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Lutherans in To-And-Fro Tangle Take Neutral Stance on Abortion

August 30, 1989

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ Lutherans grappled with the issue of abortion in an assembly that briefly adopted a resolution some considered pro-choice before delegates reconsidered and maintained a neutral position.

As the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s first legislative assembly neared its close today, it recognized that society was in a ″time of crisis″ about abortion, with ″mounting hysteria, fear, polarization and violence.″

The newly merged 5.3-million-member denomination settled on a resolution Tuesday that advised ″information, counseling and competent Christian guidance″ on abortion. This should be ″based in the Lutheran traditions of Biblical grounding and social and individual responsibility,″ the resolution said.

The delegates avoided defining a position about abortion itself, leaving that for a two-year study on sexuality and decision by the next assembly in 1991.

One delegate, Guy Erwin of New Haven, Conn., unsuccessfully sought a speeded up process for developing a stand on this ″excruciating, sensitive″ issue, adding, ″We must begin to lead or be led.″

The assembly reconsidered and rejected an orginally approved measure that many delegates interpreted as pro-choice.

The Rev. Paul Hinlicky of Delhi, N.Y., exclaimed during the debate, ″I will not obey this call for free access to abortion on demand.″

A nurse, Betty Jane Reisner of Whitehall, Pa., pleaded for retaining the original, saying ″pro-choice allows pro-life. The reverse is not true.″ To not permit it is ″taking away our freedom.″

In the end, delegates reinstated a revised version eliminating a phrase calling for provision of ″free access to services.″

Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom, church president, said that if the original was taken literally it would be contrary to previous church statements.

The three denominations that merged into the new body had taken varying positions, one seeing human life as beginning at conception, another less definite about it, but both upholding the sanctity of unborn life.

On another topic, the assembly urged ″loving care and compassion″ toward AIDS sufferers, saying they often have been ″met with apathy, indifference or even antagonism and denial.″

The church affirmed the ″rights and dignity of all persons living with AIDS,″ and pledged to include them ″in the life and worship of the church.″

Steps also were taken for fuller inclusion of youngsters in future assemblies, and to provide resources to meet needs of the deaf and other disabled, and also those whose primary language is not English.

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