Lutherans Concerned / North America has both considerable agreement and substantial disagreement with the Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality and accompanying Rostering Recommendations, released publically by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on February 19, 2009.
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.
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, said, "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."
As to the separate Rostering Recommendations, required in response to the 2007 Churchwide Assembly, Lutherans Concerned is gratified to see acknowledgement that the previous consensus on the definition of right relationships being solely male-female is gone and unlikely to recover as a new discernment takes hold. Also gratifying is that provision is being made for ministers in committed same-gender relationships to serve in ministry. But, unacceptable is the mechanism the recommendations seek to accomplish this.
The mechanism proffered states that congregations, candidacy committees, synods and bishops, bound by their conscience to oppose the ordination or service of LGBT ministers, may do so. Such allowance may create institutionalized discrimination at the synod level, resulting in pockets where the existing prohibitions may remain in full force.
Emily Eastwood continued, "Clearly, the Lutheran church has ample room for conscience-bound opposition, but that ought to lie at the congregational level. The recommendations call for the elimination of the prohibition against service in ministry by ministers in a same-gender relationship. At the same time, recognizing the conscience-bound division within the church over this very issue, the recommendations provide for a framework in which congregations, synods, candidacy committees and bishops may discriminate at will against ministers and candidates in a same-gender relationship. In the ELCA, congregations retain the right to call the minister of their choosing from approved rosters of the whole church. The recommendations could restrict a congregation's ability to call a well-suited minister in a same-gender relationship. Candidates in locations with unsupportive leadership could be denied candidacy. Congregations who don't wish to call ministers in a committed same-gender rel ationship could exercise their conscience no matter where they are, but congregations who do wish to call such ministers would not have the same freedom. Completely unacceptable, and dangerous. Whatever divisions there are in the church are widened not reduced by this recommendation."
The Proposed Social Statement and Rostering Recommendations released today are but a step in the process. The ELCA Church Council will deliberate and take action on them, revising them or not, at their March 27–30 meeting. Prior to that, the Conference of Bishops and Church in Society board will review and make such comments as they wish to the church council."
What comes out of the church council's meeting will then be the Recommended Proposed Social Statement and Rostering Recommendations that are submitted for deliberation and action to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, August 17–23. Synod assemblies held during April–June are very likely to produce comments and advice to the churchwide assembly concerning the documents as well.
Media contact: Phil Soucy