To my dear Joy! family,
During the Churchwide Assembly (August 17-23, 2009) of our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), many decisions with wide-ranging impacts were made. Over one thousand delegates from around the country, pastors and lay members, gathered to vote on various proposals. They approved a resolution that puts us in “full-communion” with the United Methodist Church. Funding and strategies were approved around the issues of HIV and AIDS as well as fighting Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, however, the issue of sexuality that provided the most outside attention and certainly the most press coverage.
A social statement called “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” was approved by a two- thirds requirement. Social statements are documents that attempt to provide an analysis and interpretation of an issue through theological and ethical perspectives in order to offer guidance.
This document addresses everything from a basic Lutheran theological approach to social issues to the blessing of our sexuality and the abuse of sexuality. In a section named “Lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships” the document points out that within the ELCA people are not of one mind regarding the issues around homosexuality. While it does not actually take a definitive stand, it encourages people to respect each other in their deliberations, decisions and convictions. It is simply a statement and does not require any action by churches.
Some other important resolutions were approved regarding the standards for rostered leaders which includes pastors. The wording of the central resolution is as follows:
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.
The phrase “finding a way” is significant. First, there is currently not a generally accepted means for providing an accountable covenant (civil or religious), such as there is through marriage. In order that there might be such a covenant the assembly also passed a resolution to “find a way” for that to be possible. It is unclear how this will happen.
The other resolution that is important to know about is that congregations will be allowed to decide for themselves if they will call rostered leaders in same-sex relationships. If a congregation, bound by its conscience did not want to call a homosexual pastor in a committed, accountable relationship, it would not be required to do so. The resolution simply makes it possible, but at this point the means by which
this will all happen is not in place.
How do these decisions impact Joy! Lutheran Church? In a practical sense it doesn’t change anything at Joy!. Sometime in the future, if it chose to do so, Joy! could call a homosexual pastor in a “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous” relationship, without losing its status as a congregation of the ELCA. This would be an option, but it would not be required. Homosexual pastors have been able to serve in ELCA
congregations in the past, but like single heterosexual pastors, they are required to be celibate.
During the past several years we have not joined the ELCA’s conversation about these matters. It may have been good to have raised this issue before the Assembly’s historic vote, but we didn’t. For my part, having come to Joy! in the midst of upheaval, I believed there were more important issues to address in order to clarify and carry out our mission into the future.
As for me, these decisions have brought up some conflicting feelings as well as some important convictions that I would like to share with you.
• First of all, I know that I cannot please everyone with my views and that no matter what I say, someone will be unhappy. My purpose in writing this letter is not to upset anyone; rather it is to inform you so that we can have the necessary dialog.
• I have had gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances that I have cared for deeply. We have shared life and faith in meaningful ways. I can’t help but think of them…of their gifts, struggles and faith. One of our stated core values says that we will “Accept each person as they are.” My hope is that we mean what we say. I also hope and expect that none of us will remain “as we are” when we encounter and live in the transforming power of God through this faith community.
• While I have wrestled with these issues through the years I remain within the general orthodoxy of the church which states that homosexuality is sin. For me it means that I will not preside at the blessing of a same-gendered union or support the hiring of a homosexual pastor in a committed relationship at Joy!. Please understand that this is not a mere moralization, but a view shaped by the church, scripture and theology. Having been a pastor in the ELCA for 20 years now, I have listened to the arguments of those who are celebrating these decisions. Many are friends and teachers who have, with honesty and integrity, also wrestled with these issues. While I am not convinced that the church’s teaching for two thousand years should be overturned, I will continue to engage in the conversation. I trust that my friends and teachers will also.
• I am concerned that we have made sexual sins the greater sins and among sexual sins we’ve made same gender sex the greatest sin. Scripture doesn’t provide a hierarchy of sin. Any honest look at our sexual thoughts and actions will show all of us our brokenness. Because sin distorts our relationship with God and the image of God in us, we are all called to confession and repentance. “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
• I have lived with my friends, teachers, Bishops, pastors and lay leaders in the ELCA for 20 years now. I have not always agreed with the decisions made or the processes followed, but I have chosen to stay in relationship with them. I trust that God’s will is done somehow in the mess of our daily living and difficult decisions as the church. So the question is, “What will we do now?”
I suggest that we strive to move forward with the mission, initiatives and goals that God has led Joy! to fulfill. While we prayerfully consider what all of this might mean or not mean to our future, let’s not move away from our central focus or do anything to hurt the Joy! community. I would be sorry that anyone would leave Joy! because of the assembly’s vote, but I understand that it might happen. My invitation to you is to join together and focus on our mission to “reach our neighbors with Christ’s radical love so that all our lives are changed.”
I caution you to share accurate information from reliable sources rather than passing on assumptions and rumors. The fabric of our community is at stake. Please include me in your conversations and know that I will be glad to meet with you about any concerns. My email address is ___________ and the church office phone number is ________. If you would like to look at the resolutions that were passed by the ELCA Churchwide Assemble go to www.elca.org.
We are blessed to be together at this time in our congregation’s history. We have the opportunity to witness to the world around us God’s most precious gift…his one and only Son.
May the peace of Christ be with you always!
Thank you for your letter regarding the actions on human sexuality, as taken at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly. I closely followed the CWA, as it was happening, and I was hoping you would address these actions, as I think it's important for the congregation to know what is going on in the denomination-at-large. Although our responses and positions differ regarding this denominational legislation, I am thankful there is room for all opinions, as we seek to radically love--and not merely tolerate--all of God's children.Again, thanks for your words.Peace,Heather
Responding so peacefully to something I believe in strongly does not come naturally to me. I hope I made it clear, without being abrasive, of where I stand on the issue. As if it even matters.