Friday, March 14, 2008

The ELCA's Own News Release

From the ELCA News Service


March 13, 2008

ELCA 'Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality' Now Available

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality released the "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" March 13 for study and response across the 4.8 million-member ELCA.  Responses to the draft social statement are due to the task force Nov. 1, 2008.

    Social statements are teaching documents that assist Lutherans in forming judgments on social issues.  They provide theological and ethical framework for discussion, discernment and decision-making, set policy for the church, and guide the church's advocacy and work in church and society.  Social statements are adopted by a two-thirds vote at ELCA churchwide assemblies.  Held every other year, the churchwide assembly is the ELCA's highest legislative authority.  The next assembly is Aug. 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.

    "We are sexual creatures from the moment of birth to the time of death.  This draft social statement takes that seriously and addresses sexuality in relation to the various situations of our lives.  The common question at all times is what serves the good of the neighbor, what creates and sustains trust, and what protects from harm," said the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society.

    "It is the hope of the task force that this draft social statement will invite this church into continued conversation. This draft forms the best thinking of the task force to date, although not all members of the task force agree with all parts of the document. The task force hopes to learn what in the draft is helpful, what might be changed, and what is missing," said Larson.

    Most of the ELCA's 65 synods plan to host hearings between March and November as an opportunity for Lutherans to discuss the draft social statement.  At least one representative of the task force is to attend each hearing.  The ELCA has 10,549 congregations organized into its 65 synods.  The draft document contains a form for other responses.

    Based on the responses from the church the task force will revise and prepare a proposed social statement, which is due in early 2009.  The proposed social statement will be given to the ELCA Church Council for its consideration and with a request to place the document on the agenda of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly for action.  The Church Council is the ELCA's legislative authority between churchwide assemblies.

    The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly initiated the process to develop a social statement on human sexuality.  At the direction of the council, a task force was formed to carry out the process.  The task force published three studies and a youth resource to invite deliberation and response across the ELCA under the "Journey Together Faithfully" banner.

Content of the ELCA 'Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality'

    The draft social statement does not address current ELCA policies, which "preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church."  The task force has been asked to make recommendations on official church rosters to the 2009 churchwide assembly.  These recommendations will be available in February 2009.

    There are four primary sections between the draft social statement's introduction and conclusion:  "Theological and ethical foundations for understanding sexuality"; "Sexuality as part of God's creative activity"; "Trust at the heart of faith active in love"; and, "Social trust and the common good."

    Section one recognizes that the Lutheran tradition has a unique contribution to the conversation and moral discernment on human sexuality.  Section two explores a Lutheran approach to sexual ethics.  Section three describes "God's gift of sexuality" in creation.

    Section four looks at matters of trust -- how trust among people "forms the basis of healthy relationships, including sexual relationships."  This section also looks at marriage, cohabitation, same-gender relationships and more.  The draft social statement says that in commitment and sexuality "this church teaches that degrees of physical intimacy should be carefully matched to degrees of affection and commitment.  This also suggests a way to understand why this church has taught that the greatest physical intimacies, such as intercourse, should be matched with and sheltered by the highest level of binding commitment, such as found in marriage."  The draft statement says that the ELCA "does not favor or give approval to cohabitation arrangements outside of marriage" but that there are broad social forces and that "certain laws and economic realities in this society create economic hardship for many, including senior citizens, who desire to be legally married." 

    The draft statement says that after "many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.  This church has committed itself to continuing to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment and pastoral care."

    Section five extends to the area of how "trust fosters healthy sexuality in community life."

    "Lutherans believe that there is nothing we can do -- either right or wrong action -- to win the love of God.  God's love comes to us despite who we are.  And, we respond to that love by caring for and seeking the good of our neighbor," said Larson.

    "This draft social statement insists that God has created us as sexual and therefore relational beings.  This is God's intention and it is good.  It is for this reason that the theme of trust is so evident, because trust is the cornerstone for the flourishing of all relationships and of society," said Larson.  "In no area of our lives is trust more critical than in the area of human sexuality.  We are therefore called to demonstrate trust in all of our relationships and to work to make this world a more trustworthy place."

    Lutherans do not make up a "rule book of right and wrong behaviors" which, Larson said, will not be found in the draft social statement.  "Lutherans seek to help people make ethical decisions in the midst of the messiness of life," she said, adding that the draft social statement on human sexuality speaks strongly against "all the causes of harm, including and especially the violation of trust for children," and the misuse of trust and power in all relationships.

    According to the Rev. Peter Strommen, bishop, ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Duluth, and task force chair, the draft social statement "intentionally grounds its thinking in an evangelical Lutheran tradition.  The reader will notice this as a prominent characteristic of the document.  In addition, a case is made for important social institutions such as marriage.  It is recognized that the same degree of social consensus that once existed can no longer be assumed.  The use of 'trust' represents a fresh approach that is embedded in Lutheran tradition and effective in addressing both public and personal dimensions of human sexuality.  This document works with the inter-relationship of the social, cultural, economic and religious, both private and public."

    Strommen added that the intent of the draft social statement is "churchwide engagement and feedback.  The invitation is, 'let's think together and improve this document before it comes as a proposed statement in 2009."

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    The "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" of the ELCA is available at on the ELCA's Web site.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:

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