Comments on Human Sexuality Proposals Coming before the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly


[1] I have been asked to comment on the human sexuality proposals coming before the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August in Minneapolis, the proposed social statement, ‘Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” and the “Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies.”


[2] I previously wrote what I called “A Preliminary, Quick Review” of the Human Sexuality social statement draft, a review that was published here in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics in April of 2008. I find the final document, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” revised after review across the church and many written critiques similar to (and quite different from) mine, a marked improvement over what I reviewed early in 2008. The proposed social statement has addressed many of my previous draft concerns including awkward language, a lack of audience focus, the need for more editing and a general reduction in verbiage.


[3] I believe the social statement coming before the assembly is now a very fine one. It is clearly addressed to members of ELCA congregations who wish to study the issues relating to human sexuality in some depth. While one could argue that the long “distinctly Lutheran approach” introduction could (and perhaps should) apply to any and all ECLA social statements, it does belong here. And, who can or would complain about another good review of the basics of Lutheran life and theology? I am very pleased with the document’s work on marriage and family and sexuality in all of its contexts. The continued emphasis on protection of children is both necessary and important. I welcome the good words about the nature of 21st century North American families which can look very different from past images of so-called “nuclear” families. I strongly affirm the language stating that, in 2009, families are (my paraphrase) nuclear, blended, divorced, grandparent-led, with two parents, a single parent, same sex parents, etc. My members will see themselves in these descriptions! Thank you. This will be a most helpful document for our congregation’s life and ministry. Thank you.


[4] I still believe the document is naïve when it comes to pre-marital sex and co-habitation. As I noted in my April, 2008, review, my ministry began in the mid-1970’s and it took more than twenty marriages until I reached one where the couple was not already living together! That has not changed at all in the early 21st century – the pastoral staff here at Trinity officiated at more than 50 weddings in 2008 and I do not know of any of the couples who were not already living together! While I do understand and affirm the need to stand up continually for intimate sexuality within the marriage and long-term commitment context, the issue of pre-marriage sexual relations and life together as a couple is one we cannot fight and I no longer believe it is worth any “fight.”


[5] Our Congregation Council at Trinity spent much of their May, 2009, regular meeting discussing these two documents. As one might imagine, most of the discussion focused on the “Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies” and the recommendation to allow rostered leaders in “lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” to join and/or remain on our roster of pastors, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and associates in ministry. Some council members pointed out that that they had been discussing this issue (beginning with previous ELCA human sexuality and homosexuality drafts and documents) for most of the years since the ELCA began its human sexuality and homosexuality discussions in the early 1990s. One long-time leader noted that, after long reflection and study, she did not find much in the Bible that speaks directly to the issue of homosexuality, positively or negatively. Most others noted that these changes were a long time coming and that their time had come. (Actually, most of the council believed their time should have come long ago). Our younger council members (we have three high school council members and several younger adults) did not understand why we were even having this discussion! They were quick to remember (and quote back to us all!) their confirmation lessons about God’s unconditional love for all people. Several council members were quite taken with the notion of “bound conscience” and thought this concept was the answer for those who oppose the proposed ministry changes.


[6] The briefer discussion of “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” focused on the document’s good grounding in scripture and Lutheran theology, its use of the image of God’s relation with people and creation as a model for human relationships, and the good document words on all of the varied social forces at work in today’s society which affect marriage and family and all of human sexuality. Some still saw it as “too wordy” but most appreciated the words as written.


[7] Our congregation’s support for the proposed ministry policies changes should not come as a surprise since our large (nearly 6,500 members) congregation has a long history of acceptance of homosexual individuals and couples. We are the largest Reconciling in Christ congregation in North America. In my 2005/2006 call process to become Senior Pastor here it was made quite clear that I should not come here if I did not support full acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the church. (I did and do).


[8] However, it would be short-sighted to assume that our congregation is “liberal.” Most members, I suspect, even those who voted for President Obama last fall, would still consider themselves to be moderate or conservative Republicans. They just do not see homosexuality as an important issue in our country or church, not with other issues like war, the environment and the economy pressing upon us. One long time member put it quite succinctly for me when we were talking about homosexual couples in our congregation– “Are they in loving and committed relationships? If so, I’m for them.”


[9] Our May 2009 council discussion was designed to be just that, a discussion. However, rather quickly council members asked if there was more they could do than just discuss the documents. Soon a motion was made to endorse both the proposed social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and the proposed changes in ELCA ministry policies. These resolutions were approved unanimously (one abstention) by the council. Soon after our council meeting, our synod assembly (Southeastern Pennsylvania) approved by a strong majority similar resolutions recommending approval of both documents.


[10] The council and staff of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania look forward to the approval of both the proposed social statement on “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and the proposed changes in ELCA ministry polices by the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly in August in Minneapolis. We are ready to say “Thanks be to God” for these changes.

© June 2009

Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Volume 9, Issue 6