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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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An open letter from the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Released March 22, 1996

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify. the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 155-7).

At the most recent Churchwide Assembly, the EvangeliCal Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took several actions that will influence the discussion of human sexuality during the next few years. By a large majority, the assembly's voting members commended participation in the work that had been done thus far, urged ELCA members to `practice and teach biblical and confessional guidance for speaking the truth in love' as they continue to study this controversial topic, and stated that `mutual repentance and forgiveness' were appropriate in instances where the debate 'may have harmed members of the Body of Christ.'

The assembly gave general shape to anongoing process of moral deliberation that was further defined by the ELCA's Church Council in November 1995. This process will involve several initiatives. (1)

While previous actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church remain determinative for our life together, the 1995 assembly was mindful of unresolved issues surrounding homosexuality. Therefore, the voting members of the assembly asked for "words of prayer and pastoral concern and encouragement" for gay and lesbian persons within this church. In keeping with the assembly's request, the Conference cf Bishops and the bishop of this church write this letter, recognizing that as we speak specifcally to gay and lesbian persons and their families, we also are addressing this whole church.

To gay and lesbian members, we write to you in hope and out of faith. We all live with the pain of a church that experiences sharp disagreements on some issues. Yet we walk beside you and we value your gif'ts and commitment to the Church. We also call attention to the action of the 1991 Churchwide Assembly that declared "gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." At the 1993 assembly, that declaration was extended to express `strong opposition to all forms of verbal or physical harassment or assault of persons because of their sexual orientation,' and support for the civil rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Taken together, these clear actions remind us that our congregations should reflect our Lord's invitation to all (Matthew 11:28) by being safe places for those who are persecuted or harassed in our society. Wc repudiate all words andacts of hatred toward gay and lesbian persons in our congregations and in our communities, and extend a caring welcome for gay and lesbian persons and their families. We call upon all our pastors, as they exercise pastoral care, to be sensitive to the gifts and needs of gay and Icsbian members. Wc urge our congregations to reach out to all God's people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To this whole church, we say that the debates and controversy surrounding homosexuality sometimes have turned bitter. We have not always followed our Lord's instruction to avoid being angry or insulting to one another, or if such offenses did occur, to be reconciled promptly (Matthew 5:22-24). We ask all our members to join us in repentance for hurtful actions toward others, and in forgiving when we have been the objects of anger or hate. We call upon all our members and every congregation to join in prayer for the well-being of all God's people. Together, we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for the fruits of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23):

Lord God, through the gift of Holy Baptism, you claim us all as your beloved children, now and forever. Because you are our Father, we come before you in prayer as sisters and brothers to one another. Despite our differences, we are your adopted ones. You know each us through and through, name us your own, and knit us together with others as the one Body of Christ. Now gather us together and 1ovingly rnake us your church.

You give us gifts and tell us to share with one another. You give us faith to see your light in one another and to be your light for one another. Thank you, Lord, for this family of faith. Thank you for all our brothers and sisters. Now make us one in you.

May your peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, your Son our Lord. Amen.

In Jesus Christ, the most fundamental differences and hostilities have been overcome (Ephesians 2:14-16). As disciples of Christ, we are called to manifest this gift of our life together. The way we face our differences on the issues surrounding homosexuality can be an important expression of grace for our particular church body and for the communities in which we live. If we, by God's power and mercy, model new ways to speak and to hear one another, we will have done a service to this church, and will have witnessed to our society. We invite gay and lesbian persons to join with other members of this church in rnutual prayer and study of the issues that still divide us, so that we may seek the truth together. We are determined, despite our differences, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

H. George Anderson
Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Charles S. Maahs
Chair
Conference of Bishops

1. First, the Division for Church in Society wi11 draft a "message" for consideration by the Church Council in November 1996. This document will cover those areas where broad consensus has emerged from the study process. Such topics would include, but not necessarily be limited to, the sanctity of rnarriage, and oppcosition to pornography and domestic violence. The Church Council may choose to adopt this 'message' or it may circulate the text for comment throughout this church prior to transmitting it to the 1997 Churchwide Assembly for consideration.

Second, the Division for Church in Society wiIl ask several Lutheran ethicists to describe how one goes about making ethical decisions from a Lutheran persppective. This project may include both a book and a companion document for congregational use in order to facilitate discussion of potentially controversial issues of faith and life. As members of this church, we need to learn to grow in our understanding and use of our biblical and confessional heritage as we address current problerns in a thoughtful and faithful way.

Third, after the 1997 Churchwide Assembly, the Church Council will review the possibility of further steps toward the development of a social statement on human sexuality. In the meantime, the whole process of issuing social statements is under study by a task force, and recommendations from that group will be ready in time for the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.

2. By a vote of 786-88, the assembly's voting members adoptecl the following: `...RESOLVED, that words of prayer and pastoral concern and encouragement come quickly from the Conference of Bishops and the bishop of this church, so that this church can express a-caring welcome for gay and lesbian persons and repudiate all words and acts of hatred toward such persons in our church and in our communities' (CA95.7.50).


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