Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lutherans Take First Step Towards Equality for All

By an extremely close vote, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a proposed Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.

The statement itself is very carefully worded so as to include every perspective on these matters. For instance, consider this small section:

...We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection.

The ELCA recognizes that it has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes a pastoral responsibility to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. All are encouraged to avail themselves of the means of grace and pastoral care...

...We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,”
will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world...
As I read this, it appears to adopt what we Episcopalians sometimes refer to as the "local option."

This will clear the way for the adoption of the recommendations on Ministry Policies, which are expected to be considered tomorrow. Here's the first three recommendations:

1. RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long,monogamous, same-gender relationships.

2. RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

3. RESOLVED, that, in the implementation of these resolutions, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.
This concept of "Bound Conscience" appears to be an important component of both of these actions. A good summary of this concept can be found here. To put it simply, this is a call to respect those who hold a different position from your own on these matters, recognizing that "their consciences are bound to particular interpretations of Scripture and tradition."

Pray for the ELCA.

Pray for the Church.


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