Evangelical Lutherans Renew Discussion on Human Sexuality

America’s largest Lutheran denomination renewed its debate over human sexuality last week by adding six new members to a team that was set aside to develop a social statement on the issue by 2009.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Task Force on Human Sexuality met in Chicago from Feb. 2-5 to help new and continuing members function well together, “to start getting our minds around this complex topic,” and to identify priorities for the social statement, according to the ELCA news service. The members will be continuing the work of an old task force that developed a specific statement on homosexuality early last year.

The task force began its work in 2001 and tackled two key questions: whether the church should bless same-sex relationships, and whether it should ordain such people into the ministry.

Following the development of the homosexuality statement, which generally upheld the church’s stance against both same-sex relationships and the ordination of homosexual ministers, some members of the task force decided to step down from roles, leaving open space for new members.

The new task force will tackle the larger topic of human sexuality, and is expected to develop an official church statement on the topic. Part of their task is also to engage the church in an open dialogue surrounding the changing nature of human sexuality.

"We want to engage the entire church in an interesting, helpful, transparent process,” said the Rev. Peter Strommen, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod, and chair of the task force. “Our deep desire is that by the time this is all done there is a social statement that will genuinely aid the ministry of the church on a very important topic.”

Their statement will not act as a mandate for the church but rather as a guideline on how church members are expected to view the issue.

During the Chicago meeting, task force members heard several presentations on the way sexuality is presented in the modern world.

Dr. Adina Nack, assistant professor of sociology at the California Lutheran University, discussed popular culture and the media, research, differences between sex and gender, sexual orientation, extra-relational sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and sex education as part of her presentation on “Sexuality and Society.”

"This group is undertaking a large and complicated task, so I wanted to give an overview of some of the major findings and debates among social scientists when it comes to studies of sexuality," Nack told ELCA news.

“I left people with more questions than answers, and unfortunately that's the reality of the subject matter," Nack added. “There are some clear answers [from] a standpoint of what seems to produce better health outcomes – physical and mental well-being – but, when it gets to matters of morality and spirituality, it's a lot more fuzzy."

The 14-member task force will be sending out discussion topics and resources for local churches to engage in the debate. Task force members include both lay and ordained ministers, and students and teachers.