Christians struggle. We struggle with doubt. We struggle with faith. We struggle with the tension between our eschatological hope and our incarnational reality. Lutherans, nurtured by Word and Sacrament spiced with paradox, struggle with particular vigor.
Our most heated struggles are with each other as members in particular of the Body of Christ.
Two struggles, more than any others, define the recent past and present reality of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: ministry and sexuality. The deliberations attending the formulation and debates over The Concordat and Called to Common Mission were heated and often emotionally fueled. Although the Churchwide Assembly established a policy, the struggle continues. The sexuality struggle is subdivided into two related categories: the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of candidates in committed same-sex relationships. This struggle is showing every sign of being even more emotionally fueled.
As long ago as 1988 the Metropolitan Chicago Synod encouraged congregations to be diligent in prayer about and study of homosexuality and the Church. As recently as 2001 the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA mandated a study of homosexuality throughout the Synods and congregations in the hope of generating a final report and recommendation for the 2005 Assembly. A resolution to be placed before the Synod Assembly in early June [still in the future as this is being written] requests a postponement of a final report in order to continue the studies presently underway. Similar resolutions may be presented at other assemblies.
Whether the 2005 Churchwide Assembly accepts a final report or continues the study, our experience with Called to Common Mission should lead us to expect that the struggle will continue.
The Let’s Talk Editorial Council invited Lutherans with different perspectives to prepare essays intended to either outline the broader theological and ecclesiological context within which this specific struggle is located or to discuss homosexuality and the Church not as advocates or adversaries, but as Christians sharing differing experiential perspectives with one another. Because this is a discussion within the larger Church, we invited participants from the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and beyond. The response was so great that we find ourselves with more than enough material. In the present issue we present those essays dealing with the broader theological and ecclesiological context. In the next issue we will publish specific experiential perspectives.
In this issue, Paul Elbert offers both a report and reflection on the 2002 LSTC Leadership Conference, A More Excellent Way: Addressing Sexuality in the Church. “It seems to me,” writes Elbert, “that our public ministry resides in discussion. The world should see how we talk—how we struggle—together.” Robert White suggests that the talking should be preceded and accompanied by critical thinking. He presents some basic considerations to guide our thinking in this struggle. Thomas Pearson suggests that this struggle may be more difficult than most for Lutherans because “our traditional theological loci have addressed a fairly narrow range of topics, and ‘sexuality’ hasn’t even been on the horizon of our concerns.”
Whatever may come of our thinking, deliberations, and the impediments of our theological tradition, Frank Senn offers a case for avoiding schism over the issue. In order to help readers with the continuing struggle, Senn has provided a brief bibliography of the most frequently cited works on the subject.
This issue of Let’s Talk provides thoughtful foundational essays. The essays to follow in the next issue will relate specific journeys of faith. It is our hope that both sets of essays will help us think, pray and struggle together.