Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Council Recommends Lutheran Body Break with Biblical Teachings on Homosexuality

Yesterday, the Church Council of the denomination of which I am a member, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a resolution recommending that the upcoming Churchwide Assembly of our body change the Church's policies regarding the ordination as pastors and calling as professional lay ministers of practicing homosexuals by individual congregations. Here is a press release from the ELCA on the subject.

Here, by the way, is my earlier response to the report of a churchwide task force on sexuality which was issued some months ago.

Below is the text of an email I shared last night with the congregation I serve as pastor (followed by an email I forwarded to them):
Dear Friend:
This is a time for intense prayer on the part of all of us who are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The Church Council of the ELCA has recommended that our denominational body take a step which I believe and which our Church Council believes, I am sure, would take us away from the Bible as the ultimate authority over our life, faith, and practice. Such reverence for the Scriptures has always been the hallmark of Lutheranism.

What the Council is basically recommending is that the Churchwide Assembly, to be held later this year, give individual congregations the option of calling practicing homosexuals to be pastors or rostered leaders in the Church.

No person is perfectly sinless.

The sin of homosexual behavior is neither worse or better than any other sin identified by the Scriptures.

But homosexual behavior is identified as sin by the Scriptures, a violation of God's will for human beings.

We must make certain that our churches are havens for all sinners, places where salvation is proclaimed: Forgiveness and new life for all with faith in Jesus Christ. But we dare not call approved what God has condemned.

Therefore, I deem it imperative for the sake of our denomination's witness for Christ and for the future unity and existence of the ELCA, that this recommendation be defeated. Please begin praying that this will happen.

I am forwarding an email which I have just received from Pastor Bob Forsberg, an ELCA pastor in the Dayton area. That email also contains a report from one of our denomination's most eminent theologians, Roy Harrisville. Both Pastor Forsberg and Dr. Harrisville oppose this recommendation.

In opposing it, we aren't being self-righteous or judgmental. We are simply saying that God's grace may be free, but it is not cheap. We must be willing to give up on our personal preferences and sins in order to empty our hands to receive God's grace. I am a sinner. I have done much that I regret. But I refuse to call righteous what God calls sin. I pray that our Church will take the same stance. I know that Friendship will!

God help us all!

Blessings in Christ,

Dear SOS [Southern Ohio Synod] Clergy and Lay,
It appears the ELCA Church Council has spoken. Now it is time for our congregations and synods to respond at the Churchwide Assembly to this attempted coup of the ELCA.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Final Notes from the ELCA Church Council – April 11, 2005
(FINAL TEXT of the motion on Sexuality Task Force Recommendation #3)

After deliberation which included two failed amendments and one substitute motion, the ELCA Church voted to forward the following recommendation to the Churchwide Assembly. The vote was 32 in favor and 2 against.
In an earlier communiqué I misidentified Jeannine Janson as Jeanine Olson. She was gracious to point out that at least I had gotten the “o-n” right. My apologies to Jeannine.

Roy A. Harrisville III

April 9-11, 2005

Position Two: Homosexuality as condition, not choice

Overview of this position
As described in the report of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, there are those in this church who believe that homosexuality is a condition, not a choice. There is recognition in scientific studies and in personal experience that life-long, committed, loving relationships are life-giving for homosexual persons, their congregations and communities. Like all Christians, gay and lesbian people are baptized into the body of Christ. There is significant study which suggests that biblical texts that condemn same-gender sexual activity do not address homosexual people who are in committed relationships. Rather, these texts are understood as condemning behavior that is abusive or God-denying. The life in Christ to which we are called in Scripture is a life lived in the radical grace of God, bearing the fruits of the Spirit, and many see these fruits evident in the lives of gay and lesbian people. There are growing numbers of congregations ministering to gay and lesbian persons whose mission might both accept and be enriched by gay and lesbian pastors and rostered leaders.

Rationale for Support of the Proposed Process
People holding this view believe all language excluding gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships is unjust and should be removed. However, there can be support for this proposal for two reasons: (a) while the language of Vision and Expectations continues, there would exist an avenue by which gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships may be called to the ministry of this church, and (b) just as it took the Church and the world many years to understand other critical issues, such as the re-marriage of divorced people, this process provides the opportunity for continued discernment of where the Holy Spirit is leading the church.

Description of the Proposed Process
This is a process for determining whether an otherwise qualified gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship might be granted an exception. The process would involve the following elements:
1. Any person considered for exception under the bylaw is expected to be in compliance with the policies of this church, except for being in a committed, same-sex relationship.
2. There shall be a reasonable assumption or confirmation that a congregation or other ministry will extend or continue a call to the person being considered for an exception.
3. If the bishop is in support of extending or continuing such a call, he or she WILL SEEK ENDORSEMENT BY THE SYNOD COUNCIL AND, UPON ENDORSEMENT, SHALL ask the Synod Council to make a request for an exception to the Conference of Bishops, in much the same manner as other roster exceptions are currently processed.
4. The Conference of Bishops shall consider and act on the request of the bishop and the Synod council.
5. If the exception is authorized and the candidate is approved for call and enters the roster through this process, he or she shall not be subject to discipline by a subsequent bishop and/or council making a decision on the same set of facts.
6. It shall be the exception that any candidate or rostered minister who is in a same-sex relationship shall be subject to the same level of commitment and fidelity that this church expects of heterosexual pastors in marriage. We understand this to mean a commitment of life-long fidelity. Deviation from this level of expectation will be subject to the discipline as exists for all others.
7. We acknowledge that the recommendation leaves in place all previous policies and guidelines. There exists no inherent right either of a congregation or a candidate to stand apart from the possibility of discipline. Rather, the recommendation opens the possibility of a bishop, synod, and a synodical Candidacy Committee, reaching common agreement that the mission of this church would be served by such a decision.

Recommended: Two-thirds required AT ASSEMBLY

To recommend the following resolution to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly:

WHEREAS, within this church we continue to share a profound commitment to the authority of Scripture as the norm for faith and life;
WHEREAS, we recognize there are deeply held yet different interpretations of Scripture to which consciences are bound;
WHEREAS, within this church we confess that all people are sinful beings, including those who serve in rostered ministry;
WHEREAS, within this church there are both those who believe that same-sex sexual conduct is inherently sinful, and those who believe that same-sex sexual conduct in a committed relationship is morally defensible for those who are of homosexual orientation;
WHEREAS, there are those in this church who believe that the ELCA should affirm and uphold current policy and practice regarding people in same-sex committed relationships;
WHEREAS, there are those in this church who believe that the Holy Spirit is calling into public ministry persons who are in committed, same-sex relationships, and congregations are indicating a willingness to call such persons to service; and
WHEREAS, within this church there is a desire to maintain the continuity of the church’s traditional teaching and practice while also providing opportunity for ongoing discernment of new ways in which the Spirit might be speaking to this church in our time, and both may be honored by taking the step to create a process for consideration of exceptions; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shall:

1. Affirm and uphold the standards for rostered leaders as set forth in Vision and Expectations;
2. Create a process for the sake of outreach, ministry, and the commitment to continuing dialogue, which may permit exceptions to the expectations regarding sexual conduct for gay and lesbian candidates and rostered leaders in life-long, committed, and faithful same-sex relationships who otherwise are determined to be in compliance with Vision and Expectations;
3. Adopt the following bylaws to permit implementation of this limited process for exceptions to the normative policies of this church: Ordination for Particular Service. For pastoral reasons and for the sake of mission in the synod, under policy and procedures approved by the Church Council, UPON RECOMMENDATION BY A SYNODICAL BISHOP TO THE SYNOD COUNCIL AND UPON ENDORSEMENT BY THE SYNOD COUNCIL, A SYNODICAL BISHOP SHALL seek an exception from the Conference of Bishops to permit the assignment of a candidate who provides evidence of intent to live in a life-long, committed and faithful same-sex relationship, and has been approved through the synodical candidacy process. When such an exception is granted, the synodical bishop may ordain – as authorized in the governing documents of this church and policy adopted by the Church Council – a candidate who has received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for service in the ministry of Word and Sacrament by a congregation that has indicated its openness to call a candidate who provides evidence of intent to live in a life-long, committed and faithful same-sex relationship. Likewise, upon RECOMMENDATION BY A SYNODICAL BISHOP TO THE SYNOD COUNCIL AND UPON endorsement by the Synod Council, a synodical bishop SHALL seek an exception through the Conference of Bishops – under policy and procedures approved by the Church Council – to maintain on the roster of ordained ministers an individual, under call for service in an ELCA ministry setting, who provides evidence of intent to live in a life-long, committed, and faithful same-sex relationship. All requirements of policies of this church related to ordained ministers apply to such an individual, except those that preclude living in such relationships.

Approval for Particular Service… [This section has similar by-laws changes for other rostered ministries]


Deborah White said...

Can your congregation elect to leave the denomination and join another one? Would it? (If so, I have a suggestion.:) Would a group of congregations within the denomination elect to break away together and form a new, separate group? Or is it acceptable to remain a part of a denomination that your congregation so significantly disagrees with?

Anonymous said...

Another example of tyrannical "relativism." Many of we ELCA members barely survived the LAST travesty, wherein the council voted to allow congregations to decide if they wished to "bless" homosexual unions in their churches. I don't believe that a large percentage of the membership approve these twisted actions. It's become a matter of the council not truly representing its membership. And they wonder why attendance is down, monetary gifts are down. Membership will follow.

Anonymous said...

The ELCA seems determined to go down the same path to destruction as the Episcopal Church.What does the ELCA say to those of us who have been faithful members for many years and cannot agree withthe decision to install homosexual pastors ? John Kenline Canon City, Colorado

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen any biblical exposition of the texts which the homosexual lobby believes allow homosexual activity or marriage? After all, it carried the death penalty under that Mosaic law and is clearly condemned as sin in the NT. I am still waiting for the relativists to come out and admit that they are simply rejecting the authority of scripture. Until they can show credible exegesis which transforms this one-time capital offense into a blessing of God, they should Hold back. Of course, they are counting on the passivity of the majority of lay people to permit this coup.

David said...

I will pray for the ELCA. I really hope this doesn't pass. I pray that those who don't agree are vocal. God works through people so if you feel an urge to speak up, then please don't hold back. God bless you all.