ELCA Lutherans Issue Message on Sexuality
11/12/1996 12:00:00 AM
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- "Sexuality: Some Common Convictions" is a message the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted here Nov. 9 to summarize the "areas for which there appears to be consensus within this church" on issues related to human sexuality. The actual text of the message will be made public when it has arrived in the church's 11,000 congregations.
In presenting the message recommended by the board of the ELCA Division for Church in Society, the Rev. Karen L. Bloomquist, ELCA director for studies, said the message starts with a theological framework, moves through several issues related to human sexuality and returns to the theological framework.
The division develops social statements for action by the Church Council and the biennial churchwide assembly, and it develops messages on social issues for action by the 37-member Church Council. Social statements usually define church policy, while messages are "persuasive, non-policy communications on timely, urgent social issues."
The ELCA has been studying the topic of human sexuality since 1989 with the hopes of developing a social statement on the subject. Two drafts of a possible statement were met with great interest and largely negative response, but portions of the drafts were praised for clearly stating the church's opposition to abuses of human sexuality. In August 1995 the council suspended the process toward a social statement.
"One of the major areas of deliberation was how much to include of the church's continuing discussions on homosexuality," said Bloomquist. The board decided homosexuality is not an area of consensus and "did not want that to become the main thing people were looking for when they picked up this document," she said. Therefore, it is not addressed in the message.
The council made a few wording changes to the proposed text before adopting it.
The Rev. Charles S. Miller, executive director of the ELCA Division for Church in Society, told the council the approved text will be delivered to Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Minneapolis, on Nov. 11. The publishing house will mail the message to all ELCA congregations on Nov. 18. Electronic release via the Lutherlink network and the ELCA web page is scheduled for Nov. 25.
"Collaboration is a virtue," said Miller. "In the case of this message it was a necessity." A message is usually "a rehearsal of what this church teaches," he said. This message adds "on what we agree."
Since last fall when the council gave it the assignment to develop the message, the division has worked with a 10-member advisory committee and a consultant -- the Rev. Roland Martinson, professor of pastoral theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. It also gave the ELCA Conference of Bishops advance copies to critique.
The Rev. H. George Anderson, ELCA presiding bishop, called the message "a well-reviewed document."
"This message moves us at a calculated pace to address but not to be consumed by this topic," said Miller. He described another project related to the church's discussions on human sexuality - - deliberations on homosexuality.
The Division for Church in Society assembled a task force in August to plan "a process for moral deliberation" in the ELCA on the topic of homosexuality. The group included members of the Conference of Bishops, Division for Ministry, Office of the Bishop, Faith and Life Forum and Lutherans Concerned. Lutherans Concerned is a society for understanding among homosexual and heterosexual Lutherans.
A series of four "pilot" events in 1997 will test models for openly discussing homosexuality and the Christian faith in a "safe and civil" atmosphere. The task force will evaluate the events at the end of 1997 and prepare recommendations for 1998.
In 1995 the council decided that "any decision related to the scheduling of a possible social statement on human sexuality will not be made until after the 1997 Churchwide Assembly," which will be held Aug. 14-20 in Philadelphia.
For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service, (312)
380-2958 or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir., (312)
380-2955 or FRANKI@ELCA.ORG