MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" with a vote of 676 (66.67 percent) to 338 (33.33 percent) on Aug. 19. The passing of the social statement on human sexuality required a two-thirds vote.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust is the denomination's 10th social statement. It addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.
Social statements "guide us as we step forward as a public church because they form the basis for both this church's public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the assembly.
An ad hoc committee addressed 13 proposals to amend the social statement from voting members and 42 "memorials" or resolutions from the 65 synods of the ELCA. They ranged from editorial amendments to changing the intent and coherence of the existing text.
With a 303 to 667 vote, voting members defeated an amendment to replace a section of the social statement about "lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships" -- a section that identifies the issues within the denomination about homosexuality, describing a range of widely articulated views. The proposed replacement language reflected the position of some in the church that believe the "practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God's intent."
The ad hoc committee recommended that the amendment not be adopted, since the position articulated implies "a consensus that no longer exists."
After considering 6 of the 13 amendments, voting members moved to accept the recommendations of the ad hoc committee on all other amendments and moved to consider the adoption of the social statement.
Speaking in favor of adoption of the statement, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, said she hopes the assembly does not become "so narrowly focused on the issue of homosexual sexual behavior that we missed the point that we're speaking a clear word that needs to be heard by our culture," particularly on topics about co-habitation outside of marriage, sex as a commodity, child pornography and more. She said the church has high expectations for all Lutherans, especially for ELCA professional leaders.
Speaking in opposition, voting member Curtis Sorbo, ELCA Eastern North Dakota Synod, said the social statement "should be a teaching tool. I don't think that it is. Instead we have descriptions of different sexual relationships that we are asked to accept by bound conscience," he said. "We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality in today's culture because of a new reality. Our church needs to address this issue based on the authority of the word of God, not a description of public opinion and personal desires."
"We took some risks in the writing of this in ways that we thought were appropriate for these times," the Rev. Peter Strommen said in a news conference following the plenary.
The statement was structured from a standpoint of "love of the neighbor and trust," he said.
Strommen served as chair of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, which developed the social statement under the directive of the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
In response to the vote on the statement's adoption Strommen said, "I doubt very much that I've ever been present at an election with that many votes cast coming out exactly two-thirds. Quite stunning," he said. "We're naturally very glad that it passed."
"I am very proud of this church," the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society, said at the news conference. "It is a time of diminished joy," she said. "We know there is suffering all around on this issue."
New release issued by the ELCA.