Monday, August 10, 2009

ELCA Sexuality Business

Note: Those who have not been following this blog or may be otherwise unaware of the upcoming ELCA churchwide assembly may want to look through previous posts that refer to this to get the context. In the blog, go to the top left of the words "Sharing Ministry and Faith" above and type "sexuality" into the search or go to posts entitled "The Future," "Synod Assembly," "Help for What God Intended" and the links you'll find there.

As I’ve been mulling over where I stand in regard to the sexuality study and proposed changes in ministry policies (to be discussed at next week's ELCA Churchwide Assembly), I find myself where I have been for a long time, believing that there is a God-given design for sexuality and family and resisting any attempts to dilute that standard. I’m aware that some (1) theologians/pastors/teachers and some (2) "regular folks" disagree on with me this issue. But, as a pastor/teacher/theologian myself, I find that I have quite different reactions to the "religious professionals" who disagree with me than I do to the everyday people who see things differently.

As far as my work with people who aren't religious professionals, I want to make sure that nothing stands in the way of proclaiming and sharing the grace and mercy of God that leads to repentance and faith, whether that's from the pulpit, in writing or in more practical, loving ways. I want to make sure that nothing we do hides from anyone the grace of our Lord Jesus, bought at the price of his suffering and death. I hope that God's Word shines through to all, whatever someone’s opinion on this issue is, or whatever their sexual orientation or sexual relationships are.

On the other hand, I find myself standing firm against those who would teach that homosexuality is a God blessed option, or that God planned to make some people homosexual, or who would proclaim God’s blessing on homosexual unions or would want to change the ministry policies of our church (as outlined in a document called Visions & Expectations). I stand firm in this way I believe it’s abundantly clear in creation (Romans 1:18-20) and in scripture (Genesis, Song of Solomon, the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, etc.) that God’s plan is to bless heterosexual unions for the good of the world. I believe that creation itself teaches us why marriage is part of God’s good plan for the world, children being the most obvious fruit.

As an aside, I find it interesting that in our current semi-continuous reading of Ephesians that the lectionary leaps over Ephesians 4:17-24, 5:3-14 and 5:21-6:9. Not that these passages aren’t challenging to interpret and apply, but they speak directly to the importance of moral standards among those who are called by Jesus’ name.

I'm still hoping that people from my church and beyond will share their thoughts and opinions with me. I do not believe God rejects any of us from his grace simply because we have different opinions on this or any other issue. So, let's talk.

P.S. The pastor who serves as our Southwestern Minnesota Synod Bishop has written and distributed a "pastoral letter" on this subject - you can download the 2 page pdf file by clicking here.

P.P.S. According to an update I received by email today, you can follow the action at the assembly in real time at You'll find live Web streaming of plenary sessions, video, audio and text news releases, photos and more. If social networking is your preference, connect via Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and read blogs at The proposed schedule is at On Saturday, Aug. 22 the ELCA will send out an email summarizing the assembly's actions on the issues related to sexuality and ministry standards. On Wednesday, Aug. 26, ELCA Communication Services will post "A Brief Summary of Actions" for download.


  1. The message shared last night at the park, entitled "Driven", spoke of either letting our circumstances drive us or to give up our hammers and let God drive us. I know the whole sexuality topic is a huge wedge in our and other churches. I really believe this particular issue is a perfect example of pop culture "driving" the church. We are all sinners and we can't be afraid to call sin sin for the fear of not being PC. Just my $.02. Thanks for this forum and have a great day!

    Mike L.

  2. Thanks for your answer to my post. I agree with you wholeheartedly and I want you to know that I wasn't speaking about you specifically (as far as the fear of being PC). We have spoken about this topic in the past and I just feel this is a "wedge issue" that can do nothing but divide people (which I believe is not God's plan). I really believe the issue is between the homosexual and God. John 8:4-11 comes to mind when I think of this issue and all sin. That is how I think Jesus would resolve this. God bless you brother and see you tonight!!

    Mike L.

  3. If fear ever drives our lives, we need to be called to account, as Jim Tegelhutter wrote and as I responded to in my post of July 10. The question for me, Mike, isn't one of fear, but, instead, one of where compassion and kindness fits in our discussion of sexuality.

    Those in church leadership who have a revisionist position on this issue aren't always driven by fear or the desire to be politically correct. They are driven by compassion. They want to make sure that the message of God's LOVE for sinners isn't drowned out by the church's condemnation of homosexual behavior.

    I am unwilling, however, to change what I believe is a sound and solid position that heterosexual marriage is uniquely blessed in creation and in scripture. I'm not afraid that will make me not politically correct, but I am concerned that focusing on gays and lesbians as sinners somehow makes "us" heterosexual people to be somehow "better" than they are.

    At outdoor worship last night, that wonderful solo from Elim Mission church was a prayer asking God:
    "Remind me how you made dark spirits flee,
    And spoke your power to the raging sea,
    And spoke your mercy to a sinful man –
    Remind me, Jesus, for this is what I am."

    If a focus on homosexuals as sinners makes me feel better about myself, or makes homosexuals feel worse about themselves than they imagine I am, that's a problem. We are all sinners who stand constantly in the need of God's mercy and grace, bought only with the blood of Jesus.

  4. These comments are out of order because I made a correction in the one just prior to this. That one, now time stamped 4:03, was a follow up to Mike's comment of 1:11 p.m.

    What follows here responds to Mike's comment of 3:44 p.m.

    Mike, I agree that this discussion of homosexuality is a wedge issue. It divides us for all kinds of reasons. That's why I haven't preached about it.

    I'm feeling I need to say something this coming Sunday, however. It is going to come up in a big way next week in the national and regional media as the ELCA assembly tackles it.

    The assembly, the highest decision making body in the ELCA, may very well decide to allow the so-called "blessing" of homosexual unions and the "ordination" of pastors who are in such relationships.

    The questions then will be: (1) what those of us pastors in the ELCA with a more "conservative" position will do... whether the positives of being part of the ELCA will outweigh the negatives, whether we will decide we need to go more public in our concerns, whether we will feel we need to take some other action... and (2) what congregations will do in regard to their support of our denomination.

    I appreciate so much about the ELCA--it's a big tent that allows for a variety of perspectives, and I like that. I also appreciate how it tackles issues having to do with poverty, the environment, war & peace, justice, etc., that some other denominations don't. But the main thing is that the ELCA has always put the cross of Jesus front and center, letting us all know we are sinners in need of grace, not letting us think too much of ourselves because we have the "right" opinions.

  5. A couple things you said really hit home, albeit I am on the opposite side of the fence on this issue.

    First, a common theme throughout your post seems to be a fear/humbleness regarding putting up barriers to Christ, all the while upholding your beliefs. You dont want anything to stand in the way of the Gospel. There is also a humbleness in person, ie we are all simul justus et peccatur, none should feel themselves superior to another. I shared that with a friend of mine tonight, and she said, "Wow, if only all conservative churches upheld the same positions".

    The lack of welcome, or half hearted welcome that far too many same gender folks have experienced has driven many from the church. Some have heard for sure, and Christ has drawn them to him, but then the church turns around and bars or partially bars the door, and they walk away in despair.

    Secondly, no matter what the outcome of next week, what are pastors, and what are congregations on both sides of the issue going to do. The ELCA is pretty amazing in our diversity of beliefs and practices, and to loose any part of that would be a sad deal indeed. The thing is, the diversity of beliefs does not center us, but Christ does, and the fact that through even passionate disagreement, both sides are looking to Him. I remember the blogger Pondering Pastor posting a photo from the last CWA, where folks on both sides were praying together. Thats pretty powerful witness... I pray no matter the outcome, that will remain.

  6. I have written a comment each day since the original post and then not posted. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and I prefer my Pastor not be a practicing homosexual. So, how do I vote?

  7. Ron and Anonymous... sorry I haven't gotten back to you. I plan to do so later today. If I don't, I will do so as soon as is practical. Thanks for your patience.

  8. Ron - in regard to your first point of August 12, about people who feel rejected, that's what makes this issue so hard to deal with. I am committed to doing all I can to proclaim the saving love of Christ for all. As regards your second point--the diversity of beliefs & practices and our prayerful acceptance of one another--I'm a lot more comfortable with unofficial and even rebellious diversity than I am with codifying that diversity in an official way, saying, basically, that each of us is on our own as regards the controversial aspects of human sexuality and sexual behavior.

  9. To "Anonymous" of August 14 - I think there is a place for "tolerance" in the church. That isn't the same as honoring all behaviors or all opinions, but it is a way of saying "I don't think you're right but I'm not going to condemn you." I think that's the spirit of Jesus' teaching about checking for the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else's. The law of God, after all, isn't intended to be a way for us to judge others. First it's a way of making each of us desperate for Jesus' love as we recognize our sinfulness. So, we rarely need to play judge. I do believe, however, that God's Word does judge some things very clearly, and I believe creation and scripture are clear as regards sexual behavior.