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Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)

2009 CWA: Reactions to the social statement approval by various groups:

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) held its week-long biennial Churchwide Assembly (CWA) in Minneapolis, MN from 2009-AUG-17 to 23.

The social statement was passed on AUG-19 with the smallest possible margin. The vote was 676 in favor (66.67%) and 338 opposed. A two thirds majority was required for passage. If only one delegate had who voted in favor of the statement had changed their mind, it would have been defeated. 1

In the following reactions, you will note various ELCA members interpret the Bible's six "clobber passages" -- those that  may refer to same-sex behavior -- in very different ways. What is a clear meaning of scripture is a false interpretation by others. Yet members from both sides are firmly convinced that their interpretation is the only valid one.

Reactions by Lutheran CORE:

Lutheran CORE is a conservative reform coalition: "working together for positive reform in the ELCA." They were very distressed by the passage of the social statement.

The Rev. Paull Spring of State College, PA, who is their chairperson, and a retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod stated:

"We mourn the decision by the Churchwide Assembly to reject the clear teaching of the Bible that God's intention for marriage is the relationship of one man and one woman. It is tragic that such a large number of ELCA members were willing to overturn the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been believed and confessed by Christians for nearly 2,000 years."

"We are disappointed that this social statement has caused such a deep division in the church. For this social statement to pass by only one vote shows how deeply divided the ELCA is and will continue to be."

"We are grateful for the many faithful Lutherans who have stood with us in confessing the teaching of Scripture on marriage and on homosexual behavior. We call on all those in the ELCA who want to continue to uphold the authority of Scripture in the church to work together even more closely in the days and years ahead."

"It is tragic that ELCA leaders thought it possible to bring this proposal to a vote. The church should not be voting on whether or not to follow the teaching of the Bible." 2

Many Christians feel uncomfortable with the idea of deciding an issue by a simple majority vote. In another case, the Jesus Seminar was widely criticized for using a simple vote to decide whether quotations attributed to Jesus in the Bible were actually, probably, probably not, or not said by him. However, the tradition of voting has a long history in Christianity. For example, the precise natures of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were decided by majority vote in early church councils, sometimes with very narrow margins.

When sincere, dedicated parishioners:
bullet Receive opposite assessments of the will of God during prayer,
bullet Interpret the six "clobber passages" -- those that which may discuss same-sex behavior -- very differently.
bullet Find a conflict between church tradition and scientific findings, as well as between church tradition and personal experience,

there really does not seem to be any other alternative to voting when an issue needs to be decided.

Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C., a member of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee, said:

"Even more distressing than the passage of the social statement is the fact that the assembly majority would not even listen to debate on many of the proposed amendments to the social statement that would have affirmed biblical teaching and the historic teaching of the Christian Church."

The Rev. Erma Wolf of Brandon, S.D., vice chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee said:

"This is a sad day for Lutherans in the United States. I am disappointed that so many voting members were willing to overturn the Bible's teaching. The ELCA is a very divided church. This decision divides us even more. It is going to be very hard for faithful Lutherans to support the ELCA when the ELCA is willing to reject the clear teaching of Scripture." 2

Lutheran CORE will hold a convention in late September in Indianapolis, IN, for reform-minded conservative Lutherans to discuss the implications of the CWA resolutions, and consider the future for themselves and their congregations.

Reactions by WordAlone Network:

WordAlone Network is another conservative reform group that is part of the Lutheran CORE. Their president, Jaynan Clark of Spokane, WA, said:

"It is appropriate that we call this a 'social' statement for we have just swapped society's statements and trends for God's Word and teaching." 2

Reactions by Lutherans Concerned/North America (LCNA)

LCNA is a LGBT-positive group within the ELCA. Executive Director Emily Eastwood, spoke for Goodsoil, a collaboration of LGBT-positive organizations, expressed strong support for the statement, at least as a first step. She said:

"This is a day of progress and compromise. By a 2/3 majority the church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion."

The document recognizes the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal. The social statement is tolerant of our differences both in scriptural interpretation and practice. The social statement supports our unity without requiring uniformity. There is still much work to do, but the door to full inclusion of LGBT members and their families is now most definitely open."

"The social statement now forms the basis for policy and advocacy on issues related to families and sexuality both for ministry and advocacy in church and society. ..."

"The Social Statement now serves as a teaching document that describes the world and society that the ELCA lives and works in to provide ministry and spread the Gospel. The Social Statement provides the basis and guidance for the formulation of policy and the creation of programs." 3

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "ELCA Assembly Adopts 'Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust'," ELCA News Service, 2009-AUG-19, at:
  2. David Virtue, "MINNEAPOLIS: ELCA Leaders follow Episcopal Church on Homosexual Marriage," VirtueOnline, 2009-AUG-19, at:
  3. "Press Release from Goodsoil regarding the human sexuality social statement," ELCA CWA blogspot. 2009-AUG-20, at:

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Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-SEP-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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