Timothy Wengert, a member of the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality, spoke to the assembly about the group’s interpretation of “respect for the bound conscience of the neighbor.” Such respect is not one-way, Wengert said, but means rather “that the very people who hold different, opposing viewpoints on a particular moral issue based upon their understanding of Scripture, tradition and reason must recognize the bound conscience of the other, of their neighbor who disagrees with them, and then work in such ways as not to cause that other person to reject the faith and fellowship in word and sacrament.”
It was immediately clear that the assembly’s debates around sexuality centered on how to interpret Scripture.
The role of Scripture emerged the first night, as voting members debated, then defeated (436-584) changing the existing majority vote for ministry recommendations to require a two-thirds vote.
Faithful people on both sides of the issue interpret Scriptures differently, Erik T.R. Samuelson, Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, told the assembly. “What if we aren’t giving up on the law at the green mike or following the law on the red mike?” he asked, urging people to use the debates as impetus for continued, deepened Bible study.
In the end, the assembly approved “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the ELCA’s 10th social statement, by exactly two-thirds (676-338) — the precise vote required for approval. The document joins other social statements that help the ELCA with moral deliberation, govern institutional policies and direct church advocacy.
Before that vote, voting members took to green and red (for and against) microphones, quoting Bible verses, making scientific arguments or sharing personal experiences to support their positions. Frequently, more than 60 members stood waiting for a turn at one of a dozen microphones. Most focused on what the social statement said or didn’t say about homosexuality. A handful drew attention to the many other issues addressed by the statement.
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