With the final report on the issue of homosexuality in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) due in two months, the members of the ELCA sexuality task force began “moving closer and closer to the final stages of writing the recommendations.” The 14 member task force was appointed 3 years ago to tackle the homosexuality issue that has been striking the heart of intra denominational unity over the past several decades. The task force’s Oct 1-3 meeting did not provide any final consensuses on which direction – “welcoming” or “traditional” – the ELCA should go.
"This is the meeting at which we really began to come to terms with the fact that we need to move closer and closer to the final stage of writing the recommendations," said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, chair of the 14-member task force and bishop of the ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass.
According to Payne, the task force has been engaged in “conversation, study and listening to people from a variety of disciplines.” The main resources used during the study were the studies developed during the previous meetings.
"At this meeting we were in a process of bringing together all of that information and engaging in discussion, which will move us to a time, we hope in December, when we will actually finish the work on writing the recommendations," Payne said.
“At this point we don't have any kind of a final answer at all," she continued. "We experience within the task force the same thing that the church experiences, which is an ongoing sharing of opinions on the subject and differences of opinions. We listen to one another and respect one another's opinions," Payne said. The difference is that the task force must develop recommendations, she said.
"It's hard work, but it's good work with a good group," Payne said. "Each person in the task force feels deeply responsible to do this job well for the church," she said. "We are most appreciative of all the people who are praying for us in this work and supporting us."
Much of the early October meeting was held behind closed doors, with limited media entrance. During the closed session meetings, task members discussed the different possible recommendations and the possible outcomes of the implementation.
Similar closed-door sessions on homosexuality have been underway in several other denominations as well, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and the Anglican Church. The PC(U.S.A), and to a greater extent the Anglican Communion, had been struggling over the volatile issue of homosexual ordination and blessings of homosexual unions. The PC(U.S.A) report is due next year; the Anglican Communion will be releasing its study in October 18.
The ELCA task force meanwhile will meet via phone in November and again in December. The task force is expected to finalize its report and recommendations during the Dec. 10-12 meeting.
Current ELCA policy states that ministers should not partake in any sexual relationships, including homosexual relationships, outside of marriage. Despite such expectations, several ELCA congregations have “ordained” ministers who admittedly partake in an active homosexual relationship. The ELCA Conference of Bishop also released a statement ten years ago stating that same-gender relationships should not be blessed within ELCA congregations.