The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) transmitted a progress report on the church’s studies on sexuality to the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The Church Council is the ELCA’s board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met here April 4-6. Assemblies are held every other year; the next is Aug. 11-17 in Milwaukee.
At the direction of the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the church is conducting a comprehensive four-year study on homosexuality and a six-year study on human sexuality. Current ELCA policy expects ministers to refrain from all sexual relations outside of marriage. Since the church has no official policy on blessing same-gender relationships, this precludes homosexuals in relationships from ordained ministry.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops has advised the church that it does not approve of same-gender ceremonies. The 2001 assembly called for a progress report to the 2003 assembly and for a final report with recommendations at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. It also asked the Division for Church in Society to prepare a social statement on human sexuality.
The Task Force for ELCA Studies on sexuality, assembled by the ELCA Division for Ministry and Division for Church in Society in May 2002, assists the divisions in developing study materials, recommendations and proposals regarding the assembly mandates.
The first of the study materials were distributed that summer. It was based on “A Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions,” which the council adopted in 1996, outlining matters of sexuality accepted by Lutherans. The council transmitted the Progress Report on the ELCA Studies on Sexuality “as information” to the 2003 assembly. It summarizes the actions of the 2001 assembly, provides information about the appointment and work of the task force, ELCA divisions and advisory members; highlights the participation of Lutherans in the studies process, and includes a budget, time line and work plan, communication directives and reflections from the Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director, ELCA Studies on Sexuality.
In his report to the council Childs said a “drafting team” — a subcommittee of the task force — has been appointed to produce study materials on homosexuality for ELCA congregations. The materials, to be available by the end of this summer, will serve as the second part of the church’s study. Childs said it will feature baptismal identity, vocation of the “priesthood of all believers,” moral deliberation, reflections on options for mission, interpretation of scripture and more.
In its work, the drafting team is “incorporating the thoughts” of two panels of consultants assembled by the task force for its Feb. 7-9 meeting here, Childs said. One panel was comprised of pastors with perspectives on why the church should maintain its present policy, and the second consisted of representatives from five organizations representing the interests and concerns of gay and lesbian Lutherans.
Council member Judy G. Biffle, Houston, serves as an advisor to the studies’ task force. She reports on the work of the task force at every council meeting. In giving a talk, people remember the opening and the ending but seldom the middle, said Biffle. Unsure of what “the end will be,” Biffle said the task force is “very involved in the middle.”
Many congregations and synods “are not engaged in conversations,” she said. The task force has been “engaged in the middle” with “one-to-one, face-to-face” conversations with panel members who offered a “variety of opinions.” Biffle asked the council to “pay attention to the middle. The ground is rich and fertile” and will “eventually level out to the foot of the Cross,” she said. The ELCA maintains information about its studies on sexuality at on the Web. For information contact: or