A group of Lutheran scholars and church leaders released an open letter on Tuesday urging members churchwide to reject proposals that would liberalize the denomination's stance on homosexuality.
Ahead of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Churchwide Assembly in August, the conservative group is cautioning voting members against changing the denomination's current position on same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered gays.
"The proposals to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly this summer from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality are perceived by some as compromises that will permit the ELCA to live faithfully with internal diversity on controversial ethical questions. The proposals are in fact no compromise," the letter states. "They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA."
"The teaching of the church will be changed," the letter warns. "We should not make such an important decision without clear biblical and theological support."
Earlier this year, the task force released a long-awaited report acknowledging that there is neither a consensus nor an emerging one in the denomination on homosexuality while at the same time recommending that individual congregations be allowed to choose whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained.
Currently, the ELCA allows the ordination of gays and lesbians if they remain celibate.
The task force agreed that the denomination cannot responsibly consider any changes to its policies unless it is able and willing in some way to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships but it recommended that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to recognize such relationships.
Two members of the task force whose dissent is expressed in the proposals have signed on to the opposing letter.
"The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel. The Task Force texts seem to permit variation on all ethical questions, no matter how fundamental," the letter states. "How Christians behave sexually is not a matter of indifference to our life in Christ."
Prominent scholars and church leaders were brought together last month to draft the letter, which was initiated by Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform), a conservative coaltion within the ELCA. Nearly 60 bishops, pastors and teachers have signed the letter. Others are invited to add their signatures.
"We wanted a clear statement from Lutheran theologians and church leaders who uphold biblical teaching on sexuality as it has been believed and taught by the Christian Church for nearly 2,000 years," said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee.
"We are grateful for the scholars and church leaders who have been willing to stand with us and with the vast majority of Christians worldwide and throughout time," Spring said.
Scholars and pastors in the letter reject the task force's recommendation that the ELCA commit itself to "respect the bound consciences of all."
"Conscience can err," the letter states. "The Word of God, not conscience, is the final court of appeal in the church."
Approving the public recognition of same-sex unions or the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, the signatories further argue, would damage the ELCA's ecumenical relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Evangelical churches, "all of which affirm the clear teaching of Scripture that homosexual activity departs from God’s design for marriage and sexuality."
The open letter is being mailed to the 1,045 voting members of the 4.7 million-member denomination's Churchwide Assembly. The assembly is scheduled for August 17-23 in Minneapolis where the panel's proposals will be considered.