Friday, March 28, 2008

Lutheran CORE on the Draft Statement

Retired Bishops Ken Sauer (Southern Ohio Synod) and Paull Spring (Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod) offer this early appraisal of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality's first draft of an ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality on behalf of Lutheran CORE.

A Response from Lutheran CORE to the Draft Statement on Human Sexuality

March 2008

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has prepared a draft of a proposed social statement on sexuality. What follows now will be an important process of review, critique, and analysis of this statement throughout the church. This analysis will take place through congregational studies, individual responses, and comments made at the various synodical hearings. Lutheran CORE urges that all members of the ELCA participate actively in this review process. Once this review process is completed, the Task Force on Sexuality will prepare a revised version of the social statement. On the recommendation of the Church Council, this revised statement will be presented to the Minneapolis churchwide assembly, August 2009, for action.

In February 2009, the task force will prepare a series of implementing resolutions. Among these resolutions will be recommendations regarding the blessing and ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian persons. These implementing resolutions will also come before the 2009 churchwide assembly for action.

As participants within Lutheran CORE, we offer the following initial comments on the draft statement.

Our first word is a word of thanks to the members of the task force and the staff who prepared this draft. They have worked hard, under pressure, and have earned the thanks of the ELCA for their work. As the process moves toward the preparation of a final draft, Lutheran CORE participants will continue to pray for the task force and for the leadership of our church.

There is much to be commended in this draft statement. It is, for the most part, well-written and understandable. It contains numerous biblical references (although we wish that more passages were quoted in the body of the statement, rather than simply cited).

The draft touches on many theological themes that characterize specifically Lutheran perspectives. Notable in the draft are, among others, presentations on the Word of God as Law and Gospel, the uses of the Law, the centrality of justification, and the understanding of believers as simultaneously sinners and redeemed. The task force is to be commended for providing these obviously Lutheran perspectives within the draft.

Moreover, we note with appreciation the way the draft addresses many current issues on sexuality. We lift up especially the role of the family, the abuses of sexuality in our society, and the dominating influence of advertising and the media in our culture. We commend the task force for addressing these issues forthrightly. We also appreciate the way the draft recognizes the role Christians have sometimes played in the dehumanization and discrimination against gay and lesbian persons.

In short, there is much in the draft that we can commend and applaud. Unfortunately, there are also elements in the draft statement that are troubling, even worrisome, to us.

1. The first is the definition of marriage. True, marriage is affirmed as a covenant of fidelity between one man and one woman. But this definition is not consistently maintained throughout the draft. In fact, references to other forms of the family and to other relationships as valid weaken the definition of marriage as initially presented. There are few references to procreation as one of the chief purposes of marriage. The discussion on marriage and homosexuality is itself unbalanced — one sentence for heterosexual marriage and several sentences on homosexual unions. A more detailed attention to Genesis 1 and 2 and Matthew 19:4ff would strengthen the draft considerably. We suspect, frankly, that a new definition of marriage is being suggested — not a lifelong covenant of fidelity between one man and one woman, but a relationship of trust and love between two persons. The task force has been charged with preparing recommendations on the blessing and rostering of gay and lesbian persons. There are strong hints in the draft that open the door for recommending such blessings and ordinations — a prospect that distresses and alarms us.

2. Secondly, there are numerous references in the draft to "pastoral" and "pastoral care." Unfortunately these terms are nowhere defined in the draft. The Lutheran heritage understands pastoral care to be a personal address that is based on God's Word of both Law and Gospel. By contrast, pastoral care in the draft appears to be largely a matter of affirmation and support.

3. Thirdly, there is — to us — the confusing use of the category of trust in social relationships and institutions. The observations in this section of the draft are buttressed by references to unnamed social scientists. Trust is an appropriate category to use in the God - human relationship and to relationships among humans. But, in view of the two kingdoms doctrine, the Christian's life in society — family, state, education, commerce, the arts — is more characterized by justice, reliability, and order, rather than trust. Or have we misunderstood the draft?

4. Fourthly, the draft needs to be significantly re-framed and re-structured. This is especially the case with the first half of the document. The draft begins a statement on sexuality with a reference to the Great Commandments, followed by an extensive discussion of the incarnation that leads in turn to a fulsome paean in honor of the resurrection and the new creation. In so doing, the draft places the whole matter of sexuality within the saving work of Christ, the Gospel. The Lutheran tradition, by contrast, places sexuality within the doctrines of creation and the Law. Human sexuality is part of God's created order for the world. Sexuality is not salvific, and sexual intercourse is not a sacrament. On this point we feel that the draft needs serious revision. It would be clearer if the draft were to begin with creation — rather than the incarnation — and then move to a discussion of the Word of God as both Law and Gospel. It is our hope that subsequent revisions of the draft will reflect these observations.

5. There is, moreover, the overall flow of the draft — or rather the lack of it. Themes appear and disappear, to the point where the draft itself seems confused and disjointed. It is not always easy to discern how one theme leads to another. A much better way of dealing with the issues of marriage, family, and sexuality would be to move clearly from Biblical interpretation to practical application. We also wish that the draft had incorporated the more direct affirmations on sexuality from the American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in America statements on sexuality and from the ELCA Church Council's 1996 message, "Some Common Convictions."

There are other concerns we have about the draft statement — too many to mention here. We hope and pray that the churchwide discussion that is now underway will lead to a much improved statement. We also hope and pray that the implementing resolutions will clearly re-affirm the rostering provisions that are in place in Vision and Expectations and in the relevant sections in Definitions and Guidelines.

In the meantime we urge everyone in the church to take advantage of the review process for this statement. May God through his Spirit strengthen the church in faithfulness to his Word.

For the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

Kenneth H. Sauer
Paull E. Spring

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that speaks for the historic center of Lutheranism. We seek to preserve within the ELCA the authority of Scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions. Lutheran CORE's members and participants represent the vast middle of American Lutheranism, spanning geographical regions, political viewpoints and vocations, but we are united by our common theological convictions. Lutheran CORE is a voice of the solid, faithful core that is the majority of ELCA members, pastors and congregations.

More information on Lutheran CORE can be found at

The ELCA draft social statement, related materials and an online response form are available at


Anonymous said...

I confess that I have broken my self-imposed Holy Week & Bright Week abstinence from Sex--alright, from reading the Draft Statement and significant commentary thereupon--by reading the good Bishops' response.

They raise excellent points, yet did not touch on an issue raised in the AP summary story (having not read the draft, I do not know whether this is actually part of the statement, a footnote, or a comment by someone on the Task Force) which asserted that Scripture must be interpreted through the new knowledge we have obtained from "science, including the social sciences".

If that is allowed to stand then we are no longer a Church of Sola Scriptura. Were that to come to pass I would be grateful to be part of a Church that held in balance Scripture and Tradition; but this statement asserts Reason and Experience as superior to Scripture.

As in "God is still Speaking"

Ivy said...

Thank you for posting this. My convictions fall very much along the lines of CORE and Word Alone, but I must say, I much prefer CORE's approach, appreciation for the positive and willingness to not throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. Thank God that there is not the quickness to bolt from the ELCA and its many positives, among them people of faith. Blessings.

Ryan Schwarz said...

Ivy, on behalf of CORE, thank you for that comment. I'm a member of the Steering Committee, and I can say with conviction that it is very much our approach to be as fair and evenhanded as possible. We believe that, beyond the 8th commandment imperative (no small thing itself), our criticisms carry more credibility if we comment positively when merited.

It is also the case that none of us are in a hurry to exit the ELCA. First off, this is our church too, you know? More substantively, we feel called to be witnesses here "in this place". Now, that does not mean that we would simply accept any unScriptural innovation that the ELCA might embrace. It means, rather, that leaving would be a course of last resort, not a first choice.

If I may, I'd also say a word on behalf of our friends in WordAlone. It is certainly true that in the early days of WordAlone, there were many folks involved who seemed in a hurry to get out of the ELCA. However, most of those folks left when LCMC was formed in the late 90s. The people in the leadership of WA today made a conscious decision to stay in the ELCA and contend for the faith, at when many of their friends and colleagues were leaving. We value their participation in CORE and think it is worth noting their determination to remain in this church for the sake of the Gospel.

Ivy said...


Thank you for your comments regarding CORE and Word Alone. Peace.

Melanchthon said...

Thanks for posting this, Pastor. Blessings on your work.

Dave Johnson said...

As a life-long Lutheran, it is with a profound sense of betrayal and disappointment that I complete the reading of the draft study on human sexuality. Betrayal -- because the authors assert adherence to scripture but fail to live up to those assertions. Disappointment because I have the strong sense “we’re being set up” on the homosexual agenda and we’ll rip the church apart on the Episcopalian model. ELCA needs to get a drafting team without an agenda and redo the study.

Jesus did embrace the prostitute as a sinner, but, he did say go and sin no more…. We’re ready to welcome sinners into our church – but all should go and sin no more… not try to rewrite the scriptures to make the “abomination” no longer a sin. (160)
I resent the implication that “biblical principals” can be modified to suit the “varying situation” or currently popular issue – such a church without biblical principles is a social club… with religious trappings. (310)
I’m curious – why omit the scripture that addresses homosexuality wherein it is defined as an abomination. (400-422)
You’ve ruined the term “neighbor” forever… Try this as an exercise—replace word “Neighbor” and the secular word “partner” that this study adopts with “homosexual lover” and reread the study…. (472-end of study).
Take a black felt tip pen and circle the word “TRUST” on lines 580-640 – (on the adjoining pages 20 and 21). With all the different attributes that could have been selected... Integrity, Courage, Reverence, Honestly, Love (and the greatest of these is love)… why the preoccupation with trust? When I read lines 1263-1267 I find the answer… after you equate trust with social trust and then with social justice, I’m supposed to attend to the cry for a “just law” and “Just treatment” for those with varied sexual identities -- I’m to argue for legal justification for homosexual lovers.
“Household” is a great term – that differs from “family.” I resent the study’s redefinition of “Family” (721-726) to include homosexual lovers… As I recall it says “Honor your father and mother – not Honor your father and his homosexual lover…..
Didn’t we pay attention to the Catholic Church and the priest sexual scandals? Shouldn’t our pastors be held to the highest standards of conduct and be subject to criminal punishment (920-921). The study is curiously silent about such punishment for clergy (943-955) – almost like the priest issue is overblown…
I fail to understand the requirement for the defacto endorsement of cohabitation – after saying the church does not favor or give approval -- the study goes on to detail how we accommodate this choice and how we should treat “same gender mutual commitment” 1072-1079)
When the study finally does reaffirm “Marriage” it ruins the endorsement by using the code word “partners” instead of “spouse”….(1100)
Recognizing “confusion” in the church does not provide rationale for endorsing sinful behavior. (1117-1119)
I’m shocked that the draft study says I should advocate for legal protection for homosexual lovers and their “families.” (133-1135)
I’m shocked that pastors should say that same-gender committed relationships should be “held to the same rigorous standards and sexual ethics as all others.” I’m shocked about the portion that describes homosexual divorce being treated with the same gravity as the dissolution as a marriage. (1148-1149)
I resent the implication that “historic” marriage is somehow dated and not with the times… (1151) I do note that the drafters recognize the sensitivity of this statement in that they quickly assert they do not wish to alter this understanding – yet the drafters then proceed to do just that—ascribe marriage-like relationship principles to groups of homosexual lovers.
I resent the charge of this study to raise healthy children (great) and build solid marriages (great) AND TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS (code word for homosexual lovers). Here I stand, and, I can do no other – I certainly can not speak out systematically in support of homosexual lovers (1321-1323)and this church should not do so either.
Drafters omitted the charge in lines 1387-1388 to “go and sin no more.”
I’m distressed by the threat that this church should continue to debate this topic and continue to prepare papers, and continue to prepare long papers, and continue to consider matter, and continue --until we recognize homosexuality as “ok”….(1422-1430)