Lutherans Prepare for First Draft on Human Sexuality

The largest Lutheran denomination in the nation is continuing work on developing a social statement on the controversial issue of human sexuality with a first draft due out early 2008.

The Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality met over the weekend in open and closed-door discussions amid "fatigue" by Lutherans after years of debate and studies conducted across the denomination on human sexuality, including the issue of homosexuality.

"The church has given us the responsibility of writing a social statement, and we are working hard to do our best," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, bishop of ELCA's Northeastern Minnesota Synod and task force chair, according to the ELCA News Service. "We want it to be helpful to the church and faithful to its core convictions. Our task force, like the whole church, represents diverse backgrounds. There is genuine respect for one another, reflective of our unity in Christ, but we do not see all things in the same way."

In a meeting between the task force and the ELCA Conference of Bishops on Oct. 6, some bishops suggested the social statement seek agreement on "core" teachings, and that biblical interpretation and authority guide the statement, according to ELCA News.

According to Strommen, the task force, which represents diverse backgrounds, is approaching its work from a biblical, ethical and theological perspective.

ELCA's presiding bishop, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, has said that the statement will be concocted on the basis of the congregants' responses. Once the first draft on human sexuality is available next year, it will be distributed across the denomination for feedback. The task force will reshape the document based on that feedback. The final proposed statement will be requested to be placed on the agenda at the denomination's churchwide assembly in 2009.

In August, at its annual assembly, ELCA passed a resolution urging bishops to refrain from disciplining pastors who are in "faithful committed same-gender relationships." Its previous policy had allowed gays to serve as pastors but only under the condition that they abstain from any sexual relations. The vote had come after days of emotional debate on whether to ordain non-celibate homosexual clergy.

The denomination recently released a study guide – "Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor: Lutherans Talk about Human Sexuality" – to members of ELCA along with a separate study for senior high-school-age members to engage the church in thoughtful discussion and theological discernment on topics of human sexuality. Responses from both studies are due later this year.