From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Assembly Discusses Progress on Church's Studies on Sexuality

Date Wed, 13 Aug 2003 12:50:47 -0500


August 13, 2003

ELCA Assembly Discusses Progress on Church's Studies on Sexuality

     MILWAUKEE (ELCA) -- Some voting members of the 2003
Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) discussed the progress of the ELCA Studies on Sexuality
and the work of the church's task force overseeing the studies at
an Aug. 12 hearing.
     The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of
the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 11-17 at the Midwest Airlines
Center.  There are about 2,100 people participating, including
1,031 ELCA voting members.  The theme for the biennial assembly
is "Making Christ Known: For the Healing of the World."
     The hearing is a time for voting members of the assembly to
share observations and concerns and ask questions, said Judy G.
Biffle, Houston, Texas, member of the ELCA Church Council -- the
ELCA's board of directors and the legislative authority of the
church between churchwide assemblies.
     It is an "open meeting" for voting members, but not a time
for formal presentations, said Biffle, who serves as an advisor
to the studies' task force.
     At the direction of the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the
church is conducting a comprehensive four-year study on
homosexuality.	That assembly also asked for a social statement
on human sexuality.  Current ELCA policy expects ministers to
refrain from all sexual relations outside marriage.  Since the
church has no official policy on blessing same-gender
relationships, this precludes homosexuals in relationships from
ordained ministry.  The ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory
body of the church, stated it does not approve of such
     The 2001 assembly called for a progress report on the
studies to the 2003 assembly and a final report with
recommendations to be presented to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.
It also asked the Division for Church in Society to prepare a
social statement on human sexuality.
     The Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, assembled by
the ELCA Division for Ministry and Division for Church in Society
in May 2002, assists the divisions in developing study materials,
recommendations and proposals regarding the assembly mandates.
The first of the study materials was distributed that summer.  It
was based on "A Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions,"
which the council adopted in 1996, outlining matters of sexuality
accepted by Lutherans.	A "drafting team" -- a subcommittee of
the task force -- has produced study materials on homosexuality
for ELCA congregations.  The materials, to be available in
September, will serve as the second part of the church's study.
     Biffle introduced the Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director,
ELCA Studies on Sexuality, and the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop
of the ELCA New England Synod and chair of the task force. Childs
and Payne provided brief opening comments and proceeded to field
questions from participants at the hearing.
     "It seems to me that we're taking an awfully long time to
make decisions.  Why are we begging the question and taking so
long to decide?" said William H. Taylor Jr., voting member, ELCA
Central States Synod.
     In response, Childs said the "feeling of impatience is
understandable."  He said the task force "really cares about
theology" and "about one another." Childs also said that it
"takes time" to address issues.
     The Rev. David W. Shockey, voting member, ELCA Indiana-
Kentucky Synod, asked how intentional members of the ELCA have
been in "getting input from Lutheran brothers and sisters of the
Lutheran World Federation."
     Childs said he attended the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran
World Federation, July 21-31, 2003, Winnipeg, Canada.  He said
the assembly produced a message that stated its commitment to
encourage and support Lutherans in a study and dialogue process
on issues of marriage, family and human sexuality.  The message
is available at on the Web.
     Christine L. Summy, voting member, ELCA Southeastern
Pennsylvania Synod, sought "advice on the definition of sin."
Summy said there is "much opinion" on the definition of sin and
asked how "to deal with it theologically."
     In response, Childs said the second set of study materials
to be available this summer addresses "sin and [the] moral
questions we ask ourselves in life."
     William Lynch, voting member, ELCA Southern Ohio Synod,
said, "I know I'm a sinner, but has the task force considered
whether or not the homosexual act is a sin?"
     "We most certainly have wrestled with that question.  I
encourage you to tackle that question," said Payne.
     In response to a voting member's comment on "Lutheran
Scripture as the authority of our faith," Childs said "biblical
discussion dominates the study book" and its supporting
materials.  He said the task force has "paid a lot of attention
to the Bible."
     Payne said wisdom, love and grace are "gifts of the spirit"
that need to be prayed for "as we practice holy listening."  She
challenged participants to be "ambassadors" in the church,
encouraging people to listen to one another, particularly to
those with "broad viewpoints."	Human sexuality "will not be the
only tough conversation in the church," Payne said.  She added
that the study and discussion process "should serve as a model
for the church" for the future.
-- -- --
Information about the ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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