The ELCA Takes the Lukewarm Approach to the Homosexual Issue
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth." Rev. 3: 15-16
The results of the Journey Together Faithfully (JTF) study of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have been revealed at the ELCA website. This study was designed to explore the Biblical teaching on the issue of homosexuality focusing on how the church should respond in two areas: 1. Should the church sanction or bless homosexual unions (and they arent talking about the AFL-CIO)? 2. Should the church ordain noncelibate homosexual pastors?
First, let me point out that the opinion of the Bishops with respect to this issue is not much in doubt. As near as I can tell from a meeting that I attended with the Bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, they will not directly tell you their positions with respect to these issues. But just because they wont tell you directly, does not mean they have not made their feelings clear indirectly. Consider this from an article entitled "ELCA bishops meet with sexuality task force" from the Lutheran Magazine:
The bishops "have come to new places of understanding the issues after 10 or 12 years of talking," one group reported. "How can we expect the church to come to a new place in six sessions [of the sexuality study]. The core of the ELCA doesn't know what it thinks because of the battle over scriptural authority."
What "new places of understanding" have the bishops come to that they cannot expect the church to arrive at in "six sessions" of the JTF study? The answer seems obvious: an acceptance of homosexuality as Biblical. I personally find much more troubling the idea that there exists in the ELCA a battle over scriptural authority, but I will reserve comment on that for another day. At this moment, however, I think it safe to say that the bishops of the ELCA have, by and large, concluded that the acceptance and blessing of homosexuality is consistent with the Bible. I also think it clear that this suggests that the JTF study was designed to lead the congregations towards this "new understanding."
The bishops were very concerned about an up or down vote on the issue. Note the following from an article (also in The Lutheran) entitled "Sexuality task force begins work on recommendations":
Many bishops spoke of "the price of a yes/no vote" on the blessing and rostering issues. They discussed the effects such a vote may have on relationships within congregations and synods, with neighboring Christian churches and with Lutheran churches around the world.
So what happened in the JTF study--a study that appears to have been designed to bring the congregations around to the bishop's views? The bishops were shot down. The results of the study shows that the church, as a whole, rejects the idea that homosexual unions should be blessed or that actively non-celibate homosexual pastors should be ordained. According to the tabulated information, 56.2% of the people oppose blessing and rostering, 23.2% favor blessing and rostering, 3.6% proposed alternatives, and 17.2% had no opinion. In other words, of the people who had opinions, it was almost 2 to 1 against blessing and rostering.
But what the bishops want, apparently the bishops get. It appears that they decided to find a way to allow the blessing and rostering while playing lip service to the opinions of the ELCA and avoiding an up or down vote (especially since it appears likely that they would lose such an up or down vote). So, how did they resolve this problem? The committee who worked on the JTF study results made three recommendations. Lets look at them one at a time.
It has become clear to the task force that the disagreement over these issues before the church is deep, pervasive, multi-faceted, and multi-layered. This church is not of one mind. This being the case, we believe that this first recommendation should be put before this church as a precondition to the other recommendations.
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.
Translation: the vote didn't come out the way we wanted, and we are going to try to do something that most of you aren't going to like, but you shouldn't leave the church over this because that would be unchristian.
With respect to the matter of blessing same-sex couples who have entered into long-term monogamous covenants of love and care, the ELCA currently has no legislated policy, and the task force declines to recommend any change. In this time of conflict and uncertainty, the Conference of Bishops pointed the way by treating such decisions as matters of pastoral care and the task force believes that pastors and congregations can and should be trusted by this church to exercise the wisdom of discretion in their ministry to same-sex couples and their natural and congregational families. Therefore, we are agreed that the following recommendation is an appropriate expression of that trust.
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.
Translation: We are adopting what is known as the "local option." While we are not granting permission to the bishops to actually marry homosexual couples, each church can do whatever it wants with respect to the issue short of marriage, including "blessing" the unions, while we continue to indoctrinate . . . er . . . study the issue. The best thing about this course of action is that we don't have to have a vote on it because we are not changing the position of the church. A win-win for the bishops!
The issue concerning the ordination, consecration, and commissioning of people in samesex committed relationships is one that has caused the greatest division among members of the task force. We experienced within our group the painful tension caused when Christians, in good conscience, differ in their interpretations of Scripture with regard to this issue. In our discussions, the following strong convictions were voiced repeatedly as we struggled to formulate a recommendation that would find support among the majority of the task force members.
o Some of us believe that we should affirm and uphold the current policy and practice of the church, assuming that discipline will take place and be graciously endured.
o Some of us believe that we should review and modify Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, especially regarding homosexual people living in committed relationships.
o Some of us believe that the ELCA should find a way to create a space in our church (for example, by allowing local option, developing a process to grant exceptions to policy, ordination to place, non-geographic synod, etc.) for ministries that would fully accept the gifts of gay and lesbian rostered leaders without fear of discipline or rejection.
Despite this diversity of beliefs, the task force sought to shape a recommendation that would provide the most hope and possibility for the life and mission of the ELCA at this time. Two of the strongly dissenting positions are presented in more detail in Part Three of this report. Others on the task force hold positions that are not totally supportive of the recommendation, but see it as a way to provide the continuing stability of tradition while also creating opportunity for ongoing discernment of new ways in which the Spirit might be speaking to the church in our time. Therefore, we present the following recommendation that was approved by a strong majority of task force members. It is important to note that this recommendation prevailed even though some task force members who supported it would have preferred other options.
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 definitions 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.
Translation: We are going to put on a face that says that we are not going to permit the rostering of non-celibate homosexual pastors so that the 2 to 1 majority of people in the church who oppose it dont get angry. But if any church wants to call a non-celibate homosexual pastor, there will be no consequences. In other words, it will be a restriction without teeth because the churches will be free to ignore the prohibition as they see fit.
I'm sorry, but this is simply not acceptable. The ELCA, on this issue, has taken a stand of not taking a stand. The issue of homosexual unions ought to be resolved fully and completely, one way or another, based on the teaching of the Bible. Personally, I think that the teaching is very clear and that the "new place of understanding" of the bishops is wrong. But it is even worse that the ELCA seeks, by this guise, to present a position to the church which pretends to be one thing when it really is another. The ELCA has become the lukewarm church despised by God in revelations, and I think God will spit them out of his mouth. Perhaps He already is doing so:
ELCA baptized membership slipped below 5 million in 2003, with 4,984,925 parishioners in 10,657 congregations -- a reduction of 53,081 -- Almen reported. Since 1990, membership has decreased a quarter million from 5,240,739. About half that decline occurred in 2002-03, with a combined decrease of 114,952.
If the ELCA continues to act this way, they will certainly be less at least one other member: me.