Prospect of gay Lutheran bishop divides Germans

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany could elect its first openly gay Lutheran bishop next month, a move conservatives say would alienate many Christians and open divisions in the Church.

The July 12 election brings to Germany the question of gay clergy and same-sex unions which has caused rifts in several countries and faiths, including the Anglican community.

Horst Gorski, a senior cleric from Hamburg, is standing for the post of bishop of Schleswig in northern Germany against Gerhard Ulrich, a senior cleric from the Schleswig area. The incumbent bishop is retiring in September.

Gorski is a widely respected theologian and he helped set up a centre for gay and lesbian Lutheran pastors.

His open homosexuality angers some Lutheran conservatives who argue his election as bishop would leave many Christians with no spiritual home.

“Many members of the community would have little understanding for a bishop with this kind of lifestyle,” Ulrich Ruess, a pastor in the northern city of Hamburg, was quoted as telling Die Welt newspaper.

Others have been quoted as saying Gorski’s appointment would damage the standing and weight of the Lutheran Church, founded by German Martin Luther in the 16th century and now one of the largest Protestant denominations.

The election committee is standing by its choice of candidates.

“After careful consultation, we have nominated two experienced provosts as candidates who have excelled in their localities and in the region in a variety of ways,” said election committee member Bishop Maria Jepsen, the world’s first woman Lutheran bishop.

In an Internet statement, she said the two candidates earned respect with their theological and pastoral work as well as through their strong charisma.

The Lutheran World Federation, which represents nearly 69 million Christians, says it will not get involved as it has no common line on the question of homosexuality.

“This is a pastoral issue that each church individually must deal with,” LWF General Secretary Reverend Ishmael Noko told Reuters.

“We have no position on this issue at the moment,” he said, adding the body, which has 140 churches in 78 countries, has commissioned a study on marriage, family and sexuality.

Last year the largest U.S. Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said it would allow homosexual clergy in sexual relationships to serve as pastors.

The 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a global federation of national churches, has been in turmoil over the issue of homosexuality and blessing of gay unions in recent years.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Keith Weir