Thursday, February 19, 2009

ELCA News Release on Proposed Social Statement

ELCA Task Force Releases 'Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust'

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The 15-member Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality released Feb. 19 "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" -- a proposed social statement on human sexuality.

The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- the chief legislative body of the church -- is expected to consider the social statement for adoption as an official statement Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

The proposed statement addresses a spectrum of concerns relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective. It responds to the question: "How do we understand human sexuality within the context of Jesus' invitation to love God and love our neighbor?" If adopted by the assembly, the social statement will assist the ELCA in its moral deliberation, govern its institutional policies and guide the church's public advocacy work.

While the document does not offer once-and-for-all answers to contemporary questions about sexuality, it "seeks to tap the deep roots of Scripture and the Lutheran theological tradition" for Lutherans to discern what is "responsible and faithful action," according to the proposed statement.

The document contains sections on key Lutheran principles, trust and human sexuality, social structures that enhance trust, sexuality and trust in relationships, sexuality and social responsibility, and a series of resolutions to incorporate the statement into the mission and ministry of the ELCA.

"Sexuality has to do with relationships, and God has made us relational beings," said the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society.

"The underlying question of this social statement, therefore, is what makes right relationship. Our model is God's unfailingly, trustworthy relationship with people and creation. No human relationship can thrive without trust. The social statement therefore considers all human relationships and social structures in light of what fosters trust, commitment and protection for those who are vulnerable," she said.

The call for trust is woven into the proposed statement's discourse about riage, same-gender relationships, family and children, commitment in relationships, adult cohabitation, society, public ministry and more.

On the topic of marriage the document states that the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions recognize marriage as a covenant between a woman and a man. In recent decades the church has begun to understand "in new ways" the need of same-gender couples who seek relationships of "lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments," said the statement.

The proposed statement acknowledges that "consensus does not exist" among ELCA members on how to "honor" committed same-sex relationships. The statement reflects differing conclusions on the basis of biblical and theological interpretation. Some members believe homosexuality is a sin in their understanding of biblical teaching and natural law, and some members believe homosexuality "reflects a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended."

Some Lutherans believe same-gender relationships are to be "honored and held to high standards and public accountability" but do not equate these relationships with marriage, and some believe that same-gender relationships are to be held to the same "rigorous standards, sexual ethics and status as heterosexual marriage," said the statement.

Despite the varying viewpoints, the church encourages all people to live out their faith with "profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor," said the proposed statement.

The document calls on congregations to be safe places for children and youth, and it calls for education on human sexuality for children and youth.

"Degrees of physical intimacy should be carefully matched to degrees of growing affection and commitment," stated the document. For this reason, the document calls the church to oppose "non-monogamous, promiscuous or casual sexual relationships."

The statement addresses the topic of the value of friendship, adult cohabitation, and Lutheran opposition of sexual exploitation within and outside the church. It also asks that justice for women in church and society continue to be an important dimension of Lutheran response.

"When approved, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust will be the 10th social statement of the ELCA," said Larson. "All social statements are developed through at least a five-year process in a broadly participatory way."

"Human sexuality infuses all of life from the time we are born until the time we die. It is also social. Economics, business and advertising, social roles, medicine and science are all relevant to human sexuality and the ways we act in relationship to others. How to use this gift in a way that honors God and serves the neighbor is a critical issue, particularly in this culture," Larson said.

A draft of the social statement was given to ELCA members in March 2008 for study, review and feedback.

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust "reflects what the task force heard from this church in response to the draft social statement," said Larson.

"The theological section has been both focused and expanded. The role of God in creation and the role of law in our lives has been made more prominent. There is more material on how Lutherans approach social ethics from a perspective of faith. The order of the sections has been changed to deal with the intersection between the individual and social aspects of human sexuality," she said. "Also, it is 1 thousand words shorter."

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust completes a directive from the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to develop a social statement on human sexuality.

The task force also released a "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies" to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly regarding the professional leadership of the church on Feb. 19. This document completes a directive from the 2007 assembly to address and make recommendations on changes to policies that preclude Lutherans in committed, same-gender relationships from the ELCA's professional rosters.

The proposed social statement and the report and recommendation on ministry policies are two separate documents. They are open to review by the ELCA Church Council -- the church's board of directors -- and will be considered by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

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"Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" 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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