This is an example of why different denominations begin, and they typically involve a call to unity where true unity can’t exist.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Wednesday adopted a new social statement on human sexuality yesterday with exactly the two thirds votes it needed to pass in their 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

The Christian Post reports:

“Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the denomination’s tenth social statement, was passed on a 676-338 vote that met the two-thirds vote requirement on the dot.

The statement – which emphasizes two principles, trust and bound conscience – addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective, including social structures, cohabitation, sexual exploitation, abuse, and homosexuality, the latter of which has drawn the most attention and controversy.

Homosexuality is no longer a sin (albeit in a “committed monogamous relationship”), that will be addressed by the whole ELCA.  The statement that was passed reads in part:

This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:

  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such relationships as traditional marriage.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however, affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care, and may wish to surround lifelong monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.
  • On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today.  They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.

Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect in relationships and for guidance that seeks the good of each individual and of the community. Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.

This statement attempts to manufacture unity where none can really exist.  There was celebration after the vote was announced, and the celebration was celebrated.  One commenter at a local ELCA youth director’s blog hoped that a similar vote would take place in the United Methodist Church in 2012.

Another local ELCA youth director, Erik Ullestad, said that Lutherans (and I’ll clarify that as meaning ELCA, as some of my Missouri Synod friends would dispute this) fall into one three groups regarding homosexuality: #1 scripture says no, #2 scripture says yes (which you have to do hermeneutical gymnastics to come to that position), and #3 scripture isn’t the only authority.  He then says:

From my perspective, the group that is "most Lutheran" is #3. Lutherans believe that Scripture is inspired by God and functions as the "source and norm" for our spiritual lives. Scripture is instructive and faith-formative. It does not, however, stand alone as authoritative. Luther indicated that three things – grace, faith and Scripture – provide guidance and wisdom to the church. All three "solas" are gifts of God that carry equal weight and importance.

While I agree that all are a gift of God.  However, what is written in scripture informs the other two.  Where do we learn about grace?  How do we even know what we are to place faith in?  Not diminishing grace or faith by any means, but to abandon scripture as the complete revelation of his will for salvation and the ultimate authority by which we judge human knowledge and endeavors leads you down a slippery slope.

Can I submit that the reason this measure passed on Wednesday is because there has already been a slide away from scriptural authority and many champions for it have already abandoned the ELCA?  Locally I know of a large Lutheran church that left the ELCA years before this.  They saw it coming.  It’s been coming for years.

After the applause of those who voted for this measure dies down they will be faced with the 1/3 who didn’t vote for this.  Those who are not celebrating because they recognize what this will ultimately do to their denomination.  The three dissenting members of the ELCA Task Force on Sexuality wrote:

We contend that the recommendations proposed in Report and Recommendations, which advocate same-gender unions and the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons, have little biblical, historical, or traditional support. The proposed recommendations advocate a radical departure from long-held moral tradition and biblical interpretation, thus distancing us further from the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, evangelical churches and most of the churches in the Protestant mainstream….

….The ELCA is a church deeply divided on the issue of human sexuality. The recommendations of the majority of the task force represent a radical change that not only is contrary to Scripture and the apostolic faith, but is one that will splinter our congregations, alienate many of our members, further divide the unity of this church and, we believe, grieve the heart of God.

Apparently this will just pave the way for ordination of people in “open and committed” same-sex relationships.  This will be decided tomorrow.  Justin Wise wrote, “To the best of my understanding, the proposed policies are how the statement will be enacted throughout the denomination. The what was voted on today, that being the statement on sexuality, ‘Gift & Trust’.”

I would suspect that there will be an exodus from the ELCA like seen with the split in the Episcopal Church that led to the Anglican Church in North America.

How did God celebrate this decision?  A tornado.  I’m not one who believes that every natural disaster is a sign of God’s wrath, but we shouldn’t rule it out either (those who do usually dismiss the idea of the wrath of God to begin with).

True unity centers itself in the Word and Person of Jesus Christ.  Not in human understanding, reasoning or misguided sense of “what is fair.”

Update: From the NY Times: the ELCA does approve same-sex clergy.

By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates to the denomination’s national assembly in Minneapolis approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships” to serve as official ministers. (The church already allows celibate gay men and lesbians to become members of the clergy.)

That was just a foregone conclusion after Wednesday’s vote.  The ELCA now joins with the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church in ordaining active homosexuals.

18 comments
  1. “From my perspective, the group that is “most Lutheran” is #3. Lutherans believe that Scripture is inspired by God and functions as the “source and norm” for our spiritual lives. Scripture is instructive and faith-formative. It does not, however, stand alone as authoritative. Luther indicated that three things – grace, faith and Scripture – provide guidance and wisdom to the church. All three “solas” are gifts of God that carry equal weight and importance.”

    Good essay. Just want your readers to know that the quote is not only not the “most Lutheran” it is a recent variant, the result of ELCA seminary’s poor teaching. We Lutherans ave this thing called “putting the best construction on it” so I will say it is “unhinged”.

    Carry on.
    .-= ejswensson´s last blog ..More blogroll for #ELCA #CWA09 =-.

  2. In my understanding of following the ELCA (in random moments throughout the day via Twitter), this has been a most difficult time. As a recent member of ECUSA, I was around and directly involved with the our Diocesan bishop over scriptural interepretation. Peace be with all of you in the weeks to come as you yearn to maintain community.

    That being said, I also have a question about your statement “True unity centers itself in the Word and Person of Jesus Christ. Not in human understanding, reasoning or misguided sense of “what is fair.””

    I would imagine that within Lutheran theology there are differing points of understanding in any given passage of Scripture, even among those who agree on a particular issue like homosexuality. One could say the same of western theology as well. Once one encounters others from entirely different cultures, the variance of understanding may increase all the more (or so one could suspect).

    I could not agree more with your assertion to Jesus, the Word, as center of a Christian faith. (The Sermon on the Mount is often lax in use in our faith communities.) However, I have come to rest in the space that cultural context shapes our interpretation, and that our understanding of a given text – the Bible included – is shaped by that. To say that human understanding cannot be the foundation of any given decision begs the reality of the Imago Dei in all to pursue God with our minds, while inferring that there is only a single way to understand the Scriptures. This is not only an ideology (with the danger that God becomes an idol), but it claims to know the direct truth of God as an exclusive revelation. We are all fallen, and as you’ve suggested, a “misguided sense” is all any of us have. The hard part for all of us (myself included) is have the humility to listen and work out our faith as ekklesia in fear and trembling.

    1. @brian shope, First I’m not Lutheran, but have friends and family within the ELCA.

      Secondly you invert proper Biblical interpretation we don’t look at our culture to understand meaning… rather we look at historical context, original languages, and what the whole of scripture says.

      What you describe would be how we apply the Bible, not interpret it. Even with that you need to be careful that scripture speaks to culture, not culture to the Bible. Scripture is timeless, culture is not.

      I can’t possibly see how God can become an idol when He is supposed to be the sole recipient of our devotion and worship.
      .-= Shane Vander Hart´s last blog ..Latte Links (8/21) =-.

      1. @Shane Vander Hart,

        “Secondly you invert proper Biblical interpretation we don’t look at our culture to understand meaning… rather we look at historical context, original languages, and what the whole of scripture says.”

        Very well said: we must look at these things. Context is oft overlooked in Biblical engagement. However, it is not the context of scripture that I question. It is our way of knowing it. You and I (assuming you are also a white male) grew up in the US (another assumption), in the western world. This shapes our interpretation of anything, as well as the Bible. Scriptural study that we receive via the pulpit (and the institutions that provided for a pastor/priests education) or seminary education have been shaped by modernity, science (Systematic Theology, for instance) the enlightenment, even the American myth’s and narratives are contributors. (For instance: an American flag is near the altar in many churches, and the marriage of politics and faith in questionable means is often a battle ground during election years, over “Liberal” or “Conservative” Christians.)

        There is no interpretation that happens outside of one’s social location or historical agency. Further, there is no one way of grappling with a text. Scripture may be timeless, but it is always embedded, integrated, or reflected through a culture. That doesn’t make it false or undercut the Bible’s authority; in fact, it deepens it and humbles us as participants in the kingdom. Application happens in this way whether we’re conscious of it or not.

        As to God as an idol; it is when we think we have arrived or have come to the right interpretation that we have made God an idol. I would posit that everyone is capable of this, orthodox, liberal, or otherwise. We must hold our interpretations loosely, lest they become a weapon of oppression. Anne Lamott, a writer and follower of Jesus, said, “If God hates the same people I do, than I’ve made God into an idol”. I’m certainly not suggesting you hate anyone; the point is that the richness of pursuing God happens in part by the different readings of the text by different people and their different viewpoints. This is cultural (personal, vocational, etc.).

        Thanks for letting me interact with you.

  3. Shane,
    This is well-thought through. When I heard that the Lutherans had adopted this, I knew it was the ELCA, which is neither Evangelical nor Lutheran.

    I am reminded of Scripture where we are instructed to not socialize with those who claim Christ but prove with their actions otherwise.

    And then there is Lot: “What if there are 10 righteous among them?”
    .-= Christopher Byrnes´s last blog ..Concerning Numbers =-.

    1. @Christopher Byrnes, They do have a number of renewal groups within, but they are losing influence as those who would be sympathetic leave the ELCA.

      I’ve never quite understood why they have evangelical in their name as well. Regarding the Lutheran part – they certainly are moving away from Reformation doctrine.

      Those who dissented also said this:

      From Galatians (5:13) we heard often, “For you were called to freedom.” However, we did not hear often enough the next line, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the self-indulgence.” By centering on justification by faith, the social statement minimizes the role of the Law in Christian life, contrary to Luther’s exposition of the Christian life in the catechisms, and is at odds with the Lutheran Confessions—Article VI of the Formula of Concord. Justification by faith does not nullify the commands of God; to argue thus is to fall into “antinomianism.”

      Then from their own statement:

      Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships.

      If it differs from historic Christian tradition and Lutheran Confessions, you would think they’d have a clue that perhaps we shouldn’t pass this statement.
      .-= Shane Vander Hart´s last blog ..Latte Links (8/21) =-.

  4. Very interesting, I belong to an ELCA congregation and this is the first I have heard of this. I strongly feel that my congregation is in the 1/3rd area, but I will see. I wonder if this will be mentioned at church Sunday, hmmm. I do have to say that being involved in several denominations in the past including the United Methodist Church, I feel that we (in my congregation) are Lutheran indeed!! I would also like to comment that it is very dangerous to lump 4.8 million people into having the exact same opinion on everything. On a personal note, I am not a scholar or a theologist, but my understanding is that they (who ever that might be) is saying that if you are in a homosexual relationship, hold yourself to the same standards as heterosexuals, personally my biggest beef is why this statement even was made or voted on. Maybe I missed something.

    1. @Eileen Miller, It shouldn’t have, and that is essentially what they are saying in this statement – that homosexual relationships need to be monogamous, committed, “accountable” relationships.

      It’s still sin.

      I would be surprised if you don’t hear about this in church.
      .-= Shane Vander Hart´s last blog ..Latte Links (8/21) =-.

      1. Shane, don’t get me wrong I believe it is a sin too. That is why I made the comment about why they were even having the discussion. I also have been reading a lot of the comments about Lutherans and once again I can not speak for anyone but myself, but the way people on here are talking about how Martin Luthers doctrines should be taught is how it is taught in my ELCA church. Maybe we are the minority. Our kids are in confirmation for 7 multi week sessions over 3.5 years, 6 are on the Bible(without much mention of Luther) 1 is on Luther. This is just my perspective.

        Eileen
        @Shane Vander Hart,

  5. Why don’t we just let pedophiles be pastors too, as long as they are in a “monogamous” relationship abusing only ONE child. Give me a break. What is left to “interpret” when the Bible, in Romans 1, says the following:

    Rom 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
    Rom 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
    Rom 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
    Rom 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    Rom 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
    Rom 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
    Rom 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    How much more plain can it be? Do they want a picture of what the Lord is condemning here??? The truth of the matter is that those who think homosexuality is OK and that it’s OK to have them in positions of leadership, AND PASTORS no less, are deceived. They have been given over to a reprobate mind. People with itching ears will heap to themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear rather than believing the truth. We aren’t supposed to change the Scriptures to justify our sin; we are supposed to change our lives to the standard of purity laid out in the Holy Word. There is no “misinterpretation” of the passages about homosexuality because there is no misinterpretation of SIN. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the TRUTH is not in us. Those who are buying into this pernicous blather of lies from the pit of Hell are calling homosexuality no longer a sin.

    It turns my stomach that the church has come to a point where it has to have these “meetings” to talk about sinful lifestyles so that they can justify their sin and walk home feeling justified in their lifestyle because the “pastor” said it was ok. What about what GOD says? There is no other standard. GOD will be the last to speak on that Day!

    People want to call me close-minded, “out of touch”, too conservative, a hater, intolerant. Well, this isn’t about the person; this is about the SIN. I can afford to be close-minded about this particular topic because I’M RIGHT! There is no room for “negotiation” about sin. If this “lifestyle” is now suddenly “acceptable” in the sight of God because the “majority” said it’s OK, then God will have to apologize to all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Why do people think it’s called SODOMY??? Hello!!! It’s a vile, filthy sin and it’s not a “lifestyle”; it’s a choice to live in sin. It’s not hereditary and there is no “gay” gene. These people need to repent, turn from their wicked ways, and return to the truth of the Scriptures. Period. It’s not even up for discussion with God. God will pour out justice upon those who lead others astray with these lies and false teachers and teachings in the church. There will literally be HELL to pay.

    I could go on and on with statistics about the “gay” lifestyle (it’s anything but gay) but I won’t belabor the point. It’s sin. It’s wrong. It shouldn’t even be up for discussion; ESPECIALLY by anyone who calls themself a “pastor”.

    In His service,

    Mike

    1. @Mike, You are right that there should be unity on what the scriptures say regarding this behavior. We can love and serve those who are gay, just like we do anyone who sins and needs Jesus, but it isn’t loving to say their lifestyle is ok and for them to continue on in unrepentence.
      .-= Shane Vander Hart´s last blog ..Marine Vet 1 Congressman Baird 0 =-.

  6. This is a terribly devisive issue within numerous denominations. Because adherents are individuals, opinions will run the gamut from complete toleration to absolute rejection. All in all, it seems this ELCA statement expresses a willingness to acknowledge that gays are human beings entitled to consideration and respect, just like everyone else. Is their lifestyle immoral? Are gays suited to be Lutherans? Of course opinion will vary on such questions. However, rejection by members of ones faith can be devastating to homosexuals who wish to participate but are denied the opportunity. There is no easy resolution here, but the real-world effect of such rejection is one of the salient points of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay Mormon man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others, including his co-religionists). More information on the book is available at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/BrokenSaint.html.

    Mark Zamen, author

    1. @Mark Zamen, Mark you make the assumption that because we see the lifestyle as sinful we don’t see them as human beings. I’m sure there are some who act that way, but that isn’t a fair statement for the majority.

      It should not be divisive, we should have unity on what Scripture says.

      By the way, comparing Mormons to Protestant Christians is not a fair comparison.
      .-= Shane Vander Hart´s last blog ..Marine Vet 1 Congressman Baird 0 =-.

      1. Shane,

        Please read my comments more closely, as I think you are reading into them certain things I didn’t say.

        First, I never stated that you did not regard gays as human beings; I merely conveyed that they are persons (substitute “persons” for “human beings”) who deserve the dignity we owe anyone else; they should not be thought of as any less deserving because of their lifestyle.

        Second, as to Scriptural unity, how the words are interpreted and what weight they should be given will differ from one individual to another; nothing else was implied.

        Last, I’m not comparing any faith to any other faith; it just so happens that my friend was a Mormon and my book is about this particular man.

        Mark

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