Dear Friends in Christ,
As you know, same-sex civil marriage will become legal in Minnesota effective August 1, 2013.
The ELCA has long been engaged in a process of careful discernment around matters of sexuality, and, in 2009, approved the social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
. I commend this excellent document to you.
In the midst of this new legal reality in Minnesota, it is important to note that the ELCA statement acknowledges that consensus does not exist in the church concerning same-gender committed relationships. (The statement describes four stances held with conviction and integrity by members of the ELCA.)
In the social statement's FAQ, there are several paragraphs that serve as important guides for our synod's congregations as they live in this new legislative reality. The following excerpts from the FAQ document
on the social statement are most helpful and relevant:
What happened with regard to the recommendations regarding congregational recognition of publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships?
The assembly adopted four resolutions that commit the ELCA to bear one another's burdens and respect bound consciences in these matters; to allow congregations that choose to do so to find ways to recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and hold them publicly accountable.
What is the content of the first resolution about bearing one another's burdens and "bound conscience?"
The assembly's first action was to vote by a 78 percent majority to require that, in the implementation of any resolutions on this matter, the ELCA would commit itself "to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor and respect the bound consciences" of all. This sets a distinctive commitment for how the ELCA will move forward together, as was exemplified by the discussion at the assembly. As Dr. Ishmael Noko, the general secretary of The Lutheran World Federation observed during his speech, the members of the assembly spoke about these controversial issues with dignity and respect for each other in "a way that brought honor" to the ELCA and its witness to the world.
What about resolution #2 regarding same-gender couples?
After a great deal of passionate, but respectful debate, the assembly recorded a 60 percent vote that the ELCA should commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable couples who wish to have lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
Does this mean the ELCA has endorsed the blessing of same-gender unions?
No, the assembly was not asked to consider and thus took no action concerning a rite of blessing. The assembly's action means that a congregation, however, is permitted to find ways to hold publicly accountable same-gender relationships that intend to be lifelong and monogamous and to surround these couples and their families with prayer and support in a variety of ways. The action adopted does not require any congregation to do so.
On August 6, 2013, ordained ELCA pastors in Minnesota will have legal
authority to marry same-sex couples. However, it is the congregation's decision
as to whether their pastor will preside at same-sex marriages. The decision should be addressed prayerfully in the context of the congregation's ministry. This is not a decision that can or will be made by the Synod Bishop or Synod Council, though the synod office welcomes conversation and consultation. Specifically, I commend to you a document created by the ELCA Task Force on Communal Discernment, most easily available at the SW Minnesota Synod blog site
. It will help you think about your options as you shape conversations in your congregation in formal and informal ways. In particular, pastors and church councils may want to discern whether they address this question immediately or wait until a specific marriage request is made.
Finally, if you would like to visit about these things, please give us a call. We will soon gather for our Synod Assembly - and have time for further conversation. For now, please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.
May the Pentecost Spirit fill us with love and good courage!
Bishop Ann M. Svennungsen
Minneapolis Area Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America