As a coalition for Gender and Sexual Justice in our church, the ELCA, we are calling for justice in the regulating of socially acceptable intimate relationalities. We are ELCA Lutherans, ordained and lay leaders, rostered and unrostered, seminarians and theologians, in candidacy and outside of candidacy, participating in the life of the church and leading the people of God in our journey following Jesus. We take seriously the Word of God as revealed in the scriptures and the traditions of the church in living out the Christian faith in various cultural contexts.
The plethora of stories we hear in our conversations demonstrate that life and liberty are being oppressed in the pressure for church leaders to be in marital relationships, or otherwise abstain from all sexual intimacy. The common good of both parishioners and church leaders would benefit from the freedom to be in a variety of healthy relationships, and to hold each other mutually accountable to ensuring that these relationships are life-giving for all involved, including the larger communities.
“An important way that Christians carry out their citizenship is through participation in voluntary associations and movements, both religious and secular. At times, these groups may serve a prophetic function as they protest particular evils, question unexamined assumptions, challenge unjust or immoral practices, and organize for structural changes in the work place, local community, and wider world.” (Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective 5) We as a coalition for Gender and Sexual Justice have come together voluntarily to do this work of issue raising, protest, and organizing for change in the ELCA.
CS Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective
DGD Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline
HS Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
V&E Vision and Expectations for Ordained Ministers
ELCA Documents and Problematic Sexuality in the Church
The documents listed above are being used to perpetuate a pressure for leaders in the ELCA to be married, and to additionally conform to oppressive relational and sexual standards set by our church that are often in contrast with our values and lived experience.
- The expectations surrounding “chastity” purport an ethic of works-based righteousness, positing that certain practices of our sexuality make us a better steward of our pastoral call.
- Singlehood and non-sexual relationships are undervalued by the overemphasis and limited definitions of marriage and family.
- The recent inclusion of same-gender relationships in HS, V&E, and DGD still utilizes heteronormative language that sets narrow expectations of what an acceptable committed relationship looks like.
- V&E and DGD have created a culture of shame in our community, one that manifests itself in both our experience with candidacy committees and among our cohorts. This culture sits in juxtaposition to our current context, politically, economically, scientifically, and medically.
- We as Lutherans believe in an incarnational God, whose presence sanctifies flesh and allows us to see sexuality as a “gift and trust,” not a sinful curse we need to control.
- Theological and ethical arguments that prioritize purity and chastity are in contradiction with our incarnational and baptismal theology.
- Defining “bad” sex should not be done using theologies of purity. Assessments of good or bad Christian relationality should not be evaluated based on the presence or absence of sexuality, but on healthy power dynamics.
- There should be no blanket pastoral model of cultural expectations, but instead contextual ministries. The ELCA already practices contextual matchmaking of leaders with their communities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and expectations of sexuality should function within this system.
- We maintain a healthy respect for marriage, without elevating it to the level of sacrament and seeing it as a necessary means of grace. Marriage is one form of committed and intimate relationality, and not the default setting for every relationship.
- We call for a moral deliberation and discernment process as described in CS initiated in the ELCA where V&E, DGD, and HS are evaluated based on an expanded theology and ethic of Christian relationality. Specific changes we would like to see include:
- No longer privileging marriage as the only acceptable form of sexual relationality
- Updating ELCA policies to reflect marriage equality in the United States
- Editing out language that perpetuates heteronormativity and sexual oppression
- CS states that moral deliberation in the church is done by gathering a diverse group of people, including “those who feel and suffer with the issue; those whose interests or security are at stake” (6). In light of this, we call for individuals in our coalition to be participants in this process as representatives who are affected by these policies.
If you can stomach it, take a gander. . . here. . .
It is clear that the Seminaries of the ELCA are neck deep into the cutting edge of sex and gender issues and they are not only leading the way for the whole denomination but forming pastors under this perspective. It is also clear that this has become a cause from which there is no turning back. The ELCA refuses to be rescued by Scripture or the Lutheran confessional tradition. The ELCA has long acknowledged moving past the prohibitions and ethic of the Scriptures with regard to sex, gender, and marriage and has claimed that the Gospel mitigates against the witness of the Scriptures. The ELCA has chosen to disconnect itself from its own predecessor bodies and to distance itself from anyone and everyone who refuses this path. In this respect, the ELCA is clearly following the lead of the churches of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, etc... In the end this is not simply about sex, it is about the Word of God, about our continuity with the Word and the faithful who have confessed it before us, about the voice of that Word to address us today. It is also about our confession and ultimately the ELCA has chosen to acknowledge those Lutheran Confessions only in so far as they can be manipulated to support its present course and insists that it is not bound to the exegesis of the Confessions or to their teachings that conflict with its chosen course. In the end, it is about a church which has lost its moorings to anything greater than a snapshot of the moment and the feelings, desires, reason, and wills of those in that moment. For that, we are all the poorer. The world will judge all Lutherans for the positions of the ELCA and it is increasingly more difficult to stand behind the name Lutheran while attempting to distinguish between the few who disagree with the statement and its perspective and the many who have come to define this as the Gospel itself.
If you want to know who runs the show in the ELCA, or at least at ULS, read this and don't skip reading the comments because they are more eye opening than the open letter. . .