Scriptural authority is the foundational issue in dealing with the blessing of same-sex unions and qualifications for the professional ministries, according to a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod response to the report of the Studies on Sexuality Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“As the LCMS has wrestled with the sensitive issue of homosexuality, it has had to return time and again to the more fundamental question of how we go about addressing these questions in the first place: namely on the basis of the Holy Scriptures as God’s inspired and inerrant Word,” says the response.
Noting that the Bible clearly identifies homosexual behavior as sinful, the LCMS statement said the authority of Scriptures guides consideration of other moral and ethical questions such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, cloning and stem-cell research.
The statement was shared during theological discussions on March 29 between representatives of the two church bodies. It has been posted on the Synod’s Web site, sent via LCMS e-News and sent to members of the Council of Presidents, Board of Directors, and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
Issued in January, the report of the ELCA’s Studies on Sexuality Task Force responds to a request from the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The task force dealt with questions on homosexuality — should the church bless same-gender relationships, and should the church allow people in same-gender relationships to serve as professional lay and ordained ministers?
The ELCA task force offered three recommendations:
- Concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements.
- Continue to respect the pastoral guidance of a 1993 statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops opposing the blessing of homosexual relationships but remaining open to pastors wanting to provide pastoral care for gay and lesbian Lutherans.
- Continue under current standards that expect unmarried ministers to abstain from sexual relations — defining marriage as being between a man and a woman — but, respecting the consciences of those who find these standards in conflict with the mission of the church, the ELCA may choose to refrain from disciplining gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships and from disciplining those who call or approve partnered gay or lesbian people for ministry.
The ELCA Church Council will consider the report at its April 8-11 meeting in Chicago and will prepare a resolution for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly when it meets Aug. 8-14 in Orlando.
The LCMS statement commended the report for its reaffirmation of the ELCA position that “marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman,” and its decision not to recommend a revision of the current standards regarding sexual conduct for ministers in the ELCA.
“However, the report does not speak clearly and authoritatively regarding homosexual behavior and the ordination of those who are openly involved in such behavior,” the LCMS statement said. “This goes contrary to the historic and universal understanding of the Christian Church regarding what the Holy Scriptures teach about homosexual behavior as contrary to God’s will and about the biblical qualifications for holding the pastoral office.”
The LCMS statement described the Synod’s own efforts to deal with ministry to homosexuals. When a 1973 convention resolution set an official position that homosexual behavior is “intrinsically sinful,” it also spoke of “ministering the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ to any and all sinners who are penitent.”
The statement also cites a report of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations calling on the church to recognize “that all people are born in need of deliverance from the effects which sin has imposed on their lives.” The CTCR report said ” there are those persons who, apart from any deliberate choice on their part, have a predisposition toward homosexuality,” and urged the church to offer the “compassionate help they need to overcome the temptations which beset them and to remain chaste before God despite their homosexual orientation.”
The statement also cites other LCMS convention resolutions and reports dealing with ministry to homosexuals and instances among professional church workers.
The ELCA, with 5 million members, and the LCMS, with 2.5 million members, are the largest Lutheran church bodies in the United States. They do not share altar and pulpit fellowship but they cooperate in disaster response, world relief efforts, military chaplaincy, and some human-care services.
The LCMS statement reflects concern that the topic of homosexual behavior may further distance relationships between the two church bodies.
Signing the statement were LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick; Dr. William Diekelman, first vice president; Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig, secretary; Dr. Thomas Kuchta, treasurer and administrative officer of the Board of Directors; Rev. C. William Hoesman, Michigan District president and chairman of the Council of Presidents; Dr. Samuel Nafzger, executive director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations; Dr. Walter A. Maier III, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; and Rev. Ralph Blomenberg, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Seymour, Ind.
Posted March 30, 2005