The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America begins its 2009 Churchwide Assembly tomorrow, and since the ELCA is a mainline denomination, that means issues regarding sexuality will be at the forefront of its work. Specifically, there is a proposal to make the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships a matter of local option (currently celibacy is required of homosexuals who seek ordination). As a lead-in to the meeting, the ELCA News Service highlights a 2008 survey of clergy attitudes that may foreshadow the results:

Results of a national survey show that a majority of clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) — 54 percent — support ordination “with no special requirements” for people who are gay or lesbian, according to an Aug. 5 news release.

The Clergy Voices Survey was reported in May 2009 by Public Religion Research, an independent public opinion research organization that provides “research-based” information and advice on religion, values and public policy.  Public Religion Research is based in Washington D.C.

“ELCA clergy are generally supportive of a range of rights for gay and lesbian people both inside and outside the church,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, which conducted the study.  “ELCA clergy also strongly believe that the gospel message requires full inclusion of gay and lesbian members in the life of the church,” he said.

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of ELCA clergy said that people who are gay or lesbian should be eligible for ordination only if they are celibate, according to the news release from Public Religion Research.  Fourteen percent of ELCA clergy said that people who are gay or lesbian should not be eligible for ordination at all, the release said.

Public Religion Research is an organization that has a very definite political agenda (Jones has been a fellow at the People for the American Way Foundation, for instance), but I couldn’t see any specific or obvious slanting in the questionnaire upon which the above figures were based (you can see the survey here, and the analysis of the results here–others may perhaps see what I might have missed). So I assume that there is a real likelihood that clergy at the CA will vote to affirm local option. What lay delegates may do is anybody’s guess, but they may hold the key to whether the ELCA follows the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ down the road of self-destruction.