We got some welcome good news from Minneapolis yesterday afternoon. Assembled delegates of the 2009 General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a social statement that is remarkable in its acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships.
This was a skin-of-their-teeth vote rarely seen, with the measure receiving exactly the 2/3 majority necessary. The final tally was 676-338, or 66.67%-33.34%.
This is a day of progress and compromise. By a 2/3 majority the church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. The document recognizes the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal. The social statement is tolerant of our differences both in scriptural interpretation and practice. The social statement supports our unity without requiring uniformity. There is still much work to do, but the door to full inclusion of LGBT members and their families is now most definitely open.
The social statement now forms the basis for policy and advocacy on issues related to families and sexuality both for ministry and advocacy in church and society. We are encouraged and hopeful that on Friday this foundation will result in the churchâ€™s elimination of the current ban on ministers in committed same gender relationships.
You can peruse the social statement here (pdf) with a few minor verbiage-related amendments here (pdf). It’s worth noting that this statement purposely does not throw caution to the wind with wild inclusiveness.
Instead, it’s designed to recognize that there is division within the Church on the issue while allowing those who are inclusive to live by their conscience, even to the point of performing same-gender marriages. A few small bits from the statement:
We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.
This church also acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation. We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships, uplift, shelter and protect them, or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.
In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern Godâ€™s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,” will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.
On Friday the Assembly will take up the issue of gay clergy, which should be another close vote. I’ve been keeping an eye on the live transcription of the Assembly, and I was impressed by the hopeful trust in the prayer used to end the morning’s business today. It’s from Dr. Phyllis Wallace of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (pictured right, courtesy ELCA News Service).
O saving Son who brings forth justice to the nations, we thank You for Your light which outshines every darkness.
Keep Your light burning within us and make it constant in all that we do. Let it illumine our work, our fellowship, and our time of rest. Give us Your servant’s eyes to see Your light shining in one another and hands that are eager to bear Your light.
In humble service, for the sake of the world, we ask this in Your holy name. Amen.
As the Lutheran Church continues their work, let those who have ears hear.