The heads of the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in the United States spoke out Monday against the recent actions of the largest and affirmed their Bible-based belief that homosexuality is sinful.
"To view same-sex relationships as acceptable to God is to place cultural viewpoint and human opinions above the clear Word of God," commented the Rev. Mark Schroeder, president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).
"The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, along with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and other smaller Lutheran synods, maintains and upholds the clear teaching of the Bible that homosexuality is not in keeping with God's design and is sinful in God's eyes," he added.
On Friday, the chief legislative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted 559-451 to approve a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained.
Earlier that week, during ELCA's 2009 Church Assembly, delegates adopted a new social statement on human sexuality with exactly the number of votes (676 or two-thirds) needed to pass it. The statement, which emphasizes two principles – trust and bound conscience, addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality, including social structures, cohabitation, sexual exploitation, abuse, and homosexuality – the latter of which has drawn the most attention and controversy.
Opponents of the statement had argued that adopting the statement would constitute abandonment of Scripture, as the Bible does not support homosexual behavior. Supporters, however, said the document maintain that it is consistent with the biblical command to care for one's neighbor and build trusting relationships.
Following the conclusions of last week's biennial assembly, WELS's president acknowledged that it is the Church's responsibility to show love and compassion to sinners. But he emphasized that this is not done by condoning or justifying the sin, but by calling the sinner to repent and by assuring the sinner that there is full forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
"We believe, and the Bible teaches, that God designed this relationship to be a blessing for men and women and for society. Any departure from what God himself has designed does two things: it denies the clear teachings of Scriptures and it undermines God's desire that the man/woman relationship in marriage be a blessing," added Schroeder, whose denomination consists of about 390,000 members and nearly 1,300 congregations nationwide.
ELCA, meanwhile, boasts a membership of 4.7 million, making it not only the largest Lutheran church body in the United States, but also the the fourth largest Protestant body.
Despite ELCA's size, Schroeder said it was "unfortunate that many headlines have referred to the recent decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as something 'Lutherans' have decided" when, in fact, ELCA is only one of many Lutheran denominations.
"We are saddened that a group with the name Lutheran would take another decisive step away from the clear teaching of the Bible, which was the foundation of the Lutheran Reformation," he stated.
In comments also released Monday, Dr.Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, also affirmed his denomination's "historical understanding of the Christian church that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as 'intrinsically sinful.'"
Kieschnick, who attended ELCA's Church Assembly as a guest speaker, reiterated some of the comments he made on the final day of the Aug. 17-23 gathering and noted how doctrinal decisions ELCA had already adopted in 2001 led the LCMS, "in sincere humility and love, to declare that we could no longer consider the ELCA 'to be an orthodox Lutheran church body.'"
"Sadly, the decisions of this past week to ignore biblical teaching on human sexuality have reinforced that conclusion. We respect the desire to follow conscience in moral decision making, but conscience may not overrule the Word of God," he commented.
In his concluding remarks, Kieschnick – whose denomination consists of 2.4 million members – recognized that many within the ELCA, there are both clergy and lay who "are committed to remaining faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, are committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, and strongly oppose these actions."
"To them we offer our assurance of loving encouragement together with our willingness to provide appropriate support in their efforts to remain faithful to the Word of God and the historic teachings of the Lutheran church and all other Christian churches for the past 2,000 years," he stated.
ELCA, which officially came into existence on Jan. 1, 1988, is product of the merging of three churches – the 2.25 million-member Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the 2.25 million-member American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the 100,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).
Through its predecessor church bodies, ELCA is a founding member of the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. – ecumenical bodies that the LCMS does not belong to.