Bound Consciences and First Words on Implementation (Implementation 1)


The implementation of the Ministry Proposals adopted at the Churchwide Assembly needs to attend both to what was adopted and how it was adopted. The Task Force on Sexuality did not present a comprehensive biblical and theological argument in favor of same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian persons, which then convinced a large majority of the Assembly. Rather, the Task Force noted an impasse on these questions and counselled a diversity of practice that would respect the differently ‘bound consciences’ within the ELCA. The proposals on same-sex blessing and ordinations of partnered gay and lesbian persons were adopted by majorities of 60 and 55 percent, respectively. The amendment adopted by the Assembly (at the motion of Bishop Kusserow) to Resolution 4 committed the church to find ways of recognizing dissent in the policies to be developed on the basis of these proposals. The argument from ‘bound consciences’ to these actions may have been a bad argument (I think it was), but it cannot be simply kicked aside as a tool that has served its purpose and can now be forgotten. The argument from bound conscience must be the context that shapes the specific policies adopted. In the process, we may need to rethink the theoretical and functional ecclesiology of the ELCA, with its three expressions (congregation, synod, national church), all of which are ‘church’ in a theological sense. That is the task that the ELCA now has ahead of itself.

The first word on the development of these policies, however, is not encouraging. An ELCA news release (see here) seems to indicate that the accommodation of bound consciences means nothing more than that no congregation will be forced to call a partnered gay or lesbian pastor. Since no congregation in the ELCA can be forced to call any particular pastor, this provision does not amount to much. If the language of bound conscience indicates an intention to find ways to let dissenters continue to find a home in the ELCA, a great deal more will be needed The news release may not have intended to give a picture of what is to come, but in these sensitive times, language must be carefully chosen.
Michael Root

2 Responses to “Bound Consciences and First Words on Implementation (Implementation 1)”

  1. Paul Schreck Says:

    What I find most disturbing about the whole “bound conscience” paradigm is that it leave unanswered the question, “Bound by what?” Luther held his ground insisting that his conscience was bound by the Word of God. This souce of binding is shockingly absent, but without it, I think there is very little difference between what is being called a “bound conscience” and an oppinion.

  2. Pr. Dan Biles Says:

    Another pastor noted to me and others recently that in the 19th Century “bound conscience” meant “private opinion.”

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