Less than a month ago the ELCA's task force on sexuality issued a recommendation for their upcoming national convention. The last study that came out of the ELCA proved to be highly controversial, and this study will prove to be no less. Essentially, they are asking for their denomination to reverse its current policy regarding gay and lesbian pastors and allow them the freedom to be fully rostered clergy while also fully practicing homosexuals. Up to this point they served the church but were required to remain celebate.
In true liberal fashion the task force admits disagreements within the church body on this subject, but leans in the direction of solving this tension by the simple "live and let live" philosophy. Forget truth. The subject of sexuality is relative as far as the Bible is concerned.
The task force acknowledged that there is neither "a consensus -- a general agreement -- nor any emerging consensus" either within the ELCA or within other faith communities in North America, according to its report. The task force stated that ELCA members "must seek a common way to live and serve in the midst of disagreements."
"Through careful listening to this church and to one another other, task force members share a sober appreciation for the depth of disagreement on this matter. We also share a longing for church unity," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, Prior Lake, Minn., and task force chair. "Our hope is that a way can be found to live in the unity of the gospel amidst our differences."
Yet how does one live in the midst of disagreements if you believe that a given practice is contrary to God's holy will? Can one imagine Jesus going to the religious leaders of his day, or Paul to the churches he served, and saying "We must seek a common way to live and serve in the midst of disagreements" when they believed that the truth of God's will was at stake?
The task force recommends an incremented strategy for applying the changes, looking for agreement at various levels in a stepped process.
The task force recommended that a process begin with the churchwide assembly, "declaring its intention about what it wants to do," according to the report. It proposed four steps to be taken consecutively. If the assembly agrees to the first, then the second, third and fourth would be considered only if the preceding steps have been approved.
The first step asks the assembly whether it is committed "to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships," said the report.
The second step asks the assembly whether it is committed to finding a way for Lutherans in committed, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA professional leaders -- clergy, associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses.
If steps one and two are accepted, step three asks the assembly to commit to implementing steps one and two "in such a way that all this church bear the burdens of the other, love the neighbor, and respect the bound conscience of any with whom they disagree." According to the report, "decisions about policy that serve only the interests of one or another group will not be acceptable."
Step four presents a proposal for how the ELCA could move toward change "in a way that respects the bound conscience of all," said the report. The fourth step is different from the previous steps in that it is "not simply a commitment in principle, but makes a specific recommendation for flexibility within existing structures and practices of this church to allow for people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to be approved" for professional service in the ELCA, stated the report.
Other Lutherans have long struggled with the ELCA's abandonment of truth in favor of adopting publicly accepted practices outside the church. This step, while not surprising given its past actions, only pushes them away from their conservative cousins at a distance that now seems unrecoverable. It remains yet to be seen if the assembly will adopt these recommendations, so we should still wait and see what is to come. My fear, however, is that such a direction is inevitable for a church that no longer honors the abolute nature of God's will.