Similarly, the theologian insisted that the term "pastor" is always associated with "the standard of sound teaching" in Scripture. The teaching of every pastor must be tested by Scripture, and "pastoral concern" must be based upon the faithful application of scriptural teaching.

Finally, "For the reasons given we urge that all three recommendations of the Task Force be rejected since, if adopted, they would alter fundamentally the ecclesiology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and that, in turn, would threaten not only the unity and stability of this church but, as a consequence, its ability to proclaim the truth of the Gospel."

Liberal Call

On April 6, a group of more liberal theologians responded with a call for the task force's recommendations to be adopted. According to this statement, the theologians "represent a variety of perspectives and methodologies in our approaches to the questions of sexuality, ethics, theology, and ecclesiology." These theologians acknowledged that some "would have wished for greater welcome of gays and lesbians while others are more cautious." In the end, this more liberal group urged the denomination to adopt the task force report as "a much-needed and faithful compromise in the life of our church."

Within days, 85 theologians had signed the liberal statement, arguing that disagreements over sexuality "do not threaten the unity of the gospel." These theologians urged their denomination to accept the compromise proposed by the task force in order to allow the church further time to consider the question of homosexuality. Of course, this would mean the ordination and acceptance of some active homosexuals as ministers of the church, meaning that, in all reality, the denomination had made a decision to accept homosexual ministers, while lacking the courage to do so in a straightforward manner.

The ELCA Church Council, meeting April 9-11, chose to propose a very different form of compromise to the denomination. The group forwarded a report recommending "a limited process for exceptions to the normative policies of this church regarding the rostering of gay and lesbian people in committed, same-sex relationships." The group claimed that its proposal "holds the promise of enabling this church to continue to journey together faithfully for the sake of the mission of this church."

Allowing Exceptions

In substance, the recommendation calls upon the church to allow "exceptions" to its policy against the ordination of practicing homosexuals. In its description of the process, the Church Council stated that persons considered for such an exemption must meet all other policies of the church, "except for being in a committed, same-sex relationship." The recommended policy would call for "a reasonable assumption or confirmation that a congregation or other ministry will extend or continue a call to the person being continued for an exception," and would require the local bishop, if in support of such an exception, to seek endorsement by the "Synod Council." That group, if responding positively to the exception, would then make a request to the denomination's Conference of Bishops. The minister granted such an exception is also protected from any future discipline "by a subsequent bishop and/or council making a decision on the same set of facts."

The Church Council's reasoning, set forth in its report, makes for fascinating reading. At the onset, the group attempts to claim that both sides in the controversy share "a commitment to the authority of Scripture." In other words, the group asserts that those who would subvert or reject the clear teachings of Scripture are nevertheless to be understood as being committed to the authority of the Bible. In the typical language of denominational bureaucracy, the group also urged the church "to concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements, recognizing the God-given mission and communion that we share as members of the body of Christ."