The Gap between Theological Argument and Assembly Action (Implementation 2)


An important source of the confusion that now faces the ELCA on sexuality lies in the way the ministry proposals were altered as they moved from the Task Force through the Church Council and to the Churchwide Assembly. The proposals as adopted were significantly different from those proposed by the Task Force. What was adopted was not what the Task Force had argued for and cannot be justified on the basis of the Task Force’s study. My sense is that these changes were not widely noted and they help account for the vague feeling among those who oppose the changes that they have been snookered.

The Task Force did not produce a comprehensive theological and biblical argument for the acceptance of same-sex blessing or the ordination of persons in such partnerships. Rather, they argued from the presence of diversely bound consciences in the church to an officially recognized diversity of practice. The ministry proposals as they came from the Task Force fit this argument. They would have allowed both congregations and synods to affirm same-sex blessings (or, one presumes, not to do so). On ordination, the proposal stated: “synods, bishops, congregations, candidacy committees and other involved in the candidacy process and in the process of extending calls will be free to act according to their convictions regarding both approving or disapproving in candidacy and the extending or not extending of a call” to persons in such partnerships.

The problem with this proposal, of course, is that it would have been a procedural nightmare. Conflicts of conscience would inevitably develop and then the question would arise how to adjudicate such conflicts. This perception should have led to the conclusion that the argument from bound consciences was a bad argument. Instead, the ministry proposals were streamlined before they got to the Assembly. The question of same-sex blessings was to be settled only by congregations, not by synods. All the language about various persons and bodies being free to act according to conviction was eliminated. What was adopted was much closer to a unqualified acceptance of same-sex blessing and the ordination of persons in such partnerships. The only qualifications are undefined references to structured flexibility and respect for bound consciences, and the Kusserow amendment that provisions are to be made for those who believe these actions are mistaken. The initial ELCA press release and the recent news article in The Lutheran speak as if this provision will amount to nothing more than the right of a congregation not to call a pastor it does not want to call.

The proposals as they went to the Assembly could be justified only by an argument that the Task Force chose not to make: a theological defense of homosexual practice. A gap now exists between the Social Statement and the Ministry Proposals. The argument of the Social Statement requires significant diversity of practice, shaped by diversely bound consciences. The Ministry Proposals look in a different direction, toward a more uniform practice, with some exceptions for individual and congregational conscience, although the proposals are sufficiently vague to permit a wide variety of actual policies. Whether the ELCA allows the theological argument offered by the Task Force to shape the implementation of the Ministry Proposals is a decisive question for the immediate future.

Michael Root

5 Responses to “The Gap between Theological Argument and Assembly Action (Implementation 2)”

  1. Art Going Says:


    Thank you for your leadership.

    One concern persists for me as I ponder staying in the ELCA and endeavor to lead my congregation if faithful consideration of options. Even if we are not prevented from preaching the gospel and building up the people of God, what about the evangelistic outreach of the church. Forget the marketing language, but the “brand” is now tainted, if not irreparably shredded.

    While it would be hard to establish that the unchurched seeker (as opposed to the Lutheran transfers) is even paying attention to denominational labels, I have a hunch our job just got much harder. If the ELCA (and individual congregations by association) had a public image before as liberal, antiquarian, boring, or whatever, where have we now landed? Of course, none of this prevents a local church from boldy pursuing the mission of God. But I suspect that now, in addition to the ever-present objection to the gospel, we now also have to contend with guilt-by-association.

    In short, what about the missional implications?

    • Pr. Michael Jannett Says:

      Dear Art Going:

      I do not propose a full answer, but rather an anecdotal piece of evidence to see Christ’s mission still at play. In the rural parish that I serve (where neither I nor the congregation are happy with the decisions made at CWA), I have been in conversation with 2 families who have begun to worship with us in the past 2 years. I’ve discussed baptism with the families, because both families have a combination of adults and children who are not baptised. Just this past Sunday, one of theses two families approached me after worship. I feared that they were on their way out, in light of the turmoil present. Instead, I rejoiced, for they she was coming to me to tell me that they were ready to be baptised. I had left that “ball in their court” for them to discern, with gentle encouragement along the way.

      It seems that while our missional efforts may have been impaired, they have not been rent asunder. The Spirit is still at work. I pray these families, and all considering being baptised, may see this as an oppportunity to follow Christ, who bids us all “come and die” (Bonhoffer).

      Back to your point, Art. I do have many members who are “embarassed.” The “brand” has been tainted. I encourage the members here to work through this, and encourage them to speak the truth about their own convictions.

  2. Pr. Michael Jannett Says:

    Dr. Root,
    Unfortunately, I agree with your assesment. (Unfortunately, because I see trouble here, as well.) When I find myself explaining (to the parishioners here) the 4 postions proposed by our social statement, I am distressed to point out that our Ministry Policy changes basically “pick one” of the 4 positions. The other trouble is that those 4 positions present 4 separate theologies of sorts. Not sure, but it seems like the ELCA Church Council will simply be picking one of those positions and moving forward in that way.


  3. Pr. April M. Dailey Says:

    Dear Dr. Root, et al,
    Regrettably, I must echo Art Going’s concerns about how this decision impacts our evangelistic & missional efforts. Just recently a member of my parish approached me to tell me she & the family was were withdrawing from their plans to have her grandson baptized (she is well aware we are not baptized “Lutheran”, etc.) Nonetheless, she did not want him, at least at this point in time to become a member of an ELCA congregation, as she feels the CWA action (& I must agree) was un-Scriptural. I am hearing rumblings of dissatisfaction from various corners of our parish. Many folks in the “trenches” are well informed and aware of the recent actions. (As is to be expected, some are not.) But this makes clear to me there is sufficient awareness of the “taint” that evangelism will become more difficult. It has been a challenge for us already, living in a rural area that has few job opportunities & virtually no growth. Our “job” in fulfilling the Great Commission has indeed been made more challenging “thanks” to the CWA.
    I am concerned for my own participation as one involved in synodical committees–most notably, candidacy. I am among those confused, dazed & unclear about where our proper future lies. I am grateful for those like you who are raising these issues, helping others of us who are struggling to be faithful as well.
    Blesings, April Dailey

  4. Cynthia Huth Says:

    Unfortunately, not all who were considering a baptism have followed as your parishiner did. I, for one, have cancelled a scheduled baptism and will not go forward with a baptism into a congregation of a larger church that allows for ordination of those in same-sex relationships. I do not see this as even a question when searching and studying the scriptures. Allow people in these relationships to attend church and accept them as children of God – yes. However, same-sex partnerships are against scripture, and should not even be members – much less ordained. These people n eed ot be in the church to learn the scripture teachings and how are they going to do this if the ELCA supports these partnerships? I have studied the scripture and have very strong felings about this. I will not make rash decisions; however, I likely will not remain Lutheran.

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