A Statement of pastoral...

...and theological concern

Signatories shown below

Date Unknown

A response to the report and recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality

We are grateful to every member of the Task Force for their time, commitment, and effort, and accept the invitation welcoming the “prayers, responses, and admonitions of all our partners.” In response to that request, and based on our careful review of the Report and its recommendations, we maintain that the third and primary recommendation of the Task Force, contrary to its stated intention, threatens to destabilize the unity and constitution, as well as the historical, biblical, and confessional teachings and practice of this church. Further, this final proposal places the first two, although in principle containing some assertions that are indeed admirable and commendable, into an interpretative context that makes them objectionable as well.

The most conspicuous logical inconsistency in the Task Force’s Report is that in the name of a “no change in policy” it advocates a fundamental shift in policy. It asks the church “to refrain from disciplining those who . . . call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates whom they believe to be otherwise in compliance with Vision and Expectations and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved or called” (7). Unable to make a recommendation that would resolve the issue of gay/lesbian ordination and/or blessings through legislative action based on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, the Task Force proposes that permission for such activities be granted on the basis of “conscience” and a “pastoral approach” in lieu of the traditional criteria employed by this church. This proposal, in our view, suffers from several flaws. We offer the following theological observations:

He said a couple of things have occurred that have made WordAlone’s standing in the ELCA more precarious. For one thing, the ELCA has not responded to the WordAlone Theological Board’s Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church; and ELCA bishops have made it almost impossible for candidates to obtain exceptions to the requirement of ordination by bishops in Called to Common Mission, the full communion agreement with The Episcopal Church USA.


By using the language of “this approach” (8) instead of “this change in policy” the Task Force advocates that the ELCA should “trust congregations, synods, candidacy committees, and bishops to discern the Holy Spirit’s gifts for ministry among the baptized and make judgments appropriate to each situation” (8). In the New Testament, however, the criterion for the discernment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a broadly based, ecclesial determination and not an individual, local preference. If the Report before us were to be implemented, the ELCA, as a national church body, would abdicate its theological and moral constitutional responsibility by relegating the decisions for which it alone is responsible to regional and local components. Far beyond transforming the polity of the ELCA into a congregational one, such an action would so fatally extend the boundaries of diversity in matters of doctrinal and ethical substance that this church would no longer be an effective collaborator either in the communio of the Lutheran World Federation or in the multiple dimensions of ecumenical dialogue. The proposed shift of matters of such enormous import from the national to the local levels will have two adverse consequences: 1.structural dissolution of the ELCA as it currently exists, and; 2. creation of intense division and disunity at the local level, thus effectively undermining “ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements” (5).


The Task Force imposes a subjective understanding of “conscience,” one bound only by private judgment, upon Scripture and Luther, thus misrepresenting both. Whenever conscience severs itself from faith in Christ and fidelity to the Word it is no longer conscience in the true sense. Indeed, some in the Corinthian church wanted to solve their disagreements by applying precisely such a therapeutic model of conscience, an approach that Paul unequivocally rejects. Weak consciences, led into error by social pressures and alien ideologies, can never be ultimately determinative sources of truth or unity. For Luther, the holy and righteous conscience of the Christian must agree with God’s Word; an erring conscience, separated from Scripture, can react only in accordance with selfish desires resulting from weakness in faith.

Pastoral Care

In Scripture the term “pastor” is never dissociated from the standard of sound teaching. Much like the term “conscience,” “pastoral concern” must be governed by that which is righteous and holy in the eyes of God. “Pastoral concern” is not a neutral category and cannot, therefore, be determinative in discerning the correctness of actions or behavior. Since pastors can either teach sound or false doctrine, Titus is urged to “teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.” Neither Scripture nor the Confessions entrust the theological or ethical teaching of the church to pastoral “discretion” (5). In listening to the contemporary “voices of the baptized children of God” (9) we cannot and must not disregard the voices of the church universal over the past two millennia; Scripture can never address us independently from that communal history.


For the reasons given we urge that all three recommendations of the Task Force be rejected since, if adopted, they would alter fundamentally the ecclesiology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and that, in turn, would threaten not only the unity and stability of this church but, as a consequence, its ability to proclaim the truth of the Gospel.

Robert Benne Carl E. Braaten James R. Crumley, Jr.
Karl P. Donfried Jean Bethke Elshtain Gerhard O. Forde
George W. Forell Roy A. Harrisville Hans Hillerbrand
Robert W. Jenson Marc Kolden William H. Lazareth
James A. Nestingen Michael J. Root William G. Rusch
Walter F. Taylor, Jr. David S. Yeago