National Lutheran News

WordAlone convention tackes sexuality issue

Keynoters were paired with opposite counterparts at spring convention.

Unlike previous gatherings of the ELCA reform and renewal group WordAlone, the April 25-27 convention took the question of the historic episcopate off the agenda. In-stead, eight presenters took a hard look at homosexuality, and what the 5.1 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America should be saying about it.

The ELCA is scheduled to take a key vote next year on whether to permit same-sex individuals living in committed relationships to be ordained as parish pastors.

Under the umbrella theme, “In the Beginning Was the Word … Who Gets the Last Word?”, nearly 300 delegates who crowded into the worship center at Roseville (Minnesota) Lutheran Church heard from four pairs of keynote speakers, all dealing with some aspect of homosexuality in the context of the church’s teaching and practice.

Dr. Roy Harrisville III, executive director of a re-cently-formed group called “Solid Rock Lutherans, Inc.,” told the group that “homosexuality may be the defining social issue of this generation.” He said, “You can argue against homosexual behavior based on Scripture, but not for it on that basis.” He said, “Nowhere in Scripture is homosexuality or homosexual behavior ever affirmed. It is always condemned.”

Responding to Harris-ville, Dr. David L. Balch, an ELCA professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas, drew on images from classical antiquity.
Said Balch, “When Paul baptized the Gauls [citizens of Galatia], he declared they were not the inferior animals the Romans claimed them to be. Similarly, Christian Eu-charist contrasted with Roman banquets, where the despised, crippled, de-formed and obese were ridiculed.”

In that spirit, Balch said, “The contemporary church may not despise a whole group of people, gays and lesbians, who confess their faith … and desire to serve Christ.”

Dr. Mark Kolden, professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary, cautioned against an easy acceptance of “the gay lifestyle.” He said, “I think loose behavior among heterosexuals has seduced the church into minimalistic expectations. Cohabitation is widespread and people seem not to care or pay attention any more. This has opened up our receptivity to revisionism about ho-mosexual acceptance.”

Dr. Paul Jersild, emeritus professor of theology and ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina, told participants, “I find no reason to deny a committed-relationship gay person eligibility for ordained ministry in the ELCA. Some believe doing this would justify a church schism. I think we should be very careful concluding this.”

Dr. Brian Rosser, University of Minnesota, argued that good theology and church policy needs to be based in sound science and medicine. He argued for blessing same-sex couples and treating all clergy equally, regardless of sexual orientation.

Dr. Warren E. Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City (Pennsylvania) College, took a contrasting view.

Also addressing the convention were Dr. Walter Sundberg of Luther Seminary, and the Rev. Randall Freund, a pastor from Hutchinson, Minnesota.