The Roman Catholic and several Orthodox churches require their priests to take a vow of celibacy, based on the belief that marriage will distract clergymen from their relationship with God. The Protestant religions have historically rejected this doctrine. Lutheran clergymen, referred to as ministers or pastors instead of priests, are allowed to marry and raise children, following the same rules that apply to their respective congregations.
Martin Luther set the precedent for the Lutheran church when he broke away from the Catholic church and married a former nun, Katharine von Bora, in 1525. Luther helped her to escape from the nunnery by hiding her in an empty fish barrel and transporting her to a safe refuge in Wittenberg. In his writings during the Protestant Reformation, Luther quoted Genesis 2:18, "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone."
The Three Synods
The Lutheran church in America is comprised of three different "synods," or denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is widely regarded to be the most liberal division. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) are more conservative. As of 2011, the ELCA had four million baptized members, the LCMS had just over two million members and the WELS had almost 400,000. All three synods allow the marriage of clergymen. There are a few other Lutheran organizations with a very small presence in the United States -- these also allow ministers to marry.
Women in the Church
The ELCA is the only Lutheran church in America that allows women to serve as ministers. Female ministers in the ELCA may marry. The LCMS does not allow women to become ministers, stating: "The LCMS believes that those Scripture passages which say that women should not 'teach' or 'have authority' in the church (see, for example, 1 Cor. 11 and 14; 1 Timothy 2) mean that women ought not hold the authoritative teaching office in the church -- that is, the office of pastor."
Homosexuality in the Church
The ELCA allows for open or "non-celibate" gays and lesbians to serve as clergy. Though they may not marry in any Lutheran church, men and women in homosexual relationships are welcome to the pulpit and church leadership positions. On May 31, 2013, Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin was elected as the first openly gay Bishop of the ELCA.
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