August 22, 2009
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
-- Colossians 3:14-15
I write to you from the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis with official information about the actions of this assembly related to human sexuality. I am grateful for the manner in which this church has engaged in this conversation. The way this assembly has discussed these questions is a continuation of the way this church has deliberated: with deep and heartfelt respect for each other, engaging with Scripture, listening to the faith stories and experiences of one another, and through worship and prayer seeking the discernment of the Spirit.
In my response to the voting members on Friday, August 21, I made this request: we need one another. We need time. We need the voices of those who lament and those who rejoice over these actions, for together we have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and engage in God’s mission for the life of the world.
The assembly adopted 676-338 -- precisely two-thirds of those voting -- “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the ELCA’s 10th social statement, with minor editorial amendments. It also adopted a series of implementing resolutions with amendments. This theological and teaching document builds on the key Lutheran principles of justification by grace and Christian freedom to serve the neighbor. It emphasizes that central to our vocation, in relation to human sexuality, is the building and protection of trust in relationships. It therefore affirms that we are called to be trustworthy in our human sexuality and to build social institutions and practices where trust and trustworthy relationships can thrive. The social statement addresses marriage, same-gender relationships, families, protecting children, friendships, commitment, social responsibility and moral discernment. Regarding same-gender committed relationships, the social statement says that this church is not in agreement and recognizes the different perspectives which are present among us.
Our assembly also adopted resolutions proposed by the Church Council based on those contained in a “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies.” The actions direct that changes be made to churchwide policy documents to make it possible for those in committed same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. There were amendments to two of the proposals. The assembly adopted the resolutions in the following order, beginning with a strong statement about how we will live together in the face of our disagreements:
Resolution 3: “RESOLVED, that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all." (Adopted 771-230 as amended)
Resolution 1: “RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.” (Adopted 619-402)
Resolution 2: “RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.” (Adopted 559-451)
Resolution 4: This resolution called upon members to respect the bound consciences of those with whom they disagree; declared intent to allow structured flexibility in decision-making about candidacy and the call process; eliminated the prohibition of rostered service by members in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships; recognized and committed to respect the conviction of members who believe that the ELCA should not call or roster people in committed same-gender relationships; called for development of accountability guidelines; directed that amendments to ministry policy documents be drafted and approved; and stated that this church continue to trust congregations, bishops, synods and others responsible for determining who should be called into public ministry. (Adopted 667-307 as amended)
I invite you into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversation about what all of this means for our life in mission together. What is absolutely important for me is that we have this conversation together.
We meet one another finally -- not in our agreements or our disagreements -- but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
ELCA Presiding Bishop
Comments of Bishop Hanson to the assembly at the conclusion of the decisions on human sexuality are at http://www.elca.org/assembly on the Web.