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Retain ELCA standards for marriage and ordination to protect the vulnerable and confused of our members

by Stephanie Olson (WordAlone board member)

February 27, 2007

photo of Stephanie OlsonJesus said, "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with heavy millstone around his neck, he were cast into the sea." Mark 9:42

About three years ago a woman, Lisa (not her real name), who I had frequently seen at the local YMCA approached me in the locker room and we started talking. Initially, it was just chitchat about exercising. But one day she asked me where my church stood on homosexual sex and homosexual "marriage." (I don't know why she brought this up. I had not talked with her about "church" stuff, or my faith. Perhaps she had overheard me talking with another friend about God in my life?) I was honest with her. I said that while the denomination of my church was struggling with this issue, our pastors did not believe it was a good thing and would not encourage or bless homosexual relationships. She said, "Good." Within a few months she asked if she could join our church. She attended new member classes and joined a Bible study and attended worship.

Six months later, near Christmas, "Lisa" was feeling some of the loneliness many single people feel at the holidays. She came to me and told me she was being tempted again. I was puzzled, but listened quietly. She told me that she had been in a sexual relationship with another woman and had broken away from it. But now this woman had approached her again and was tempting her into having a sexual relationship again. She didn't want to go back to that lifestyle again. I offered her support and encouragement, personally and from the church. She was grateful.

The next summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was in the news as it approached the 2005 Churchwide Assembly with the proposals for "blessing" homosexual unions and offering ordination to non-celibate homosexuals to come before the assembly from a sexuality study task force and the ELCA Church Council.

A statement from a local ELCA clergy member who supported changing standards about homosexual behavior made the front page of the local newspaper: "Most in my congregation agree with me [blessing homosexual relationships is okay]. Those who do not agree with me are afraid to talk to me about it." Statements of clergy persons who did not agree with the changes the task force had proposed were relegated to the second page.

Suddenly, "Lisa" stopped coming to worship and she avoided me at the YMCA. When I did finally have a conversation with her, she told me she was attending a Bible study at a local Evangelical Free Church (ultraconservative). It was sad for me, but she no longer felt safe in the ELCA. Compromising the standards for clergy, and blessing homosexual unions made her feel unsafe and she left the ELCA to go where she was "safe" and would not be subjected to temptations she could not endure.

And at our 2005 synod assembly, a woman stood up and testified of how the current, clear standards expecting sexual intimacy to be saved for a marriage between a man and a woman, and only there, helped her with her son when he went through adolescence. She said she divorced her husband because he had sexually abused their son. The mother shared how her pastor had shown her son a good example of a strong marriage between a man and a woman. She said the clear expectations and examples of the blessings of heterosexual marriages expressed by herself and their pastor and their ELCA congregation helped her son navigate a vulnerable time in his life when he was confused about his sexual identity. She strongly encouraged the synod and the ELCA to uphold the current standards for marriage and clergy to protect our youth.

So, I lift up the issues in the ELCA surrounding homosexual behavior. Jesus commanded us to protect the little ones from harm to themselves and others. To teach, preach, or show examples otherwise, examples accepting of homosexual behavior as not sinful, is to make even more vulnerable the most vulnerable in our church and our society, especially those who have been confused by clergy who support changing the standards for behavior in our denomination.