Leaders of the country’s largest Lutheran denomination endorsed an official statement on human sexuality that says there’s room in the church for differing views on an issue that’s divided other religious groups.
Delegates to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) narrowly adopted “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” with a vote of 676 (67 percent) to 338 (33 percent) on Wednesday. The passing of the social statement on human sexuality required a two-thirds vote.
Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, is the denomination’s 10th social statement. It addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.
Social statements “guide us as we step forward as a public church because they form the basis for both this church’s public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the assembly.
The social statement offers diverse viewpoints on gay relationships. It simultaneously affirms that “some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law,” and that others “believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage.”
Prior to adopting the statement, delegates also considered 13 proposed amendments, including one that sought to replace a section of the social statement about “lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.” The proposed replacement language reflected the position of some in the church that believe the “practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God’s intent.”
In a 667-303 vote, the assembly opted against the change, following the recommendation of an ad hoc committee that advised against the amendment’s adoption since the position articulated implies “a consensus that no longer exists.” After considering 6 of the 13 proposals, voting members moved to accept the recommendations of the ad hoc committee on all other amendments and moved to consider the adoption of the social statement.
The vote was a prelude to a larger and wide-watched debate Friday, when delegates will tackle a proposal that would allow individual ELCA congregations to hire people in committed same-sex relationships as clergy. Wednesday’s passage of the social statement is widely viewed as positive sign that ELCA delegates will move to allow pastors in gay relationships in Friday’s vote.