Before 2009, few people in the ELCA paid much attention to our social statements. Then "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" was adopted and suddenly became the center of attention in our church. Adopted by a 2/3 majority, the statement was the culmination of years of negation and work. At the same Assembly, although not part of the Social Statement, additional resolutions on allowing the church to call rostered leaders who are in committed same-gender relationships.
So what does this 37 page statement (not including footnotes) say? It begins, as do most of our social statements, with a heavy dose of Lutheran theology. This is helpful in establishing how we Lutherans do theology.
"Lutherans are not reluctant to live confidently within the difficult, complex and ambiguous realities of daily life... They are able to remain secure in Christ in the midst of the confusions, lack of clarity, and struggle that God's calling entails. "In terms of Lutheran social ethics, "we believe that the way we order our lives in matters of sexuality is important o faithful living, but not central to determining our salvation. "Trust is a big issue in the statement. It describes both God's intention for relationships of trust, and the brokenness that erodes trust.
"Christians believe that God's promised future includes the
transformation of the whole creation." In acknowledging the potential for both positive and negative experiences, the statement affirms, "Sexuality finds expression at the extreme ends of human experience: in love, care and security, or lust, cold indifference, and exploitation."
The statement reiterates rust, a recurring theme. "Trust is a critical element that holds tougher couples and relationships, households and families, social structures and institutions."
The statement posits characteristic of trustworthy relationships. The statement moves to sexuality and structures that enhance social trust. It describes three: marriage, family, and protecting children -- clearly establishing the importance of all three. The statement makes a strong case for marriage and its many benefits to the individuals and to society as awhile. It addresses the failure of some marriages, as well.
It acknowledges the historic understanding of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but stops short of limiting it to that. Three pages of the statement address same-gender relationships that are lifelong and monogamous. (Note: lifelong and monogamous are intended to be the standard for heterosexual couples as well.) The statement acknowledges that faithful ELCA members are not of one mind, and sets out four positions regarding what the church should do about recognizing same- gender relationships:
1. Call to repentance and celibacy. Pray.
2. Live and let live, but don't call it marriage.
3. Affirm by way of prayer and civil unions.
4. Recognize marriage.
At the time the social statement was adopted, legal options were all over the map. Some states had marriage, some civil unions, some had prohibitions. Now, just a few years later, the
Supreme Court has effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the country.
The penultimate sections of the document address Sexuality and Trust in Relationships,
including friendship, commitment and cohabitation, and Sexuality and Responsibility, including
boundary issues for clergy and laity.
The statement ends as it begins, with a reaffirmation of Luther theology.
"This statement responds to this church's call for a foundational framework that will help it
discern what it earns to follow faithfully God's law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality. It does not offer once-and-for-all answers to contemporary questions. Rather it seeks to tap the deep roots of Scripture and Lutheran theological tradition for specific Christian convictions, themes, and wisdom that will assist people of faith to discern what is responsible and faithful action in the midst of the complexity of daily life."
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA