Monday, January 17, 2005

ELCA Report on Sexuality

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has published the report (warning: PDF) from its Task Force for Studies on Sexuality, i.e., essentially the results of its deliberations on gay marriage and ordination. The upshot is that the church should agree to disagree in order to maintain unity, recommending that the chuch "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."

For those hoping for a prophetic message like that of the United Church of Christ or a showdown like that in the Episcopal Church regarding the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, this report will be disappointing. However, its neutrality is itself a statement in favor of toleration, and there are some signals toward local autonomy that may be heartening for communities that find this whole debate antiquated. For example, though no formal changes were made to the definition of the sacraments or to the guidelines for church discipline, the report states that "this church may refrain from disciplining those who in good conscience, and for the sake of outreach, ministry, and the commitment to a continuing dialogue, call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates whom they believe to be otherwise in compliance with [the standards regarding the sexual conduct for rostered leaders] and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved and called." In other words, the same things are still not allowed, but if a community chooses a form of principled disobedience, its choice will be respected.

In general, this reflects an approach to ethical truth that is contextual, local, particular, and timely rather than decontextualized, general, universal, and timeless. It is Wittgensteinian and practical, rather than Cartesian and theoretical. I would guess that Martin Luther would approve of this direction.

One interesting though unsurprising statistic: while the Lutherans surveyed oppose same-sex blessings and rostering (ordination) 56% to 23%, the ratio is quite different for those age 24 and younger: 43% favor these practices, while 27% oppose them. Indeed, opposition steadily increases up the age scale, indicating that the consensus may change dramatically within a generation. And, of course, it will, as it has on other contentious issues in the past, e.g., women's ordination. It is just a matter of time.


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