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Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)

Events about the social statements prior to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly

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A Social Statement on human sexuality was:

bulletReleased in 2009-FEB by the Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality .
bulletReviewed by the church membership during synod meetings across the U.S.
bulletRe-issued with a minor change by the Church Council as "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," who accompanied it with a "Recommendations on Ministry Policies" document. The latter discussed "finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders in this church."
bulletSubmitted it for passage to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

2009-FEB-19: Statement on human sexuality released:

The Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality had released its "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" on 2008-MAR-13. During 2008, over 100 public meetings were held by synods across the U.S. to discuss the document and suggest changes. About 2,000 written submissions were sent by the public.

On 2009-FEB-19, the Task Force issued its revised "Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality and accompanying Rostering Recommendations," which includes changes recommended by the synod reviews. 1

At a six-day meeting starting on 2009-MAR-05, statement was reviewed by the Conference of Bishops. 5

It seems that everyone involved was unhappy with the document, but for different reasons:

bullet"Lutherans Concerned/North America" (LC/NA) is a group promoting full equality for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons in the ELCA. Emily Eastwood, their executive director, said:

"The Proposed Social Statement extols the place of family, right relationships, love, Christian values, sexuality, mutuality, commitment, the benefits to society and the church of committed relationships, and the diversity of successful families within church and society. The Proposed Social Statement clearly places same-gender committed relationships among those. With all of that Lutherans Concerned is in agreement."

"This Social Statement is a vast improvement over its previous draft. We are also gratified that the Social Statement continues to acknowledge, 'with regret,' that the church's teachings have on occasion been used to harm people, deepening their suffering and tearing families apart. Mindful of the divisions within the church the document creates room for the recognition of same-gender relationships. It calls for comprehensive sex education in church and in schools."

"But that is not enough. Singularly, the Proposed Social Statement, having extolled the unique benefits to couples, church and society of committed relationships, fails to proffer a means of public recognition of same-gender relationships: no rite of blessing or marriage. Unacceptable, but correctable inconsistency. ..." 2

bullet"Lutheran CORE" (Coalition for Reform) is a conservative "... group of individuals, congregations and reform groups, working for biblical and confessional integrity in the ELCA" and the retention of special rights and privileges for heterosexuals within the denomination. Their blog entry for 2009-JAN-08 stated:

"It is an outrage that a vote on the ordination of active homosexuals might be determined by a simple majority of the voting members at a Churchwide Assembly. This is an issue that has troubled our church for many years. It is a scandal that a simple majority of voting members might overturn Biblical teaching and centuries of Christian ethics on marriage and sexuality. A majority vote on such an important matter is hardly the way to achieve consensus and harmony within the church." 4

If adopted, the proposed statement would allow ministers in same-sex relationships to serve in ministry. However, as originally written, it seemed to allow congregations, candidacy committees, synods and bishops power to veto candidates for ordination and ordained ministers for service -- if their conscience requires them to continue the discrimination against LGBT individuals. 2

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2009-MAR-27-30: ELCA Church Council considers statements:

The Proposed Social Statement and Rostering Recommendations were reviewed at a by the Conference of Bishops and Church in Society board, who passed their recommendations to the ELCA Church Council. There appear to be no LGBT individuals on the council to present their side of the debate.

The Council reviewed and decided to uphold its earlier decision to recommend to the Churchwide Assembly (CWA) that a simple majority be used where possible, rather than a two-thirds majority.

The Council then produced two documents:
bulletA social statement, titled: "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." This is unchanged from the social statement written by the Task Force with one exception: Implementation resolution #7 was amendment to call on the Board of Pensions to make its eligibility criteria consistent with the new rostering policy of the church. The statement was passed on to the CWA with a recommendation for passage. As required by the ELCA constitution, the Social Statement will require a 2/3 majority to pass. The Implementing Resolutions will require a simple majority to pass, but only if the social statement passes first.
bulletRostering recommendations, titled: "Recommendations on Ministry Policies." This document is considered to be separate from the Social Statement. The Council edited it for clarity. Emily Eastwood explained:

"... edits by the council helped clarify that what had appeared in the Task Force documents was not intended as a form of synodical option."

" 'Structured flexibility' in processes will now allow for 'bound conscience' on both sides of the issues. Meaning that 'finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders in this church' will be the guiding principle for the church in local matters of 'bound conscience.'

Congregations and other calling bodies wishing to call a rostered minister in a same-gender relationship will be allowed to do so.
Congregations and other calling bodies opposed to such calls will not be required to act contrary to their 'bound conscience.' This is what we have always wanted, to let the call be the test." 3

The revised document was passed to the CWA with a recommendation for passage. It requires only a simple majority vote to pass. If adopted by the CWA, it would appear to codify a local option process into the selection of candidates for ordination.

A number of synod assemblies held during April-June produce comments and advice to the CWA.

References used:

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

  1. "Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality and accompanying Rostering Recommendations," ECLA, 2009, at: http://www.elca.org/
  2. "Lutherans Concerned Agrees and Profoundly Disagrees with ELCA Sexuality Statements," Good Soil, at: http://www.goodsoil.org/
  3. "March 27 - 30 Church Council Meeting, Good Soil, 2009-MAR-26, at: http://www.goodsoil.org/
  4. Paull E. Spring, "Lutheran Core News - January 2009," Lutheran CORE, at: http://commonconfession.blogspot.com/
  5. "A Timeline of Important Events Leading Up to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis," Good Soil, at: http://www.goodsoil.org/

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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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