October 1, 2014

How the ELCA Dealt with the Issue of Homosexuality

Let me begin on a personal note.

The 2009 ELCA decision to approve their social statement on human sexuality, with its provisions for homosexuality, have never been on my radar in terms of why I choose to affiliate with the ELCA. I explained in this morning’s post that these things have never been “hot-button” issues for me. I came to believe that I am a Christian called to practice my faith and exercise my ministry in the Lutheran tradition, and this particular denomination works best for me. Period.

The ELCA also handled this matter in somewhat different fashion than other mainline denominations such as the Episcopal Church and the PCUSA. The ELCA decision is grounded in an understanding that at this moment in history members of the denomination do not agree about these matters. How then, are we to proceed?

Typically, in the evangelical world I come from, someone usually steps forward and says, “It’s my way or the highway because the Bible says ____________.” A split or splintering takes place and the denomination takes its particular stand while the dissenters form groups around their particular positions.

That’s not exactly what happened in the ELCA. Recognizing the deep divisions that exist between brothers and sisters in the same faith community about these issues, the denomination sought to produce decisions that would intentionally include people from conflicting sides within a broader context of Christian truth, morality, and love.

Trying to foster both truth and unity is a tricky undertaking, and there have been significant numbers of Lutherans who decided their position was being threatened, who have left and formed other groups. But that did not happen because one point of view “took over” the denomination.

Today, I simply want to set forth some of the ways the ELCA decided to approach these issues so that we can discuss one Christian group’s efforts to maintain unity in the midst of profound disagreement. After the break, I will highlight some of the provisions in the ELCA statement.

In terms of homosexual practice, please note that the ELCA limited their focus to same-gender couples in committed, life-long, monagamous relationships.

First, the ELCA affirms the special gift of marriage between a man and a woman.

Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God. The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.)

Lutherans long have affirmed that the public accountability of marriage, as expressed through a legal contract, provides the necessary social support and social trust for relationships that are intended to be sustained throughout life and within changing and often challenging life situations. In this country, pastors carry both legal and religious responsibilities for marriage. In carrying out these responsibilities, pastors hold and exercise pastoral discretion for the decision to marry in the church. In the community of the church they preside over the mutual promises made between a couple seeking the lifelong, monogamous, and faithful relationship of marriage.

The ELCA recognizes the brokenness caused by divorce and vowed to help families avoid that, but when it occurs, will be there to receive and minister to those affected by this brokenness:

This church recognizes that in some situations the trust upon which marriage is built becomes so deeply damaged or is so deeply flawed that the marriage itself must come to a legal end (Matthew 19:3–12). This church does not treat divorce lightly nor does it disregard the responsibilities of marriage. However, in such situations, it provides support to the people involved and all who are affected. Divorced individuals are encouraged to avail themselves of pastoral care, to be assured of God’s presence, forgiveness, and healing, and to remain in the communion of the church, recogniz- ing the all-encompassing mercy of God.

This church will provide supportive pastoral care to those who are divorced. Further, it believes that those who wish to remarry may gain wisdom from the past and may be assured of the Gospel’s freedom, in the midst of brokenness and forgiveness, to enter into their new responsibilities in joy and hope. This church will tend pastorally to the special concerns of blended families, to children of divorced parents, and to the particular tensions that may accompany family breakdown and transition.

The ELCA acknowledges that some today in the Lutheran family and the broader Christian community think that the protections offered by institutions such as marriage or legal contracts such as civil unions should also be granted to same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships. The ELCA also frankly acknowledges that this conclusion differs from historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions:

Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships. They believe that such accountable relationships also provide the necessary foundation that supports trust and familial and community thriving. Other contractual agreements, such as civil unions, also seek to provide some of these protections and to hold those involved in such relationships accountable to one another and to society.

The ELCA acknowledges that the issue of how to deal pastorally within the Christian community with same-gender couples in lifelong, monogamous relationships has been a growing concern in recent decades. They also state the fact that little agreement has come about in how to regard such relationships and how to help such couples. But they express the commitment to try and seek responsible policies and actions, knowing well that there will be disagreement.

This church also acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation. We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships and uplift, shelter, and protect them or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.

In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern God’s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,”will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.

The ELCA recognizes four different approaches people take to the matter of acting responsibly toward people in same-gender committed relationships:

This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:

  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompa- nied by pastoral response and community support.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such relationships as traditional marriage.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however, affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care and may wish to surround lifelong, monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children, and other dependents and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.

The ELCA affirms its opposition to promiscuous sexual behaviors:

For this reason, this church teaches that degrees of physical intimacy should be carefully matched to degrees of growing affection and commitment. This also suggests a way to understand why this church teaches that the greatest sexual intimacies, such as coitus, should be matched with and sheltered both by the highest level of binding commitment and by social and legal protection, such as is found in marriage. Here, promises of fidelity and public accountability provide the foundational basis and support for trust, intimacy, and safety, especially for the most vulnerable.

This is why this church opposes non-monogamous, promiscuous, or casual sexual relationships of any kind. Indulging immediate desires for satisfaction, sexual or otherwise, is to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16–19). Such transient encounters do not allow for trust in the relationship to create the context for trust in sexual intimacy.

The ELCA affirms its opposition to transient sexual relationships and cohabitation:

Because this church urges couples to seek the highest social and legal support for their relationships, it does not favor cohabitation arrangements outside of marriage. It has a special concern when such arrangements are entered into as an end in themselves. It does, however, acknowledge the social forces at work that encourage such practices. This church also recognizes the pastoral and familial issues that accompany these contemporary social patterns.

In cases where a decision is made for cohabitation, regardless of the reasons, this church expects its pastors and members to be clear with the couple regarding the reasons for the position of this church and to support the couple in recognizing their obligation to be open and candid with each other about their plans, expectations, and levels of mutual commitment.

In conclusion, the ELCA summarizes the purpose of this statement and its intended use in the churches:

Because of the love of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are a people set free for lives of responsibility committed to seeking the good of all. This statement responds to this church’s call for a foundational framework48 that will help it discern what it means to follow faithfully God’s law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality. It does not offer once-and-for-all answers to contemporary questions. Rather, it seeks to tap the deep roots of Scripture and the Lutheran theological tradition for specific Christian convictions, themes, and wisdom that will assist people of faith to discern what is responsible and faithful action in the midst of the complexity of daily life.

It proposes guideposts to direct this church’s discernment as it tries to be faithful. It provides markers by which individual and communal decisions can be tested under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It seeks to describe the social realities of this age and to address them pastorally. Insofar as it is possible, it also seeks to speak in ways that can address both religious and secular discussions of these matters.

There it is. Feel free to comment, and remember I am not an expert on this statement. You can read the whole thing HERE. I’m sure you can find a lot of discussion about it on various sites around the web.  The following page from my own Synod has listed several resources reflecting on this statement HERE.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

    Here’s another viewpoint on the matter from Robert Benne who was a voting member of the Virginia Synod at the 2009 Church Wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He is now Director of the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society.

    His piece is titled, “How did we come to this?” :

    http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=11108

    Thanks.

    • Thanks Steve for presenting a dissenting view. If you would like to see how one of the ELCA bishops answered Benne, go to my Synod page linked above and you will find an article there.

      • Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

        I have read it.

        What I have noticed of over 10 years of dissention with the ELCA on matters of the ordination of openly gay clergy, and also the matter of the hisoric episcopacy and communion with the Episcopal Church, is that the ELCA doesn’t take dissention very well.

        They have the attitude that ‘we just know better than you do’. And that’s about it. And if you don’t like it, they’d be happy for you to leave, for you’re hindering the progress of the trian.

        They use power and politics and rule changes to pretty much rig the game.

        That comes from 1st hand experience.

  2. Martin Luther says:

    The heinous conduct of the people of Sodom ” as “extraordinary, inasmuch as they departed from the natural passion and longing of the male for the female, which is implanted into nature by God, and desired what is altogether contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversity? Undoubtedly from Satan, who after people have once turned away from the fear of God, so powerfully suppresses nature that he blots out the natural desire and stirs up a desire that is contrary to nature. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 3, 255)

    I for my part do not enjoy dealing with this passage, because so far the ears of the Germans are innocent of and uncontaminated by this monstrous depravity; for even though disgrace, like other sins, has crept in through an ungodly soldier and a lewd merchant, still the rest of the people are unaware of what is being done in secret. The Carthusian monks deserve to be hated because they were the first to bring this terrible pollution into Germany from the monasteries of Italy. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 3, 251-252)

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      So, who’s going to run outside, shake their fist at the sky, and scream, “Ea in crucem, Carthusian monks! Ea in crucem!” I know I will.

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      There are Carthusian monks in the ELCA?

      • Only Carthusian internet monks.

      • Mike, according to that the ELCA is trying to preserve a “big tent” denomination, something like what I understand the Anglicans have tried to do ,that is until the Episcopal Church USA forced the issue by installing bishops that were meant to be deliberately provocative (my understanding, and not trying to pick a fight here). Perhaps the ECUSA could have handled it as the ELCA has done, to prevent schism.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Luther also had some nasty words for the Jews. I don’t believe most Lutherans believe he is infallible.

  3. Jack Heron says:

    “The ELCA decision is grounded in an understanding that at this moment in history members of the denomination do not agree about these matters.”

    And this is highly admirable of the ELCA, I think. If we’re going to be in disagreement (and let’s face it, we are), better that it’s a disagreement where we’re all still talking to each other. There’s nothing more stifling to thought, understanding and empathy than not encountering people you disagree with.

  4. I have nothing but respect for leaders who strive to keep church organizations intact and unified in a highly politicized and polarized climate. I found this report enlightening and encouraging on some levels. However, it does seem to betray a fundamental aspect of liberal theology which has somewhat determined the direction of the mainlines generally. While “conscience bound belief” must be taken seriously at all times, and should never be indiscriminately trampled on, it seems a little like the denomination is not overly concerned with establishing the objective truth of the matter, but rather on finding common ground and a truth that everyone will be able to agree on. I find their use of scripture to be commendable and their interpretation sound at many points, but ultimately, it seems the decision is based on reconciling what people already believe, rather than endeavoring to submit said belief to the revealed will of God. I’m not saying that they’re ignoring the Bible; I see theological principles and frameworks all through out this post guiding the reflection and spirit of the dialogue. But ultimately, it doesn’t seem about determining decisively what God’s word has to say about the subject. Rather, it seems to be addressing the reality that many people have different interpretations of the Bible, and how can we hold to different views while still remaining one body?

    I believe differences in scriptural interpretation do not always warrant a new church body being formed, especially on the more peripheral issues. Think about this: If all the more conservative, evangelical groups had NEVER split off the mainlines, how robust and full of life, dialogue, and mission could their combined forces be? It’s sad to think of what we lost by fracturing. However, with an issue like this, it does appear to me that it is not an issue of interpretation, but rather of authority (and I know those with a different interpretation will definitely disagree). And here’s why: The mainlines are generally the spiritual home for those who don’t believe the Bible is true. There are many who, when confronted with a passage in the epistles that they don’t like, deal with it by saying, “Well, that’s just Paul’s opinion.” This, imo, is a non-negotiable ethos for those who believe the Bible is true. I’m not saying all on the liberal end of the spectrum approach scripture like this (I’ve known too many genuine believers who were liberal to go that route). But after some reflection, I believe the reason why conservatives react so strongly and volatility to this issue is because when something that they see so clearly spelled out in scripture is being denied as simply bad interpretation, this is what it looks like to them:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VeVwpqDxKQ&feature=endscreen&NR=1

    • Jack Heron says:

      “While “conscience bound belief” must be taken seriously at all times, and should never be indiscriminately trampled on, it seems a little like the denomination is not overly concerned with establishing the objective truth of the matter, but rather on finding common ground and a truth that everyone will be able to agree on.”

      I see your point – and I agree that this does happen – but why not the other way round? If we’re all screaming at each other or off sulking in our own little churches, what hope do we have of establishing the objective truth of the matter? *Not* engaging in debate is what leads to closed minds, and not allowing diversity of opinion is what stops debate. The wiser of these churches aren’t holding on to diversity of opinion for the sake of it (the more foolish ones perhaps might be), but in the hope of getting something out of it – and getting something out of it together.

      I think a lot depends on our ecclesiology. What is Church for? If it is for worshiping together, receiving sacraments etc, to what extent is a shared opinion even necessary? (barring some clear essentials like, you know, believing in God) Or to phrase the question another way, if we demand shared opinions in secondary issues for ecclesiastic union, what does that say about our approach to faith at the core? Faith is more than doctrinal opinions, we all agree (I hope!). But do we act like we agree?

      • Well, I might point out that objective truth is not dependent upon us to establish it. Granted, the very nature of “objective truth” is that it is an ideal, rather than an attained reality. We all will always have more to learn and a sharper perspective to gain. I believe it is truly important to be engaged in honest, open exchange with those who differ from us. And faith must certainly be more than subscription to a set of dogma, which to some means checking your brain at the door. But at some point, in order to have an identity, a group must congeal around some sort of core. Being a Christian has to mean something that is distinct from being a Buddhist, and the majority of historic Christianity (Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Orthodox) would, I imagine, include believing in the truthfulness of scripture as part of it. When liberals take a more loose approach to dealing with the text, it can easily seem, to the rest, to violate that core, whether or not it in fact actually does. Sometimes telling the difference can be excruciating, and sometimes the easy way out it to just codify a certain theology to set the boundaries of belief. Can’t blame a thinker for trying.

        • Historically speaking the basis of Christianity was that you were required to be one by law, and their’s roughly 1500+ years of consistent witness for that. Believing that specific interpretations of it are true, is important to being a Christian, or even a particular type of Christian is a modern idea.

          • Arius and athanasius are confused by this.

          • Arius wasn’t a christian? Someone should tell Wikipedia, and the first Council of Nicea.

          • Well the Orthodox would contest your statement by about 500 years. Nonetheless, it’s not simply about interpretation, but belief itself. The idea that Christians DO believe what scripture says is hardly a recent notion. And I believe the correct interpretation was specific enough at the Council of Nicea, I doubt anyone there was questioning the literal historicity of the resurrection. And requiring Christianity by law didn’t start until the fourth century. Good luck explaining its expansion prior to that while the Roman empire tried to suppress it. I’ll give you this, though: “Particular types” of Christians is a more recent idea, as denominations weren’t truly introduced until the Reformation. It’s only natural that there should be a distinction between them.

    • Perhaps we should check our presuppositions in thinking our view of scripture is more necessarily objective than those of others. Everyone’s view of scripture is heavily influenced by the events and experiences they go through. You say that the conservatives seem to handle the “Bible is true” in a more objective fashion, but I question if they really do.

      Similarly, the Pharisees knew the Bible and applied it in the most literal sense, no? Sabbath can never be broken and cleanliness had to be always followed. These men were blind to the momentous changes around them, and instead of embracing and being part of the glorious coming of Christ, they rejected it and stuck ever more closely to their parochial understanding of the Bible. I wonder sometimes whether or not many conservative Christians do the same with their Bible.

      What drove Paul to proclaim Christ and interpret the Bible as proclaiming Christ wasn’t because he had some “objective” understanding of the Bible, but instead because he witnessed the glory of the risen Christ. Sometimes, a so called “objective” reading of the Bible can stifle real dialogue and acceptance of the truth.

      • Absolutely. Of course my view seems like the right one to me. And to a certain extent, many running around harping on biblical authority are actually promoting a justification of their own opinions using proof-texts. No one is denying that us more conservative folks can miss the forrest for the trees sometimes. But please don’t compare the normalization of homosexuality with the coming of Christ. I know that’s not what you meant, but your example is on an entirely different playing field. Similarly, Paul’s theology wasn’t the result of an existential epiphany, but rather of careful study and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Objective” isn’t necessarily the same as “literal.” Stifling dialogue is never healthy, but as some point language must have meaning. People can and do use the Bible to justify just about anything they want, key word being want, as in, our desires cloud our perspective to the point of distortion. This happens to everyone. However, the consistent testimony of 2000 years of interpretation isn’t abandoned so lightly just because somebody else had an existential epiphany. I’m not giving a blanket voucher for everything the right-wing makes a stink over, but at some point we have to draw a line and say what seems not only clear, but obvious. To not do so would violate our own “conscience bound belief.” Sometimes dismissing objectivity as impossible creates a scenario where truth cannot actually exist, at which point no amount of dialogue can possibly bear any fruit.

        • What do you mean by “existential experience” in regards to Paul, Miguel?
          And why do the two (experience and study) need be mutually exclusive? When it comes down to it, is not how the Apostles and Church Fathers based upon a certain type of experience with the Risen Christ?

          • Good questions. The “existential experience” in regards to Paul is the Damascus road event which blinded him. While it certainly changed his mind, it didn’t form his theology. He was well studied in the Jewish scripture, and after a paradigm shift he was able to reevaluate his prior knowledge in the light of new information. His theology wasn’t “this happened to me, and thus I know it is real,” which would be merely a “burning in the bosoom,” but rather that Christ was the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures. Experience and study aren’t completely exclusive (because studying is obviously an experience), but they are absolutely distinct: One is scripture, the other is not. One forms theology from what God has said, the other from subjective whim. The Apostles didn’t base their faith on a subjective experience of Jesus, but rather on the objective fact that he did rise from the dead, to which they were witnesses, which validated all his claims to be the fulfillment of prophecy and savior of the world, and instigated a complete paradigm shift in how they approached the Old Testament.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    “The mainlines are generally the spiritual home for those who don’t believe the Bible is true.”

    That’s generalization (“generally”) at best. I doubt that it is even half true. Many mainline people are as conservative as anyone else. And then, even after that, a lot depends on definition and interpretation. Many have an broader understanding of biblical truth than fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    • David Cornwell says:

      This was in response to Miguel’s comment above.

    • Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t mean to paint the mainlines as all like that. I know many ELCA churches are more conservative than most LCMS. (In fact, the surveys show that there is only a 10% political difference amongst our laity.) I’m just saying that somebody who views scripture that way isn’t going to settle their roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. No, they go to the Episcopal Church or the United Church of Christ, where their divergent perspective is accepted as “part of the conversation.” You don’t seriously mean to say that these people don’t exist… Remember the Jesus seminar?

      • David Cornwell says:

        Miguel, thanks for clarifying your statement. I appreciate it. Yes I remember the Jesus Seminar (they are still around and giving lectures in various cities). I personally know people who waste their time listening to that stuff. And I have a close relative who attends a Unitarian Universalist congregation in which political lectures are the Sunday morning fare. I do have serious concerns because I don’t think they will hear anything about the Christ who saves.

  6. I feel that the ECLA is touching upon something very interesting here. If homosexual relationship are done so in a committed monogamous manner where both people are totally faithful and respectful of each other, is there anything necessarily wrong with it? The only difference then between gay marriage and heterosexual marriage would be the inability to reproduce.

    Is there anything wrong with two mature adult individuals, regardless of their gender, sex, or orientation, engaging in a lasting, committed, and monogamous relationship, in which they respect and remain faithful to each other?

    • Huol – good question, which begs an underlying question:
      How do we first determine that the faithfulness, respect, monogamy, etc. are the only core issues as to whether a particular sexual activity is either sinful or holy?
      Why is “lasting and committed” an important criteria?
      Why is “monogamy” a defining characteristic?
      If the answer is, “because we can all agree that those characteristics sound like good common ground”, then I’d say we have a defined sin or holiness by majority consensus, not by divine revelation.

      In fact, when a conservative evangelical hears “faithfulness, respect, monogamy”, all kinds of red flags are raised: not because those are bad qualities, but because it feels like we’re leaving something critical out of hte definition. At that point, the stakes go way beyond sexual orientation, to the bigger questions of absolute truth.

      Take the homosexuality out of consideration for a moment:
      What if the mother & son incest in 1 Cor. 5:1 was actually part of a lasting, commited, monogamous relationship (assume the father is out of the picture) – – could Paul accept it and celebrate it? Could we? If not, why not?… upon what do we base our moral decision?

  7. I belong to an ELCA church where a same-sex marriage was recently performed. There are some members of the congregation who deeply deplore this, while many others (including myself) have been highly supportive. I think ELCA’s position recognizes that this is a matter that cannot be effectively debated on a theological basis. There are too many well-reasoned arguments in all directions to hold that the Bible is an unequivocal authority on this issue. I think ELCA’s position basically recognizes that much of theology is a social construct, and that people’s deeply-held beliefs are very much a product of the social environment in which they feel comfortable. In terms of homosexuality, here in the US we seem to be at a significant turning point, and I really feel that 20 years down the line, this debate will seem as outmoded as that relating to interracial unions (which, it must be said, some people are still not crazy about). Until then, chaos will continue to rein, people will continue to feel hurt and alienated, and churches and denominations will continue to suffer splits.

    • So if you can come up with enough “well reasoned arguments” questioning a biblical statement such as in Romans 1, then the biblical statement loses its authority? How convenient for a conniver such as myself.
      Rather, “let God be true and every man a liar.”

      • Addison, my point is that there are well-reasoned arguments interpreting even this one passage differently. And those arguments tend to have a lot to do with the comfort zone of the individual making them.

        • The ELCA’s social statement does not even try to make an argument, well-reasoned or otherwise, about Romans 1.

    • In terms of homosexuality, here in the US we seem to be at a significant turning point, and I really feel that 20 years down the line, this debate will seem as outmoded as that relating to interracial unions (which, it must be said, some people are still not crazy about).

      I agree with that, Stacy.

      • to clarify:

        I agree that the same sex union debate will be outmoded, NOT that I disapprove of interracial unions:)

    • humanslug says:

      I’m not too sure about your 20-year timeline, Stacy. I work at a small town newspaper in the heart of the Bible Belt — and if we were to publish a local same-sex marriage announcement today, we would be out of business in a week. But not before we got swamped by angry church folk calling or coming in to cancel their subscriptions, pull their advertisements, and wanting us to publish their scathing letters to the editor before we shut down the presses for good. We’re still at “don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t even talk about it” around these parts, and we’re certainly not ready for gay marriage ceremonies at our local churches, same-sex dates to the senior prom, or even to see two grown men holding hands in the park.
      I’m not saying all of this is right — I just saying that’s where we are here in backwoods Tennessee.
      And looking at the issue from a broad historical perspective, expecting gay marriage to normalize in our culture’s churches within the next 20 years might be a bit unrealistic. As far as I know, 2004 was the first time in the history of human civilization that a nation or society of any kind legally recognized homosexual marriages as the legal and social equivalent of heterosexual marriages. You can’t really expect something as historically pervasive as the traditional Western/Judeo-Christian concept of marriage to vanish like smoke in a couple of decades.

      • humanslug, I have to agree with you that my 20-year timeline is unrealistic. I live in NYC, and that tends to distort a lot of cultural timelines. I was raised in the small town Midwest and recognize what you’re talking about, including the evolution of my own comfort zone.

  8. The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada had a deep divide over having women serving as Elders. The way the largely settled it was by saying that if a local church wanted to allow the possibility of having women elected as Elders they could do so with a 2/3rds majority vote. The result was that those churches who were strongly in favour of allowing women to serve as elders could vote to make that possible. Those who didn’t want women as elders could keep with the status quo. It didn’t help those congregations where people were split on the issue, but it did serve to keep the denomination united for the greater good.

  9. Ok, this is probably off-topic (sorry Mike), but I’m very disappointed to read that Luther was so opposed to the same monks who invented Chartreuse :(

  10. Chaplain Mike,

    This is certainly a difficult issue. Thank you for addressing it and sharing your agenda so openly. I’m a member of an Evangelical Covenant Church and I’ve linked to the dominations paper on the subject.

    No endorsement, just additional information folks might want to consider.

    http://www.covchurch.org/resources/files/2010/04/ECCHumanSexuality-Final-Report-May-2007.pdf

  11. I am convinced by both Scripture and conscience that homosexual practice is not God’s ideal, and therefore the church should not be condoning it or calling it okay any more than we say that heterosexual practice outside of marriage or adultery or gossip or gluttony or drug abuse or unkindness should be called okay and condoned by the church. The problem comes in how to love the sinner without endorsing the sin. Jesus was indeed compassionate to the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to go and sin no more. I am still praying on a daily basis for wisdom about how to deal in a truly ” Christian” manner. I do know that hate speech or hate actions such as picketing funerals or bullying people is not the way to act. May God give us all His wisdom as we wrestle with this issue.

    • I agree with you, Pam.

      A bit off topic, but what I see happening is a European type split that puts CIVIL marriage in one pot, and relgious marriage in another. Both my late parents and my in-laws (as military types living in Italy and Korea, respectively) have two wedding anniversaries. In both cases, they got married in a gov’t office one day….and then went back to their separate abodes for another night of celibacy! They were married by priests [All Catholic, as DH and I are] a day or two later and then assumed lives as married couples.

      In this model, churches could choose whether or not to perform a religious wedding for ANY couple of any stripe or makeup.

      • Pattie, I think that would be ideal. I think the big fear is the idea of churches being force to conduct same-sex marriages (although how they would be forced to do so is beyond my imagination- last I checked they could not be forced to marry any two people they objected to- has the Catholic church ever been forced to officiate on a remarriage when the first marriage was not annulled but simply had a civil divorce?). Creating an institution of civil marriage would eliminate that (albeit illusionary) threat.

        Objection to extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples after that boils down to simple prejudice and perhaps the fear that gayness is contagious and by acknowledging that homosexuals are actually people, more people might catch it. At least that’s what all the arguments against civil gay marriage that I’ve seen seem to consist of. No religious institution would be required to endorse anything.

  12. Danielle says:

    From a purely personal perspective, the document is encouraging. It’s unfortunate that the current battlelines in the church wars give the impression that one must choose between a traditional/orthodox position on key doctrines, and a “liberal” perspective on sexuality, gender, or social ministry. I embrace both, so I’m on both sides, or maybe on neither. I don’t see how I can abandon one conviction or the other and feel that I am following my conscience.

    Coming from a conservative evangelical background, I find that the battlelines can make difficult to remain a part of the evangelical movement. I am sure there are places where this can be achieved, but I also know that in the name of defending truth people scrutinize each other on even minor issues. So being a dissenter, especially someone who might be pegged as a “liberal” on some points, puts one in a rather difficult spot. There are so many things you just aren’t supposed to think or say according to various sub-communities in the movement. Doing so provokes a crisis in which someone is going to feel duty-bound to make sure you aren’t given too much trust, or to set you right. And mind, the risk here isn’t just that someone gets a little meddlesome or has one too many hobby horses: the trouble is the quickness with which people are willing to say, “Do you really think that a person can be a Christian and do/think X?” One may personally be perfectly willing to break bread across battlelines: but you can’t be sure the reverse is true, or what sort of anxiety is accompanying the question. Now, that’s not necessarily a reason to leave — but it is uncomfortable. In addition, my goal in life is not to run around creating brush fires. If someone has a problem with me being their community, I’m disinclined to wear out my welcome.

    And so I find that it’s a lot easier to take one’s shoes off and relax under a big tent. Is the big tent perfect? Unlikely. Are there risks? Sure. But there’s more space for dialog and respect. (This isn’t always achieved: but there is space for it.) I much prefer to recognize my dialog partners as fellow believers and break bread with them after the discussion is over the day, over the alternative. And it is very good to be able to sometimes put the hot controversies aside, to keep them in their proper secondary place. There are far more important matters, and better spiritual disciplines, than winning arguments on hot-button issues. I personally run the risk of becoming a bit lopsided in the pressure-cooker culture wars.

  13. dumb ox says:

    God gave the church the bible, but He also gave it the keys to the kingdom. I recall what happened at the close of Roman persecution, when the church chose to pardon those who offered incense in worship of Diocletian, or purchased papers stating that they did, while others were martyred in protest. The bible is pretty clear that cowards are excluded from the kingdom, but the church chose to reconcile them.

    I know, I know. You can’t put homosexuality neatly into this context. But I think too often the church has viewed the doctrine of the keys to mean the church can lock out anyone they please, rather than exercising liberty in whom they invite.

  14. As I am currently flirting with Lutheranism I read the ECLA statement(s) with keen interest only to conclude that homosexual practice can be acceptable if it’s in a “committed, lifelong, faithful relationship”, a rationale that can easily legitimize polygamy.

    The Chaplain was honest enough to preempt ECLA’s intent with this comment before quoting it (though it may not necessarily represent his own view):

    In terms of homosexual practice, please note that the ELCA limited their focus to same-gender couples in committed, life-long, monagamous relationships.

    I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of those who drafted the statement in attempting to address a difficult and controversial issue, but the statement almost seems like a case of Hegelian Dialectics in trying to synthesize opposing views and reconcile the irreconcilable to keep everyone happy. As young Miguel so eloquently noted (btw Miguel if you’re reading, I have signed the first petition to make you a guest blogger here ;-) ):

    …it seems the decision is based on reconciling what people already believe, rather than endeavoring to submit said belief to the revealed will of God”

    The self congratulating comment in the conclusive paragraph about seeking “to tap the deep roots of Scripture” is somewhat lost on me. How did it do this exactly? If anything, it seemed like they had an arms length approach with Scripture but produced much carbon footprint informing us what “some are convinced” of instead. This way they manage to keep both barking dogs on either side of the fence happy. In that sense the statement does not present any solid conviction or hold a firm position one way or another but it’s just fiddling around the edges instead. “Our position is not to take a position either way”.

    The very premise of ascribing higher value to monogamous, committed same sex unions as opposed to promiscuous homosexual encounters, is an attempt to homogenize it with heterosexuality. At one point the statement says this:

    …some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today.

    Touché. I would humbly submit that’s because Scripture is only concerned with the moral ramifications of the behavior. It is identified as a moral breach of the divine mandate since creation. Therefore, if homosexuality is morally condemnable, it is condemnable in every type of relationship, committed or otherwise. If homosexual behavior is illegitimate to God, same sex marriage does not legitimize it.

    Those of us down under who are familiar with Anti Money Laundering training, would have heard of the term “layering” whereby the process distances the placed funds from their illegal origins, so money can then be integrated into the financial system with legal money. Illegal money gets “laundered” to appear legal and legitimate on the other end. I can’t help seeing a parallel here between homosexuality (a scripturally illegitimate practice) and using the “committed, lifelong, faithful relationship” argument to morally legitimize it.

    The culmination of these “committed relationships” is then same-sex marriage that tends to become a red herring and detract from the main issue which the inherently immoral nature of the act.

    John From Down Under

    • John, and the inherently immoral nature of the act is the sticking point, at least for me (and a whole buncha other Catholics).

      I cannot believe that the Church can suddenly be so wrong about the nature of human sexual relationships after 2000 years, or the 5000 or so years before THAT when the law was given to our elder brothers in faith.

      We want to be inclusive, tolerant, non-judgemental, affirming…..but we cannot change God’s clear instructions to “keep up with the times”. The Church didn’t cave on divorce, contraception, or abortion in the face of ridicule and slander. Not going to happen on homosexual behavior, either.

      All other Christians are going to have to struggle with this….but there really is no compromise.

      Either sex between any two adults under any circumstances, or it is the realm of real marriage.

      Pick one….

      • Correction:

        “Either sex between any two adults under any circumstances IS PERMISSIBLE…”

    • Thx for the compliments! And right on the money with the “laundering” illustration. Scripture has always been clear, but there is no insult like the truth.

      • Agree with JFDU – – I’m consitently impressed with Miguel’s comments, and vote to make him a guest blogger.

  15. John, you have hit the nail on the head. Red herrings and smokescreens drtract from the real issue which is a moral one. All this written to say that people don’t agree and they don’t know. That should have taken only one or two lines.

  16. Albert I. says:

    I know this is a late post, but, I just saw that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had published a response to the ELCA’s Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. Here’s a link to the paper: http://cyberbrethren.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Response_to_Human_Sexuality-Gift_and_Trust_Adopted_04-27-12_with_Appendix2.pdf

    Hope this helps.

    Albert