On January 13, 2005 the “Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality” released its report and recommendations concerning the matter of “blessing same-sex couples who have entered into long-term monogamous covenants of love and care” and the question of “the ordination, consecration and commissioning of people in same-sex committed relationships.” This long-awaited and widely publicized report has stirred considerable discussion and debate both within and outside The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). As Rev. James Childs, Director of ELCA Studies on Sexuality, said in a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, “I don’t think there is any church group that is unaffected by it.”
Certainly the pastors, church workers, congregations and laypersons of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) are among those who, for various reasons, are impacted by this report. As LCMS representatives on the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC), we genuinely appreciate the sensitivity and openness expressed in the report’s covering letter: “We offer this report to the church with a deep awareness that it will affect our partners in ministry across the country and around the world. We invite the prayers, responses, and admonitions of all our partners.” While the LCMS is not in church fellowship with the ELCA (and thus is not a “partner” in this sense of the term), we hope that our “prayers, responses, and admonitions” might also be received in the same spirit of Christian charity and humility in which they are offered.
The issues addressed in the Task Force Report have been a matter of discussion and debate between our two churches for some time. In his remarks to the August 2003 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, President Kieschnick noted that “the decision of the Episcopal Church U.S.A … to give approval to the election of an openly homosexual bishop” is “very much a matter of concern for future relationships between the ELCA and the LCMS” in view of the relationship of full communion that exists between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. At its September 2003 meeting, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the LCMS unanimously expressed its support for the President of the Synod “as he appeals to the ELCA to resist the trend toward the acceptance and approval of homosexual behavior … as they conduct their study and deliberation of this matter.”
In the report of the Praesidium (the President and Vice Presidents of the LCMS) to our 2004 LCMS convention, the recommendation was made that “in light of our concerns regarding both the ELCA’s ecumenical agreements and also the ELCA’s considerations of human sexuality and ordination,” the Praesidium “continue to assess pastoral working relationships with the ELCA during the next triennium and report to the next synodical convention (2007) whether at that time these arrangements merit continuance or whether developments within the ELCA justify other actions.” This recommendation was formally approved by the Synod in 2004 Res. 3-07, which also encourages “the President of the Synod and our representatives on the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation to pursue substantive conversations between representatives of the ELCA and the LCMS, in a continuing effort to bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures and the Confessions in the hope that agreement can be reached in those areas where we disagree.”
In light of the above, it seems appropriate and even necessary — both as a genuine expression of Christian love and as a way of carrying out the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us as LCMS representatives on the CLC — to share with you, the ELCA representatives on the CLC, a word of Christian concern about the recommendations of this report and the rationale for those recommendations.
We are aware, first of all, that this has been an extremely difficult issue for the ELCA itself to address. “Disagreement over these issues before the church is deep, pervasive, multi-faceted, and multilayered,” says the report. “The church is not of one mind.” This disagreement was reflected on the Task Force itself, which acknowledges that “our differences express deeply-held and conscience-bound positions.”
As members and leaders of the LCMS, we can certainly identify with the pain and tension caused by disagreements and divisions in the church — disagreements that prevent the church from focusing its energies wholeheartedly and single-mindedly on the all-important task of proclaiming the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear this message of hope and salvation. We know full well — and from personal experience — the heartache and frustration caused by these struggles and divisions. We want you to know, therefore, that you and all members of the ELCA are in our hearts and prayers as you continue your deliberations on this very important and sensitive issue.
We can also sympathize with the struggle to give Biblical, pastoral, and evangelical answers to the complex and challenging moral and ethical issues of our day, including questions related to the issue of human sexuality. In 1973 (Res. 2-04), the LCMS adopted for the first time a resolution setting forth its official position that homosexual behavior is “intrinsically sinful” — clearly contrary to God’s revealed Word and will. In this same resolution, the Synod speaks of “ministering the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ to any and all sinners who are penitent.” The CTCR’s 1981 report on Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective (requested in 1973 by the Synod’s Board of Directors and by the 1977 convention) calls on the church to recognize “that all people are born in need of deliverance from the effects which sin has imposed on their lives.” It emphasizes that “there are those persons who, apart from any deliberate choice on their part, have a predisposition toward homosexuality,” and urges the church to “offer such persons the compassionate help they need to overcome the temptations which beset them and to remain chaste before God despite their homosexual orientation.”
Says the Commission:
We should not overlook the burden of loneliness which this places upon the homosexual. If the discerning eye of God created woman as the answer to man’s loneliness, the homosexual who abstains from the sexual relationship to which he is inclined must feel that there is no “other” to answer to his loneliness. He must be helped to bear that burden, not merely exhorted to struggle nobly against his inclinations. (pp. 34-36)
Subsequent synodical resolutions have echoed this concern for the proper and cari