The chief legislative authority of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a new social statement on human sexuality Wednesday with exactly the number of votes needed to pass it.
“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.
Opponents of the statement argue that adopting the statement would constitute abandonment of Scripture, as the Bible does not support homosexual behavior. Supporters, however, say the document maintain that it is consistent with the biblical command to care for one's neighbor and build trusting relationships.
Before adopting the statement, assembly delegates had to consider 13 proposed amendments, including one that sought to replace a section of the social statement about "lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships” with one that asserts the "practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God's intent."
In a 667-303 vote, the assembly opted against the aforementioned change, following the recommendation of an ad hoc committee that advised against the amendment’s adoption since the position articulated implies "a consensus that no longer exists."
After considering 6 of the 13 proposals, voting members moved to accept the recommendations of the ad hoc committee on all other amendments and moved to consider the adoption of the social statement.
Following the statement’s adoption, the Rev. Peter Strommen, who served as chair of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, said it was “quite stunning” to have witnessed an exactly two-thirds vote.
"I doubt very much that I've ever been present at an election with that many votes cast coming out exactly two-thirds,” he said. “We're naturally very glad that it passed.”
The Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director of ELCA Church in Society, meanwhile, said she was “very proud of this church” but noted that it was a time of “diminished joy.”
"We know there is suffering all around on this issue,” she said at a news conference.
On Friday, delegates are expected to vote on another hotly debated and highly publicized proposal – one that would allow non-celibate people living in committed same-gender relationships to be on the professional rosters of ELCA.
Unlike the statement on human sexuality, however, the change in the denomination’s policies on the hiring of church leaders will require only a simple majority after delegates voted Monday against requiring a two-thirds majority to approve the change.
According to an in-depth national study of mainline Protestant clergy by Public Religions Research, a majority (54 percent) of ELCA clergy says that gay and lesbian people should be eligible for ordination with no special requirements and a plurality (46 percent) supports performing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.
About one-third (32 percent), meanwhile, says that gay and lesbian people should be eligible for ordination only if they are celibate, and only 14 percent say gay and lesbian people should not be eligible at all.
With 4.7 million members, ELCA is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States and the fourth largest Protestant body.