updated 8/17/2009 4:44:10 PM ET 2009-08-17T20:44:10

The issue of allowing people in same-sex relationships to serve as pastors is expected to dominate this week's national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Members of the country's largest Lutheran denomination will decide whether to approve a proposal that would allow individual congregations to let gay and lesbian people in committed relationships serve as clergy. Debate is expected to be lively, with a final vote not expected until Friday.

But an early preview of how the debate might go could come Monday night, when delegates are scheduled to vote on whether to require a simple majority or a two-thirds supermajority of their votes to approve the change.

The 1,045 delegates gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center also will consider a broader statement on human sexuality, a 34-page document that tries to establish a theological framework for differing views on homosexuality. Critics say it would simply liberalize the ELCA's attitudes. A vote on the document is scheduled for Wednesday.

At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA would be one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.

In 2003, the 2 million-member Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, deepening a long-running rift over homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion and leading to the formation of the more conservative Anglican Church in North America, which claims 100,000 members.

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