The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Synod assembly reports: Human sexuality tops debate

Meeting this spring, synod assemblies continued the debate on sexuality issues that will come before the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. The 2001 assembly established the ELCA Studies on Sexuality Task Force, charging it with developing recommendations for policy on the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Of the assemblies reporting by presstime, some called for open discussion and study of the issues, while others referred resolutions to synod or churchwide committees.

The Northeastern Ohio, Southeast Michigan, and Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana synods urged that unity in Christ be foremost in discussions on sexuality. The latter synod's "Declaration of Commitment to Unity" affirmed that the "saving power of Christ will carry us through discernment and disagreement about issues of sexuality ...."

The Florida-Bahamas Synod affirmed the study, urging congregations to respectfully welcome others with differing views into the dialogue. In urging its congregations to study the task force's materials (Journey Together Faithfully), the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod took no official position on blessing same-sex unions and rostering noncelibate homosexuals. And the New Jersey Synod asked its congregations to study the task force's recommendations, to be released in January 2005, so their opinions can be shared with Churchwide Assembly voting members.

In its call for study, the Southwestern Texas Synod also forwarded four resolutions to the ELCA task force that call for support of the study process, oppose "legitimizing that which the Holy Scriptures call a sin," and oppose the blessing of same-sex unions and ordination of people living in same-sex relationships.

Northeastern Minnesota referred two resolutions to its task force. One supported the ELCA's current policies. Another said all people need to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else struggling with sins, but any church leader who expresses approval of homosexuality "sends the wrong message" to people who are troubled with this behavior.

The Rocky Mountain Synod referred a resolution to the ELCA task force expressing a congregation's desire that current ELCA policies regarding the sexuality issues be affirmed. But the South Carolina and Indiana-Kentucky synods voted to affirm the ELCA's current policy.

Those two synod weren't alone is passing resolutions on sexuality that dealt with ELCA or synod policies.

The Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod declared 150-138 that people participating in homosexual relationships should be prohibited from holding leadership positions in the synod and ELCA.

By a 134-132 vote, the Northwest Washington Synod recommended that its congregations adopt a statement that says: "We are an open and repenting congregation. ... We seek to share God's love with all people regardless of race, age, gender or sexual orientation ...."

Nancy Ojard displays a "Minnesota HotDish" quilt made by members of her congregation, Knife River [Minn.] Lutheran.That synod also affirmed the authority of the Bible in considerations of faith and morality.

The Indiana-Kentucky Synod asked the 2005 assembly to direct the sexuality task force to consult with all the ELCA's companion churches on the blessing and ordination issues.

The Sierra Pacific Synod passed a resolution to support people who serve its congregations from the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, an unofficial roster of gay and lesbian candidates for pastoral ministry who meet all ELCA qualifications except celibacy. They will be honored on significant anniversaries and included on synod directories and lists.

That assembly invited (265-240) St. Francis and First United Lutheran churches, San Francisco, to reapply for synod membership. The churches were expelled in 1995 for ordaining and calling gay and lesbian people living in a committed relationship.

Some resolutions on human sexuality didn't pass. The Northwest Washington Synod opposed asking the ELCA to "affirm with greater urgency that the Lord God through the power of the Holy Spirit wills to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify any human being regardless of their sinful sexual behavior by leading them to become repentant, forgiven new people in Jesus Christ."

After extensive debate, Southeastern Pennsylvania did not become a Communities of Grace synod ("committed to providing a safe, loving and welcoming place to worship for people who struggle with various sinful sexual behaviors"). In 1995 the assembly adopted statements of welcome suggested by the Reconciling in Christ movement.

That synod also defeated a resolution asking the Church Council to set up a commission to "investigate what evidence is necessary and adequate to justify changing the interpretation of Scripture on matters that are considered important and about which there is longstanding interpretation and teaching."

Some sexuality resolutions focused on issues in the news. The Sierra Pacific (279-197) and Metropolitan New York (by 53 percent) synods supported making civil marriage for homosexual couples a reality. But Southwestern Texas (191-178) affirmed that "sexual intercourse is a gift from God reserved for a man and a woman within the bonds of matrimony." In a 135-137 vote, Northwest Washington decided not to ask the ELCA to affirm marriage as the lifelong union of love between one man and one woman. And the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod referred to congregations for study a resolution in support of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

Other issues debated include:

Voting members. The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod discussed how to qualify candidates as Churchwide Assembly voting members. The assembly turned down opportunities to receive written position statements on issues from candidates and to ask them to be publicly questioned. The Northeastern Minnesota Synod opposed calling for clarity about delegate, representative nature of Churchwide Assemblies voting members. (See "You asked," page 31.)

Peace and war. Condemning the Iraq war as unjust, the Sierra Pacific Synod asked its council to urge President Bush to support U.N. authority in promoting peace and rebuilding Iraq. Northwest Washington supported ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's efforts to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin urged members to study Jesus' nonviolent witness, the early church's teaching and nonviolent movements of the 20th century as well as the current teachings of the Lutheran church around peace and war.

South Carolina asked the ELCA to develop guidelines for clergy who are deployed for military service.

Governance. The Northeastern Minnesota Synod opposed enlarging the Church Council so each synod elects a representative. That synod supported limiting churchwide officers (presiding bishop, vice president, secretary and treasurer) to no more than two consecutive six-year terms. The Southwestern Texas assembly referred to the ELCA Church Council a resolution asking that any amendments to the ELCA constitution, any ecumenical agreements or changes to the ministry standards of Vision and Expectations be ratified by congregations. Northwest Washington opposed calling for a study to amend the constitution to allow congregational referendums on churchwide decisions.

Haiti. In support of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee campaign "The Forgotten Refugees," The New Jersey Synod urged the U.S. government to suspend the deportation of Haitians and grant them temporary protected status. Florida-Bahamas asked that the Churchwide Assembly direct the World Hunger Appeal to become a yearly sponsor of "Haiti Solidarity Week."

Ecumenical: Northeastern Minnesota affirmed commitment to the ELCA bylaw that says seminarians may be ordained by a pastor other than a bishop in unusual circumstances. Southwestern Texas referred a memorial to the Church Council asking that its regret and concern over the Episcopal Church's consecration of a noncelibate gay man as bishop be communicated to that denomination. In a related action, the Northwest Washington Synod referred to its synod council a resolution asking for a poll of ELCA congregations on whether to affirm or rescind full communion with the Episcopal Church.

AIDS. Sierra Pacific urged candidates for U.S. president to support policies to fight global AIDS. New Jersey urged its congregations to contact their legislators and ask for their support in passing AIDS legislation now before Congress.




Posted at 10:50 am (U.S. Eastern) 12/15/2007

How long are we going to keep this study of sex going? and how much has it cost us? in money and members.


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