The group established two different positions on this issue of homosexuality--one seeing homosexuality "as sin and brokenness" and the other starting with the assumption that homosexuality is a "condition, not choice." In response to the first position, the Church Council called for compromise on the issue of homosexuality, even as it explicitly acknowledged that the understanding that Scripture consistently condemns homosexuality "has been held virtually unanimously by the Christian community throughout 2,000 years of history and continues to be the view held by most Christian church bodies around the world today."

In arguing for the compromise, the Church Council pointed to the denomination's earlier decision to ordain divorced and remarried pastors, recognizing that this is "a condition specifically condemned in Scripture by Jesus." Citing the change in policy for divorced and remarried pastors as precedent is tantamount to arguing that, since the church found a way around that biblical prohibition years ago, it should follow a similar path of compromising biblical teaching in dealing with homosexuality.

To those who hold the second position, believing the church should remove all strictures on homosexual persons, the group commended its compromise because it would create "an avenue by which gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships may be called into the ministry of this church." Furthermore, "just as it took the Church and the world many years to understand other critical issues, such as the re-marriage of divorced people, this process provides the opportunity for continued discernment of where the Holy Spirit is leading this church."

Missouri Synod Responds

Interestingly, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS], a far more conservative Lutheran body, responded to the ELCA Task Force's recommendations as representatives from the two bodies met for the "Committee on Lutheran Cooperation" in St. Louis on March 29-30. The LCMS, committed to biblical inerrancy, responded to the ELCA with "a word of Christian concern about the recommendations of this report and the rationale for those recommendations." The report from the LCMS pointed directly to the authority of Scripture as the fundamental issue: "As the LCMS has wrestled with the sensitive issue of homosexuality, it has had to return time and again to the more fundamental question of how we go about addressing these questions in the first place: namely, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures as God's inspired and inerrant Word. There is widespread agreement among Biblical scholars of varying theological persuasions and positions that the Bible itself clearly identifies homosexual behavior as sinful." The LCMS statement went on to emphasize "the foundational issue of the authority of Scripture," arguing that the church must "say without qualification that the Holy Scriptures are, in their entirety, the inspired and inerrant Word of God."

The LCMS is entirely correct, identifying biblical authority as the "foundational and presuppositional issue" at stake in this controversy. The ELCA Church Council's recommendations are premised on the claim that the Bible can be respected and obeyed even by those who explicitly and self-consciously reject its teachings. The report's recommendation that "exceptions" be allowed in the ordination of active homosexuals to the ministry means that those opposed to the normalization of homosexuality in the ELCA will simply lose the argument. The exceptions will soon become the rule, and the acknowledgement and acceptance of practicing homosexuals in the ministry, even in what are recognized as exceptional cases, will inevitably lead to the full acceptance of homosexual ministers in the denomination.