Washington Post 01/27/1990 pC16; Chicago Tribune 03/02/1990 p8; Washington Post 03/24/1990 pD19

17. New York Times 07/19/1990 p B6; Washington Post 07/21/1990 p C15




21. Washington Post 12/07/1991 p E16


23. New York Times 01/25/1993 pB6; Washington Post 01/23/1993 p A3

24. New York Times 10/21/1993 pA16;

25. New York Times 11/26/1993 pA21;

26. Washington Post 02/26/1994 pB7