MINNESOTA Bishop Mark Hanson is elected leader of 5.1 million Evangelical Lutherans

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ An Evangelical Lutheran Church in America assembly Saturday narrowly elected as national leader Bishop Mark S. Hanson, who has coped with divisions over homosexuality and relations with the Episcopal Church as bishop of St. Paul, Minn.

The Chicago-based church, with 5.1 million members in 10,816 local congregations, ranks fifth among U.S. Protestant groups.

Hanson, 54, defeated the more conservative Bishop Donald J. McCoid of Pittsburgh for a six-year term as presiding bishop. The delegates' vote was 533 for Hanson to 499 for McCoid.

After the announcement, Hanson told the assembly that ``there are people in this church who are not rejoicing in this moment and are feeling great anxiety.''

The election followed an intense debate on whether to allow clergy ordination of people involved in committed homosexual relationships. Action on that and other issues regarding homosexuality is pending.

Hanson has been at the forefront of the controversy. His synod (regional governing unit) petitioned this assembly to allow ordination of actively gay and lesbian clergy and asked the national church council to allow an exception to ordain Anita Hill, who lives with a lesbian partner and has led a ministry to gays and lesbians for two decades in St. Paul. She is not related to the Anita Hill who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Hanson's synod censured Hill's congregation when it ordained her as pastor without authorization, but did not expel the congregation from the denomination, as was done in other cases.

In a question-and-answer session, Hanson told delegates he would seek to draw on that experience in handling divisive issues as national leader. He also made strong appeals for evangelism and activism on social justice.

Hanson supported a unity pact with the Episcopal Church, though many of his parishioners did not. The pact, which went into effect in January, calls for sharing of clergy, sacraments and ministries without merger.

But some Lutherans resisted the requirement that only bishops ordain clergy, and Hanson was a key leader in developing a pending proposal here to allow exceptions, despite Episcopal protests.