ELCA NEWS SERVICE
September 22, 2006
ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality Works to Finalize a Third Study
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The task force coordinating studies in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) concerning human sexuality met here Sept. 15-17 to work on finalizing the text of "Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor: Lutherans Talk about Human Sexuality" -- a study guide designed to engage the 4.85 million-member church in thoughtful discussion and theological discernment on topics that may be addressed in an ELCA social statement on human sexuality.
"We're signing off on a study, not a social statement," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Duluth, and task force chair. "Our objective is to finalize text that gives the ELCA a discussion tool to engage in before the social statement on human sexuality is written," he said.
The current overall work of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality is the development of a social statement on human sexuality for the ELCA. The 2001 assembly mandated the church to engage in studies on human sexuality. The first emphasis dealt with questions about the blessing of same-gender unions and the ordination of people in committed gay or lesbian relationships, in which the task force issued its report and recommendations on homosexuality in January 2005. The 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly took action on those recommendations. The second emphasis is the development of a social statement on human sexuality.
A proposed social statement on human sexuality is due in early 2009. The proposed document will be presented to the ELCA Church Council with a request by the task force to place the document on the agenda of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly for action.
Set Free in Christ: Talking about Human Sexuality, is the third in a series of studies developed by the task force under the banner of "Journey Together Faithfully," said the Rev. Roger A. Willer, senior research associate, ELCA Church in Society.
The first study looked at common convictions held among ELCA predecessor church bodies regarding sexuality, said Willer. The second study focused on homosexuality and ministry issues, such as same-sex blessings and ordination. The third study takes the journey further in that it broadens the focus to aspects of human sexuality in this society that have not been extensively covered in either of the two previous studies. The conversations and feedback from all three studies will be considered in the task force's work to develop a first draft of a social statement on human sexuality, he said.
"Each chapter of the (third) study is dedicated to a different aspect of human sexuality," said Willer. "We'll talk about sexuality and power, sexuality in economic situations, sexuality and culture, sexuality and social institutions such as marriage and a number of other topics, many of which have not been broached in our other discussions. So what does it mean for us, as a church, to have (some) common convictions about sexuality in terms of the contemporary complexities of life, where people are living longer, getting married later in life, feeling economic insecurity and more?" he said.
"The task force is aiming the study at the church basement, that is, settings where members can talk together about faith and morals. Still, we hope the study will be used in college classrooms, campus ministry settings and senior citizen homes," said Willer. "There's a wide array of places in which the study can be used (in addition to) congregations," he said.
"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 Strommen. The New Testament Book of Galatians will serve as the biblical framework for the conversation, he said. It "is not all that directly applicable to human sexuality, but we're saying, 'let's go there first,'" said Strommen.
"The themes in Galatians are often called the 'Epistle of Freedom,'" said Willer. "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?" he said.
Set Free in Christ: Talking about Human Sexuality will be available to the church starting Dec. 4, 2006. Copies of the study may be pre-ordered through Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Minneapolis, the publishing ministry of the ELCA. The task force will receive responses to the study through Nov. 1, 2007.
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Audio comments from the Rev. Peter Strommen related to this story are on the ELCA Web site at http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/060921A.mp3 .
Information about the work of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality is available at http://www.ELCA.org/faithfuljourney on the ELCA Web site.
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