Lutheran Church develops working group to discuss ministry to LGB couples and families

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has established a working group to discuss how to provide pastoral care to LGB couples and families. All views are to be equally considered; and the views are very diverse, ranging from those who believe loving, same-sex couples should be held with the same honor as any loving couple to those who believe being gay is a sin.

The group was established by the Church Council in response to the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which approved a recommendation for the group. The committee who recommended the group noted the 2009 ECLA Churchwide Assembly's social statement on human sexuality. The social statement says,

This church acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation…We further believe that this church, on the basis of ‘the bound conscience,’ will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.

The social statement then describes the four "conscious-bound" understandings of being LGB, which can be found in this excerpt of the document. These convictions on being LGB are very diverse, ranging from believing that "same-gender behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin" to being convinced that "the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today" and deserves the same honor as heterosexual relationships.

According to George Watson, chair of the working group, the ultimate goal of the group is to make recommendation that will "propose how to get conversations going throughout the church on ministry to and with same-gender couples and their families." Watson said, "We recognize that the conversations may be very different depending on where congregations and individuals fall within the four convictions described in the social statement. We recognize that it is not the purpose of these conversations to changes anyone’s position, but rather to discuss how and what kind of ministry can be done in varying contexts."

Watson, who is openly gay and in a relationship, noted

Unless intentional ministry is done, there is a good chance that same-gender couples will feel, at best, second-class and, at worst, tokens and excluded. Many LBGT people come to the ELCA, or come back to the ELCA, with a great deal of hurt over having been treated in very harmful ways. They need special care to feel that they are indeed accepted and welcomed as they are. The alternative is that they may fall away from the church.

Rev. Erma Wolf, pastor of American Lutheran Church in Hawarden, Iowa, and member of the working group said the first meeting of the working group "was the start of really listening to one another, of speaking with lowered defenses, and of beginning to find common ground with one another while also respecting our different convictions and perspectives.”

Wolf also acknowledged that there is “a lot of work ahead of us, in this working group and beyond. I ask the prayers of others in the ELCA for this group as we try to make this work, for the sake of the continued ministry of the ELCA.”