Thursday, March 13, 2008

ELCA Releases Draft Statement on Human Sexuality

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ("ELCA") released a new draft statement on human sexuality today. There will be churchwide discussions on the policy and a final vote on a final document in 2009. The entire document can be found and downloaded here: I gave the statement a very quick review. I would be lying if I did not say I was somewhat disappointed. The ELCA needs decide whether it is going to be fully gay affirming or not, although the statement does represent an incremental improvement from the past. Nonetheless, one is either pregnant or they are not. I saw the following as the most relevant portions of the statement in terms of the issue of gays in the church (emphasis is mine):

Same-gender committed relationships: This church recognizes that it is in relationships of life-long companionship and commitment with public accountability that both interpersonal and social trust may be nurtured. It is within committed binding relationships, lived out within community, that relational and physical intimacy may be expressed and may have the capacity to offer worth and value to society. This church understands and affirms that such relationships reflect God’s love for the world and the vocation to love the neighbor. . . .

It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to deal in a new way with the longing of same-gender persons to seek relationships of life-long companionship and commitment and to seek public accountability for those commitments. In response, this church has drawn deeply on its Lutheran heritage to dwell in Scripture and listen to the Word of God. This listening has brought biblical scholars, theologians, and rostered and lay persons to different conclusions. After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships. This church has committed itself to continuing to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, and pastoral care. . . .

This church, both those who regard same-gender sexual relationships as sinful and those who do not, calls for mutual respect in relationships and for guidance that seeks the good of each individual and of the community. Although this church lacks consensus, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the community of the baptized. Following previous decisions of this church, we call on congregations to welcome, care for and support same-gender-oriented people and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection. We believe that this church has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes pastoral response to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. . . .

In their pastoral response, some pastors and congregations will advocate repentance and celibacy. Other pastors and congregations will call our same-gender-oriented brothers and sisters in Christ to establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous, and lifelong. These relationships are to be held to the same rigorous standards and sexual ethics as all others. Further, they will encourage same-gender couples to model their relationships according to the teachings of the Small and Large Catechisms pertaining to the sixth commandment. This suggests that dissolution of a committed same-gender relationship be treated with the same gravity as the dissolution of a marriage.

All congregations should seek to be safe and welcoming places to discuss sexual issues. All such conversations should include those most affected. The mission and ministry of congregations should be visibly open to all, including single adults, cohabiting adults, adults approaching marriage, families undergoing dissolution, single parents, blended families, and same-sex couples. As a matter of service and outreach, congregations should consciously and conscientiously shape their mission in response to the needs of all. Children and youth and those who bear special burdens deserve particular care.

This church understands that responsible action requires both ethics and discernment. The work of moral discernment is an important dimension of this church’s identity. It is carried on by all members of the ELCA community and is lived out best when all participate as full members of this community. We come as we are—teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, and mature adults; single, married, divorced, and partnered; straight and gay; right, left, and center—with a good will and, in Paul’s words, a heart “widened” by God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

To me, it looks like the Task Force for all its “church speak” is still trying to avoid addressing the existence of gays head on and making a statement that ALL legitimate medical and mental health experts determine sexual orientation to be innate and unchangeable, so therefore, flat earth believers need to get with it and come into the 21st Century. Apparently, church unity is still more important than principle and doing what is right. It reminds me of the discussions in the first half of the 1800’s when a number of churches did not have the moral integrity to flat out say that just because the Bible tells slaves to obey their masters that did not make slavery OK.
In short, I believe the statement as currently drafted will do very little to make gays feel welcome or wanted. Yes, it is light years ahead of say the Southern Baptisit Convention or the Roman Catholic Church, but it still does not accomplish enough, in my view, to make ALL Lutherans, including gays, fully welcome. It certainly doesn’t make me feel any more welcome than before I read it. If some pastors and congregations are still free to condemn and call gays sinful, that is the real message to gays.

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