Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dissenters Speak

Statement by Three Dissenting Members of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality

We begin with a word of thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to serve on the ELCA Task Force for Human Sexuality. Even though the three of us often disagreed with the other 27 members and advisors of the task force on traditional biblical interpretation and theological principles, we were treated as the minority voice with great kindness, dignity and respect. Because we firmly believe the current polices of the ELCA, when enforced, are consistent with the biblical witness, Christian moral tradition, and the view of the vast majority of Christians in the world, we refused to sign off on both the social statement and the recommendations and are submitting our dissent. Changing current policies would sever the ELCA from the ecumenical church and the Christian consensus down through the ages. These policies include:

1. People who are homosexual in their orientation must live a celibate lifestyle in order to serve on the roster of the ELCA. (Visions and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline)

2. The 1993 Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops states that “there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.” However, this statement by ELCA bishops acknowledged that local pastors within their contexts are to “provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”

Of critical importance when considering sexuality is the role of God’s commandments—his Law—in the moral ordering of the Christian life. We are convinced that God’s intention for marriage—life-long covenant of fidelity between a man and a woman—established as the First Institute in Genesis 2 and re-affirmed by Jesus in Mark 10:6-9, serves as the center around which all Christian sexual ethics are defined. That original design, echoed throughout scripture and even depicted as the ideal relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church (Revelation), has been shattered due to human sin (the Fall; see Genesis 3). Because of sin, humans have turned away from God’s intent for their sexual lives, bringing into the world such behaviors as polygamy, divorce, abuse, adultery, homosexual acts, pornography, etc., that no longer reflect the established pattern and ideal set forth by God.

However, by focusing on trust, freedom, and love of neighbor, the social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, strains forward to see what God might be doing anew within the community of faith, particularly in regards to conduct of persons who are homosexual, rather than building on the foundation depicted in the creation accounts of Genesis. The concept of freedom of the Christian, while helpful in our understanding of salvation by faith alone, cannot be the justification for a lifestyle and behavior contrary to the biblical witness and the moral tradition. From Galatians (5:13) we heard often, “For you were called to freedom.” However, we did not hear often enough the next line, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the self-indulgence.” By centering on justification by faith, the social statement minimizes the role of the Law in Christian life, contrary to Luther’s exposition of the Christian life in the catechisms, and is at odds with the Lutheran Confessions—Article VI of the Formula of Concord. Justification by faith does not nullify the commands of God; to argue thus is to fall into “antinomianism.”

We contend that the recommendations proposed in Report and Recommendations, which advocate same-gender unions and the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons, have little biblical, historical, or traditional support. The proposed recommendations advocate a radical departure from long-held moral tradition and biblical interpretation, thus distancing us further from the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, evangelical churches and most of the churches in the Protestant mainstream. We believe this is a very serious step that should not be taken by a sharply divided church, particularly without passage by a 2/3rd vote at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Because of these theological and pragmatic concerns and because the proposed recommendation threatens to fragment the ELCA as a church by allowing synods and individual congregations to determine their own practice, we felt compelled to draft Dissenting Position #1 (found in the Appendix).

Recommending broad change in the present policies is extremely unwise and unfaithful. There may come a day in which a new consensus in the Church might mandate a change in teaching and practice, as was seen with slavery and Apartheid. Or, over time, this church might find that its resolve grows even stronger to maintain its foundational core beliefs, such as with the authority of scripture (II Timothy 3:16), justification by faith alone (Romans 3:28), and the primacy of Christ (Acts 4:12). Lack of consensus does not mandate change. In fact, it argues for the opposite: maintaining current policies.

Because longstanding biblical interpretation and teachings of the apostolic faith, all of which are shared with ecumenical church partners and partner churches of the Lutheran World Federation, argue against changing the current ELCA policies, we recommend the following to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

1. Affirm and uphold the current policies of the ELCA, including both rostering and discipline, as stated in Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.

2. Affirm the pastoral guidance of the 1993 Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, that “there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.” However, pastors within their local contexts are to “provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”

The ELCA is a church deeply divided on the issue of human sexuality. The recommendations of the majority of the task force represent a radical change that not only is contrary to Scripture and the apostolic faith, but is one that will splinter our congregations, alienate many of our members, further divide the unity of this church and, we believe, grieve the heart of God. We pray this tragedy will not occur.

Submitted in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

The Rev. Dr. Scott Suskovic; The Rev. Corinne Johnson; The Rev. Carol S. Hendrix

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