Evangelical Lutherans are signing off on their final human sexuality study to obtain an accurate picture of the different voices on homosexuality in the church.
"Set Free in Christ: Talking about Human Sexuality" is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's third study guide engaging its 4.85 million members in discussion before the church's official social statement on human sexuality. The final study is slated for release to the church on Dec. 4.
Responses from the three studies will help shape ELCA's statement on human sexuality including such issues as gay marriage and the consecration of homosexual persons. The 2001 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA had mandated that the church engage in such studies under the banner of "Journey Together Faithfully" for a proposed social statement due to be released early 2009.
"One of the most unique parts of our study is that we're grounding it in an evangelical ethic that's been very beautifully articulated through the Lutheran tradition," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, according to the ELCA News Service. "Galatians will help set the framework for conversation and return us to the basics, that we are saved by God's grace through faith. Grounded in that freedom to seek the neighbor's good, what does it mean to be sexual beings?"
The study series began with a review of the church's "Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions" which was adopted in 1996 as a summary of the teaching of the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies. Although responses to the study were fewer than hoped for, suggestions for topics to be added included "alternative lifestyles and new family structures," "bisexuality and transgender sexuality," "teenage pregnancy," and "cybersex."
Concerns were also raised about creating a social statement. Respondents said low participation in the study is a questionable basis for a statement and posed who actually speaks in a social statement. Another concern was that any language the ELCA devises as its statement is "subject to culturally influenced misinterpretation."
The second study focused on homosexuality and ministries issues such as same-sex blessings and ordination. And the soon-to-be-released third study focuses on aspects of human sexuality in society that have not been extensively covered in the two previous studies.
The ELCA task force had released three recommendations early last year including a proposal to establish exceptions to the ministerial standards in cases where gay ministers were in "loving relationships." The 2005 churchwide assembly declined the request that would have allowed the church to ordain active homosexual candidates for ministry.
Responses to the third study on human sexuality will be received through Nov. 1, 2007.