Monday, March 17, 2008

Bishop Rogness on the Draft Statement

St. Paul Area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness was going to wait, but couldn't:

The Way it Looks from Here

March 13, 2008

Dear Partners in Ministry:

At noon today the ELCA churchwide office released the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality that had been called for by the 2001 Churchwide Assembly. This release date has been scheduled since last year. You may recall that at the time of the release of recommendations to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly regarding blessing and ordination of persons in same-gender relationships, I sent an e-letter giving some perspective and counsel as those recommendations were released. 

I hadn’t planned on doing an e-letter at the time of release of this draft statement, for two reasons: (1) I have consistently maintained that there are many issues that are important in the life of the church, and I don't simply email everyone whenever the issue is about sexuality; and (2) my judgment was this statement was broadly about human sexuality—and a rather deep and complex statement as well—and wouldn’t bring on the immediate volatile response that the 2005 issues around homosexuality would bring. So that was my plan, re-affirmed last week when I got my first look at the statement.

But here it is—just a little more than three hours after the draft statement's release, and I’m sending this email message! 

Why? Because one hour after its release, I was alerted to the stories that had been posted on the Star Tribune website, which I presume will be in tomorrow’s paper and will be widely read by the people in our churches. And since most of the buzz over this draft statement will come from people who have read the newspaper instead of the statement, I need to offer some help in both alerting you to the articles coming and the counter-perspective that people need to know.

There are actually two articles posted on the website. One is the national wire story carried by the Associated Press, headlined “Largest Lutheran group affirms traditional marriage in draft statement on sexuality.” The headline and article are fair and accurate. The second is a Star Tribune article that was headlined “The ELCA on ordaining gays: Preliminary statement issued today.” I was dismayed by the misleading headline, the inaccuracies in the body of the article, and, mostly, by the impression that the draft statement was all about ordaining homosexual ministers. The ELCA news service contacted the paper, which did respond by changing the headline to read “ELCA issues draft of human sexuality statement.” The article itself remains unchanged as I send this. Perhaps some of my other concerns will be changed by the time it is in print—I hope so. In any event, I want to offer some comments.
  • Go to the ELCA website, if you haven’t already, and download and read the statement itself. It’s long and it’s not light reading, but it is a solid piece of work that warrants study and reflection and response.

  • The Star Tribune article suggests that the draft is primarily about the ordination of gay persons. It is a 50-page report, about one and one-half pages are devoted to same gender relationships, and no pages (or sentences) are about ordination. 

  • The article gives the impression that the bishops of the church (article calls it Council of Bishops, but we’re actually the Conference of Bishops) are framing the document and the decision. Neither is the case. We neither authored the draft nor do we vote on policy. The task force proposes, the church council forwards, and the Churchwide Assembly votes.

  • My primary concern is the inaccurate representation of what has been written. First, it is a draft statement, not a report about anything. It is, in fact, a deeply theological and deeply Lutheran approach to human beings as sexual beings, about our sexuality being inherently part of our created being, used for the building of trusting relationships. As we're bombarded with stories in the news about sexuality being badly used, this draft statement is a wonderful, teachable resource for a desperately teachable moment. 
I end where I began. Invite people to read the document. It is a far broader piece of work than the articles describe. It addresses a host of important and everyday issues: marriage, cohabitation, protection of children, the value of friendship, social pressures of sexual messages, and many more. It is about theological issues of justification and incarnation. It is about critical human life issues regarding relationships and trust.  You won’t get that from the news articles. But you can and will get it from the document itself. 

We have six months for response. Our synod has hearings in September. The draft statement itself invites (even provides) vehicle for response, knowing it isn’t perfect, but believing—as I do—that it warrants our attention and reflection. It is a fine piece of work, for which we don’t need to apologize or hide.


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