CULTURE NEWS: Lutherans study gay issue

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran body in North America with 4.7 million members, is one step closer to embracing homosexuality among its ordained ministers after a task force released two recommendations.

The 15-member task force released in February a document called "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," which is a proposed social statement on human sexuality, as well as a "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies," which focuses on changing the policy that "ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

Both documents will be considered by voting members at the ELCA assembly Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

According to ELCA news releases, the social statement is meant to address "a spectrum of concerns relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective" and to "guide the church's public advocacy work."

The document states that the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions recognize marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. But it also notes that in recent decades the church has begun to understand "in new ways" the need of same-gender couples who seek relationships of "lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments," one news release said.

Also in the document, the task force said "consensus does not exist" among ELCA members, with some believing homosexuality is a sin and others believing it "reflects a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended." Either way, the statement encourages Lutherans to live out their faith with "profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor" and to oppose "non-monogamous, promiscuous or casual sexual relationships."

Response to the documents has been mixed, with some Lutherans praising the openness to diversity represented in the wording and others saying the documents -- especially the policy on ordained ministers -- depart from the clear teaching of Scripture.

The president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second largest Lutheran body with 2.4 million members, expressed "great disappointment and deep sadness" over the proposed documents.

In a letter to LCMS members, Gerald Kieschnick said if the ELCA assembly adopts the recommendations, "it would constitute a radical departure from the 2,000-year-long teaching of the Christian tradition that homosexual activity, whether inside or outside of a committed relationship, is contrary to Holy Scripture."

The LCMS repeatedly has affirmed that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as "intrinsically sinful," Kieschnick said, and he reminded LCMS members that a resolution they passed in 2001 said they "cannot consider" the ELCA "to be an orthodox church body." The LCMS does, however, recognize "that many of our brothers and sisters of the ELCA remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we resolve to reach out to them in love and support."


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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