MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- The largest U.S. Lutheran group voted Friday to allow homosexuals in committed relationships to become ministers.
Delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America convention voted 559 to 451, The Washington Post reported.
The ELCA, with 4.8 million members, becomes the largest Christian group in the United States to approve gay ministers. The vote changes a policy that had allowed only celibate gays to serve in the ministry.
Critics predicted the vote would split the church.
Terri Stagner-Collier, one of the delegates, said Lutherans who cannot accept gay pastors would be "ripped away" from the ELCA.
"I urge you not to do this -- not to do this at all," she said, in tears.
Some delegates argued the church must recognize changes in attitudes toward homosexuality.
"We live today with an understanding of homosexuality that did not exist in Jesus' time and culture," said Tim Mumm, a lay delegate from Wisconsin. "We are responding to something that the writers of Scripture could not have understood."
The vote puts homosexual clergy on the same footing as heterosexuals, required to be either monogamous or celibate. Congregations do not have to hire gay applicants.