National Lutheran News

Lutheran theologians oppose changes in ELCA policies toward same sex unions, ordinations

Seventeen church leaders signed a common statement

Seventeen theologians of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) issued “A Statement of Pastoral and Theological Concern” March 1. The document urges the denomination not to accept three recommendations on homosexuality that a task force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality developed for the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in August.

“We urge that all three recommendations of the task force be rejected since, if adopted, they would alter fundamentally the ecclesiology of the Evangelical Lu-theran Church in America and that, in turn, would threaten not only the unity and stability of this church but, as a consequence, its ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel,” the theologians said.

On January 13 the task force released a report on its first three years of work. The report included three recommendations for the Assembly to consider in August, when it is expected to answer two key questions on homosexuality:

* Should the church bless same-gender relationships?

* Should the church allow people in such relationships to serve the church as professional lay and ordained ministers?

After the recommendations became public, several Lutheran theologians began sharing their impressions of the report with each other by e-mail, said the Rev. Karl P. Donfried, professor of religion and biblical literature, Smith College, Northamp-ton, Massachusetts. The ex-change continued until the statement was drafted, he said. Seventeen of the participants signed on to the statement by March 1, Donfried added.

The task force recommended that the ELCA:

* 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; and

* continue under current standards that expect un-married 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.

“Based on our careful review of the report and its recommendations, we maintain that the third and primary recommendation of the task force, contrary to its stated intention, threatens to destabilize the unity and constitution, as well as the historical, biblical, and confessional teachings and practice of this church,” the theologians said.

Minnesota theologians who signed the document include two faculty members at Luther Seminary, and two more who are retired from teaching at the same school. They are the Rev. Gerhard O. Forde, retired professor of systematic theology; the Rev. Roy A. Harrisville, retired professor of New Testament; Rev. Marc Kolden, professor of systematic theology; and Rev. James A. Nestingen, professor of church history.

None of the currently-serving 65 ELCA synod bishops signed the document.