Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Contact: 800.275.3522
ELCA Lutherans Seek Unity in the Face of Deep Disagreement
On January 13 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) received a report from its fourteen member Sexuality Studies Task Force. The document, "Report and Recommendations," begins by asking the ELCA to "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."
"I commend the Task Force for its call for unity, and for the nuanced manner in which their report seeks to offer pastoral direction to a church with serious disagreements on issues around sexuality, and I am proud of the ELCA for engaging in conversation on these matters publicly and with respect for one another's views," said the Rev. David Mullen, bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.
Bishop Mullen noted that at the same time, "the Task Force acknowledged that this church is not ready or willing to make comprehensive changes in our existing policies and practices."
Current ELCA polices do not include any official endorsement of or rituals for the blessing of same sex unions, and leaders who are gay or lesbian are expected to refrain from sexual relationships. According to Bishop Mullen there have been calls for change; in response, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted in 2001 to create a Task Force to study the issues.
The Task Force received the responses of well over 20,000 church members to a study on homosexuality, listened to dozens of theologians and scientists, prayed and struggled with the issues of the blessing of same sex unions and of calling and ordaining gay and lesbians persons living in such unions to professional leadership in the Church.
According to Bishop Mullen, "In the recommendations, the Task Force asks that Bishops, pastors, and congregations be granted permission to decide on the best pastoral care practices for those in same-sex unions, and on whether to call into leadership in the church gays and lesbians who are in committed relationships.
"Even though consideration of such persons for rostered leadership is contrary to current practices and church policies, the intent of the third recommendation is that there be some 'space' for conscience and discerning practice in the church -- in other words, that, with considerable trust among leaders and members, the Church agree to not proceed to discipline when, for sound pastoral reasons, decisions may be made contrary to policy."
"This is kind of 'space' is important if we are to move ahead as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," said Bishop Mullen. "We need to allow for the consciences of all good hearted ELCA Lutherans to be heard and given room in the church. We need to allow for gay and lesbian leadership to be acknowledged, experienced, and reflected upon by the Church."
The Sexuality Task Force report and a news release from
ELCA Churchwide Office may be accessed on the web at
The Report and Recommendations of the Task Force for Studies on Sexuality will go to the August Churchwide Assembly as information. It is not a document to be amended, or voted on. It will be shared with voting members as a report from the task force.
Technically, it is a report to the boards of the Division for Ministry and the Division for Church in Society.
Thus, the report will first go to a joint meeting of the two boards, Division for Ministry and Church in Society. The task force was created by those two units and reports back to them. The boards may submit advice and recommendations to the ELCA Church Council, along with the report. The joint board meeting is March 10-12, 2005.
The Conference of Bishops, as an advisory body within the church, will discuss the report at its March 3-7, 2005 meeting in Dallas.
The ELCA Church Council meets April 8-11, 2005. The Church Council determines what recommended action will go to the Churchwide Assembly. The recommended actions, of course, may be amended by the assembly. The Report and Recommendations of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality was not written in legislative language. The responsibility for such language rests with the Church Council.