Make Up Your Mind: The Lutheran Sexuality Report
- Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The famous Dr. Seuss once told the story of a "young man from Zoad, who came to two signs in the fork of the road." Forced to choose between two directions, the indecisive Zoad simply decided to go both directions at once. As Dr. Seuss explained, "that's how the Zoad who would not take a chance went to no place at all with a split in his pants."
That little parable comes to mind with the Jan. 13 release of the long-awaited report on human sexuality conducted by an official task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA].
The "Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality" was commissioned by the denomination in 2001 and charged to bring a full report on controversial issues related to homosexuality so that the church could consider the issue in 2005. In August, the report will be considered by the ELCA's "churchwide assembly" which will convene in Orlando, Florida.
Like most mainline Protestant denominations, the ELCA has been torn by controversy over issues related to human sexuality. Forces pushing for the blessing of same-gender relationships and the acceptance of openly homosexual clergy have been pushing the issue through local and regional levels of the church. At the same time, powerful forces have defended the church's current policy and discipline which excludes practicing homosexuals from service as ordained ministers and "rostered leaders." The church also bans same-sex blessing ceremonies as rites recognized by the denomination.
The denomination had been eagerly awaiting the release of this report, but the document itself is likely to please no one. Rather than settling the issue one way or the other, this report is a classic demonstration of the bureaucratic mind at work, couching its language in the voice of compromise and toleration while offering no conclusive answer to the most basic questions at stake.
In a letter attached to the report, the task force described itself as "humbled by the assignment from the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to serve as stewards of the controversial task of offering recommendations to this church related to blessing committed same-sex relationships and ordaining, consecrating, or commissioning people in such committed relationships."
At the outset, the task force stated its conviction that "gay, lesbian, and heterosexual Christians all belong to Christ's church through baptism." The document went on to "affirm the welcome of this church to gay and lesbian people" as stated in previously adopted resolutions.
In one sense, this task force faced an impossible task. Mainline Protestant denominations--those historic churches now on the left of the American religious spectrum--face the very real prospect of schism over issues of sexuality. In reality, the issues related to sex--especially homosexuality--have become all-important catalysts for revealing the far deeper divide in these churches over basic issues of doctrine, biblical authority, confession, and ecclesiology.
Acknowledging the level of conflict in the denomination, the task force stated: "It has become clear to the task force that the disagreement over these issues before the church is deep, pervasive, multi-faceted, and multi-layered. This church is not of one mind." Accordingly, the task force's first recommendation was that the church "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."
This language is similar to that found in most documents presented by special committees charged with the assignment of bringing peace to divided denominations. The "Windsor Report" recently produced by a body of the Church of England took basically the same approach in the aftermath of the Episcopal Church USA's consecration of a self-avowed practicing homosexual as a bishop of the church.
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