Make Up Your Mind: The Lutheran Sexuality Report
- Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The language notwithstanding, Lutherans are going to have a hard time standing together in a church that is headed in two different directions. On the question of blessing same-sex unions, the task force recognized that the denomination "currently has no legislated policy." After reviewing the various arguments presented by both sides of this controversy, "the task force declines to recommend any change."
In essence, the task force sent the question of the blessing of same-sex relationships back to the local church, where, "pastors and congregations can and should be trusted by this church to exercise the wisdom of discretion in their ministry to same-sex couples and their natural and congregational families."
This amounts to a local option for ELCA churches and pastors. By suggesting that the ELCA adopt no policy on the issue, the task force avoided taking sides in the conflict.
At the same time, the task force did describe the blessing of same-sex relationships as "quite distinct from and in no way equivalent to marriage." In 1996, the church had adopted a statement defining marriage as "a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman." On this point, the task force recommended no change in the policy or in the church's 1993 statement to the same effect adopted by its Conference of Bishops.
Most Important Question
Under this section of the report, the task force got to the most important question at stake--but offered no answer. "Many people have asked for a simple answer to the question: Does the Bible say that sexual activity between two people of the same sex is always a sin? This question is near the heart of the division of opinion in our church because Christians who are faithful to God's Word give different answers. Among other responses that could be mentioned, some say the teaching of the Bible is clear and condemns such activities as sinful, while some say that the verses in the Bible usually cited do not apply to a love relationship between two consenting adults in a committed relationship. In this matter the ELCA needs to continue in prayerful study of Scripture with one another."
The equivocation in this statement is the inevitable result of a perspective that puts those who accept the Bible's clear teaching as authoritative on the same par with those who openly revise the text and suggest that the Bible actually says nothing about homosexuality between consenting adults in committed relationships.
But if that statement represented a quantum effort at equivocation, the task force's third recommendation raises such efforts to the level of art.
After acknowledging that Christians, "in good conscience," hold different interpretations of Scripture with regard to homosexuality, the task force said it had considered several different ways of dealing with a divided church. Some argued that the current ban on homosexual clergy should simply be affirmed, while others wanted to remove any reference to homosexuality from the church's policies and expectations. Still others recommended that the ELCA should "create a space" for different churches in different regions to adopt whatever policy they may choose, "without fear of discipline or rejection."
No Policy at All
In the end, the task force took that third option, and devised a policy that is no policy at all. The report recommends that the ELCA should "continue under the standards regarding sexual conduct for rostered leaders" as previously set forth in its governing documents, but that, "as a pastoral response to the deep divisions among us, this church may choose to refrain from disciplining those who in good conscience, and for the sake of outreach, ministry, and the commitment to continuing dialogue, call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates whom they believe to be otherwise in compliance with [the church's expectations] and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved and called."
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