National Lutheran News

ELCA task force releases 2005 sexuality proposal

Study group says church should keep current guidelines but consider waiving discipline in some cases

The long-awaited report and recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality was made public on January 13. Ordained clergy received an advance copy a day early.

The task force made three recommendations, embedded in a 32-page document, most of which consisted of explanation and rationale.

The task force recommended the ELCA:

* find ways to live to-gether faithfully in the midst of disagreement;

* not endorse a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples living in committed relationships, but allow clergy and bishops to make pastoral determinations;

* keep the policy of not ordaining non-celibate clergy living in committed same-sex relationships, but allow leaders to choose to refrain from disciplining those congregations which, for good pastoral reasons, choose to call such candidates. Some have called this the “local option” alternative.

Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop Craig Johnson told Metro Lutheran, “As we did with the historic episcopate ordination issue, this church is demonstrating it believes reasonable exceptions should be made where appropriate.”
St. Paul Area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness said, “If the third recommendation were accepted, some pastors already under discipline would likely be allowed to be rostered. The process would be done locally, in context.”

The recommendations will be discussed at synod assemblies this spring. Action will be taken at the Churchwide Assembly in August.

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What the ELCA sexuality task force said:

The Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality issued a report on January 13. Its three recommendations were intended as guidance for voting members who will attend the denomination’s Churchwide As-sembly in Orlando, Florida, August 8-14.
Here is the complete text of each of the three recommendations, along with selected commentary, as provided by the Task Force.

Recommendation One

Because the God-given mission and communion we share is at least as important as the issues about which faithful conscience-bound Lutherans find themselves so decisively at odds, the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality recommends that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements.

Recommendation Two

The Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality recommends that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue to respect the pastoral guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops.

[The ELCA Conference of Bishops, meeting October 5-8, 1993, decided: “We … recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry. Never-theless, we express trust in, and will continue dialogue with, those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”
]
Recommendation Three

The Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality recommends that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue under the standards regarding sexual conduct for rostered leaders as set forth in Vision and Expectations and Defini-tions and Guidelines for Discipline, but that, as a pastoral response to the deep divisions among us, this church may choose to refrain from disciplining those who in good conscience, and for the sake of outreach, ministry, and the commitment to continuing dialogue, call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates whom they believe to be otherwise in compliance with Vision and Expectations and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved and called.

The Task Force noted that no congregation would be forced to accept a pastor for call who did not seem suitable for ministry in that congregation.