Lutherans Opposed to Same-Gender Blessings Meet
- CALLED OUT
From the ELCA NEWS SERVICE
Thursday, October 31, 2002
Lutherans Express Concerns about Sexuality Issues
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lutherans opposed to blessings of same-sex
relationships and to ordaining gay and lesbian people in committed
relationships say they don't think the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) hears their voices. They gathered here Oct. 24-26 to
make their voices heard through a statement about their beliefs.
Attendees at the Conference on Christian Sexuality sponsored by
the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau polished an 81-line "Pastoral
Statement of Conviction and Concern" outlining their position and
expressing reservations about continued involvement with the ELCA
should the church approve at its 2005 Churchwide Assembly same-sex
blessing ceremonies and ordinations of gay and lesbian people in
committed relationships. The assembly serves as the ELCA's
decision-making body and includes voting representatives from each of
the church's 65 synods.
Presently ELCA policy requires ordained ministers to refrain
homosexual sexual relationships. There is no official policy on
blessings of same-sex relationships, though the ELCA Conference of
Bishops has advised the church that it does not approve of such
"We earnestly desire to remain actively engaged in the life and
mission of our church, but we observe that the ELCA is becoming
schismatic and sectarian," the statement read.
Drafters of the statement said that changes in the church's
stance on people who are gay and lesbian would distort the biblical
record, appeal to questionable scientific theories, suppress
inconvenient data and rely on individual experience rather than
"The conversations on this issue thus far have largely focused
personal experience and the sharing of anecdotes rather than on the
teaching of Holy Scripture and the theological and confessional
witness of the church," the statement said.
Nine speakers at the conference addressed a range of issues but
most shared a common theme: Lutheran lay people have heard only one
point of view on the subject, the point of view which would support
changing church policy. The Rev. Merton Strommen, a research
psychologist, author of "The Church and Homosexuality: Searching for
Middle Ground" and founder of Search Institute in Minneapolis,
blamed six societal institutions for limiting information to a single
point of view.
National mental health organizations such as the American
Psychiatric Association make it difficult for researchers to publish
findings that suggest individuals can change their sexual
he said and academic institutions refuse to publish papers suggesting
that homosexuality isn't healthy. The media fail to present stories
about the dark side of homosexuality, courts permit legal threats
against organizations accused of discriminating against gays, and
public schools have adopted curricula that present homosexuality as
The ELCA Division for Outreach is the sixth source of one-sided
information, according to Strommen, who said he believes its papers
and other resources are biased in favor of accepting homosexuality.
The Rev. James A. Nestingen, professor of church history at
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon,
associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary, addressed biblical issues surrounding the matter. Gagnon
reviewed various texts, concluding that neither the Old Testament nor
the New Testament offers an instance where same-sex relationships
could be viewed in a positive light.
"It is impossible to argue that there's any instance where Paul
would approve of a same- sex relationship," he said. "It's impossible
to argue that something can be contrary to nature and still not be
Nestingen said the ecumenical consensus of the church for 2,000
years has been restraint in homosexual practice. He said, however,
that the combination of American emphasis on the individual over the
community with a growing preference for values over facts has been a
corrosive mix for society and has led to the current deliberations on
the acceptability of homosexuality.
Nestingen suggested that the gospel and the Lutheran view of
vocation, particularly marriage, should serve as resources in
conversations about homosexuality.
"In marriage we become the faces of God to one another, not
faceless parts coupling and uncoupling like so many boxcars," he
The Rev. Thomas A. Skrenes, bishop of the ELCA Northern Great
Lakes Synod, Marquette, Mich., blamed the situation on the low value
Lutherans place on Scripture, pointing to the lack of biblical
literacy he has seen in visiting congregations in his synod. However,
Skrenes said he has struggled with questions of right and wrong in
discussion of homosexuality.
"What if I'm wrong, and the homosexual issue is the human rights
issue of our time? Is my hubris the sin here and not homosexual
activity?" he asked, though he said he has yet to be convinced that
his understanding of Scripture is wrong.
"If I can be convinced by the Word of God that I am wrong, then
so be it," he said.
Skrenes suggested that groups advocating a change in church
policy are well-funded and well-entrenched within the ELCA.
"They do not represent a majority of the church, but they may
represent the majority of the decision-makers," he said, cautioning
participants that they likely will be compared to Lutheran racists
opposed the civil rights movement 50 years ago.
Other speakers were:
+ Robert Benne, director of the Center for Religion and Society
at Roanoke College, Salem, Va., who previewed his revised chapter on
marriage and family life for the second edition of "Ordinary Saints."
Benne said his point of view on marriage differs sharply from the
"debased" views emerging from popular culture.
+ The Rev. Amy Schifrin, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in
St. Cloud, Minn., who examined the symbolism rituals carry. She
compared the same-sex relationship blessings to ritualizing death.
+ The Rev. Russell E. Saltzman, editor of Forum Letter and
of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Mo., who suggested
that the church should change its policy on clergy divorce before it
could effectively address homosexual unions. Saltzman, who is
divorced, would like to see divorced clergy allowed to remain on the
roster only on a case-by-case basis.
+ The Rev. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Roman Catholic
Church, Greenville, S.C., who provided an ecumenical view of the ELCA
discussions on homosexuality.
+ The Rev. Phillip Max Johnson, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran
Church, Jersey City, N.J., who, during a summary discussion, called
for sanctuary for pastors who oppose same-sex blessing ceremonies and
ordination of people who are gay or lesbian.
Saltzman, the conference organizer, said 273 Lutherans
for the conference. Most were clergy who came from every state except
Hawaii, as well as from Canada. Participants were urged to gather
signatures of support for the statement from individuals and
congregations, with signatures due at Saltzman's church by Feb. 15.
Saltzman said copies of the statement will be available at
http://www.rhlc.org and at http://www.alpb.org on the Web.
-- -- --
* Melodee Hall Blobaum is a freelance writer who lives in the
Kansas City area.
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