Conservatives in the Lutheran Church have publicly renounced the church's approval of a gay resolution, saying they were “saddened.”

On Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States – voted in favor of eliminating its 20-year-old ban against ministers in gay relationships.

The vote by 1,045 ELCA representatives meeting this week in Minneapolis came late in the day and wasn't as close as expected. With a 559 to 451 vote church liberals did away with asking gay and lesbian pastors to remain celibate.

The resolution was put forward by the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality whose social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, was approved by church representatives earlier in the week. The statement's early adoption was seen by many as a good sign for church liberals in support of partnered gay and lesbian pastors. The social statement offers diverse viewpoints on gay relationships. It simultaneously affirms that “some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law,” and that others “believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage.” Liberals called it “progress and compromise.”

Members of Lutheran CORE, the conservative wing of the church that has battled against the gay resolution, renounced the church vote.

“Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians,” Rev. Paul Spring, chairman of Lutheran CORE, said in a statement. “I am saddened that a Lutheran Church that was founded on a firm commitment to the Bible has come to the point that the ELCA would vote to reject the Bible's teaching on marriage and homosexual behavior.”

“It breaks my heart,” he added.

The group is also advocating members withdraw financial support from the ELCA.

“Lutheran CORE leaders are inviting faithful Lutheran congregations and individuals to direct funding away from the national church body because of the decisions made this week by the Churchwide Assembly. Lutheran CORE will participate in and support faithful ELCA ministries, but cannot support ELCA ministries that reject the authority of God's Word,” the group said in a statement.

But whether anyone is leaving the church over the debate remains to be seen.

“I'm not leaving,” Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, told the AP Friday. Chavez, of Landisville, Pennsylvania, is married and has six children.

The inclusion of gay and lesbian pastors in the church is not new or even controversial. But previously the church officially removed gay pastors from the ELCA clergy roster if they entered a relationship. If a church elected to retain a non-celibate pastor, he or she would technically live outside the church's hierarchy. Under the proposed change, which won't be implemented until 2010, both gay and straight clergy and professional lay workers must still remain faithful to their partners.

Lutheran CORE will hold a convention in Indianapolis in September to plan its next steps.