ELCA Issues Study Guide on ‘The Church and Homosexuality’

CHICAGO (ELCA) — The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) mailed about 18,000 copies of “Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality” on Sept. 5 to the pastors and lay leaders of the church. A task force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality compiled the 49-page study guide and its background essays to help the ELCA’s 5 million members consider how the church will respond in 2005 to specific questions about blessing same-sex relationships and accepting lay and ordained ministers in such relationships.

In 2001 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly asked the church to enter into a process of study on homosexuality. The churchwide assembly is the ELCA’s chief legislative authority. The 2001 assembly requested a final report with recommendations for presentation to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.

Current ELCA policy expects ministers to refrain from all sexual relations outside marriage. Since the church has no official policy on ceremonies blessing same-gender relationships, this precludes homosexuals in relationships from ordained ministry. In 1993 the ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body to the church, stated it does not approve of such ceremonies.

The six-session study guide included the bishops’ statement, as well as a summary of current ELCA policies and practices, the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolutions, relevant excerpts from statements of earlier Lutheran churches, a list of related resources, tips on how to use the study guide, answers to frequently asked questions, a brief glossary and a response form.

“For each of us, whatever our personal opinions, this resource is an invitation to conversation,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, wrote in a letter that accompanies the study guide. The guide “can help this church consider matters that have elicited intense debate within and beyond this church,” he wrote.

“Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two, is a remarkably balanced presentation of the key issues in the study of homosexuality,” said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, chair of the task force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality and bishop of the ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass. “It is unique in its careful articulation of the various viewpoints, so that the strength of each position can be studied and evaluated,” she said.

“My main hope is that all ELCA members will take part in this study, listen carefully to one another and provide feedback to the task force. If we approach this task in a prayerful and open manner, respecting each viewpoint, the church will not be divided, but will grow in its ability to tackle tough issues and will be strengthened in its unity,” Payne said.

A message from the 13-member task force said, “In each session of this study guide, we have made every effort to provide examples of the various views people of the church hold. We cannot be exhaustive, but we hope that we have been discerning in our selection.”

“It is important that matters of serious dialogue and deliberation in the church take place in an environment of worship and prayer. We seek God’s guidance and blessing on our efforts at every step of the way,” said the task force message.

The task force wrote that each session of the study guide “emphasizes one of the major themes of our faith:”

1. Our Identity
– Sexuality and Faithfulness: Our Experiences
– The Bible and Experience
– Biblical Authority and Interpretation: Lutheran Perspectives

2. Our Community
– The Creation Accounts
– Specific Passages Regarding Same-Sex Intercourse

3. Our Participation
– Christian Tradition, Sexuality and Marriage
– Bible, Tradition and Change

4. Our Center
– A Biblically Based Christian Ethic
– Christian Ethics and the Question of Blessing Same-Sex Unions

5. Baptismal Vocation and Moral Deliberation
– Scientific Research: Limits and Contributions
– Scientific Research and the Bible
– Scientific Research and Tradition

6. Gospel Mission
– Possible Positions Regarding the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions and the Ordaining, Consecrating and Commissioning of People in Committed Same-Sex Unions
– The Nature of Disagreement Among Us

“I am not aware of another study document of this kind that seeks to set forth in this comprehensive a manner the essential features of the discussion on blessing gay and lesbian unions and the rostering of persons in such unions,” said the Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director, ELCA Studies on Sexuality. “Rostered” people are those whose names appear on the ELCA’s rosters of lay and ordained ministers.

“It is a document that seeks to represent accurately and fairly all voices and to give participants an opportunity not only to respond to the discussion as presented, but to add additional insights and data they feel are important,” Childs said.

The study guide includes a response form for ELCA members to return to the task force by Nov. 1, 2004. The form asks the question: “Given what you have learned from this study about the various views among members of the ELCA, what course do you think our church should follow?”

The Rev. Arland J. Hultgren and the Rev. Walter F. Taylor prepared a “Background Essay on Biblical Texts,” which the ELCA mailed with the study guide. Hultgren is a professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and Taylor is a professor of New Testament studies, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. Luther and Trinity are two of the ELCA’s eight seminaries.

In addition to the study guide and background essay, the Web site of the ELCA Studies on Sexuality provides background papers on sociological research by Wendy Cadge, assistant professor of sociology, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and on scientific research by Dr. Thomas J. Kiresuk, professor of clinical psychology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis.

The ELCA issued “Journey Together Faithfully, Part One: ELCA Studies on Sexuality” in Spring 2002. That study guide presented a four-session discussion of the ELCA’s “Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions.”

Available on the Web:

Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality” is available on the Web. It is possible for ELCA members to respond to study guide online.

Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the ELCA, sells printed copies of the documents by calling 1-800-328-4648 with the publication number 6-0001-6848-9.

Purchases are also possible through the publisher’s Web site.