Sunday, February 22, 2009

ELCA News Release on Gay Ministry Policy Recommendation

ELCA Task Force Makes Recommendation on Ministry Policies

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The 15-member Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality released Feb. 19 a "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies" for the professional leadership of the church.

On the basis of study and "listening to this church," members of the task force developed a report and recommendation for the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- the church's chief legislative body -- to consider as regards the church's current policy.

For Lutheran pastors and other professional leaders in the ELCA, the church requires that sexual intimacy "be within the context of marriage." The church understands marriage as between a man and a woman. Gay and lesbian Lutherans serve as ordained ministers in the ELCA but are expected to abstain from engaging in same-gender sexual intimacy.

The report focuses on changing the policy that "ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships" -- as stated in the ELCA's "Vision and Expectations" for ordained ministers. The same expectation is expressed in policies for professional lay leaders of the church.

The task force's report also highlights areas of disagreement and agreement among ELCA members regarding current policy. Some members of the ELCA support continuation of the policy, and some members advocate for change. Lutherans have asserted "their positions with varying degrees of certainty," the report said.

The task force acknowledged that there is neither "a consensus -- a general agreement -- nor any emerging consensus" either within the ELCA or within other faith communities in North America, according to its report. The task force stated that ELCA members "must seek a common way to live and serve in the midst of disagreements."

"Through careful listening to this church and to one another other, task force members share a sober appreciation for the depth of disagreement on this matter. We also share a longing for church unity," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, Prior Lake, Minn., and task force chair. "Our hope is that a way can be found to live in the unity of the gospel amidst our differences."

The task force recommended that a process begin with the churchwide assembly, "declaring its intention about what it wants to do," according to the report. It proposed four steps to be taken consecutively. If the assembly agrees to the first, then the second, third and fourth would be considered only if the preceding steps have been approved.

The first step asks the assembly whether it is committed "to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships," said the report.

The second step asks the assembly whether it is committed to finding a way for Lutherans in committed, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA professional leaders -- clergy, associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses.

If steps one and two are accepted, step three asks the assembly to commit to implementing steps one and two "in such a way that all this church bear the burdens of the other, love the neighbor, and respect the bound conscience of any with whom they disagree." According to the report, "decisions about policy that serve only the interests of one or another group will not be acceptable."

Step four presents a proposal for how the ELCA could move toward change "in a way that respects the bound conscience of all," said the report. The fourth step is different from the previous steps in that it is "not simply a commitment in principle, but makes a specific recommendation for flexibility within existing structures and practices of this church to allow for people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to be approved" for professional service in the ELCA, stated the report.

The task force's report and recommendation on ministry policies completes a directive from the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to address and make recommendations on changes to policies that preclude Lutherans in committed, same-gender unions from the ELCA's professional rosters.

The 2001 assembly directed the church to study homosexuality with reference to two topics -- the blessing of same-sex unions and the "ordination, consecration and commissioning of people in committed, same sex unions." It also asked the church to develop a social statement on human sexuality.

"Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" -- the proposed social statement developed by the task force -- was also released Feb. 19. The proposed social statement and the report and recommendation on ministry policies are two separate documents.

The documents are open to review by the ELCA Church Council -- the church's board of directors -- when it meets here March 27-30, and they will be considered by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 17-23, in Minneapolis.

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The task force's "Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies" is available at on the ELCA Web site.

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

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