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Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

(ELCIC) and homosexuality

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Sponsored link.

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In this essay, SSM stands for "same-sex marriage."

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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC):

The Lutheran movement in Canada is divided, much like it is in the United States. In the U.S., the main denominations are the liberal/mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and a conservative Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

The ELCIC is Canada's largest Lutheran body, and the most liberal. The other main Lutheran denomination in Canada is the more conservative Lutheran Church - Canada (LCC).

In both the U.S. and Canada, the liberal and conservative nature of the denominations are reflected in their policies towards female ordination, and policies towards homosexuals.

The ELCIC had about 200,000 baptized members in 642 congregations and 650 clergy in 2001. Its national office is in Winnipeg, MB. It is a member of the Canadian Council of Churches, and the World Lutheran Federation. They publish a monthly magazine, "Canada Lutheran."

They trace their history back to Dr. Martin Luther. Their beliefs are based on the Book of Concord which dates from the 16th century. Luther's The Small Catechism is used as a helpful guide. They observe two sacraments: Holy Baptism, which is most often performed on infants, and Holy Communion. Other rituals, like marriage and confirmation, are considered religious ceremonies. 1

Individual congregations are members of a local conference and one of five regional synods.

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Some ELCIC historical events:

bullet1976: Pamela McGee, became the first female to be ordained in the Lutheran ministry in Canada.
bullet1986: The ELCIC was formed as a result of a merger between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada and the Lutheran Church in America - Canada Section.
bullet1989: The ELCIC and Anglican Church of Canada approved joint sharing of the Eucharist.
bullet2001: The ELCIC adopted the Waterloo Declaration and thereby entered into full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada. 2,3
bullet2005: The ELCIC web site was established, making it (and this ReligiousTolerance.org  web site) one of the first approximately 20,000 web sites on the Internet.

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Some the ELCIC activities about sexual orientation prior to 2003:

bullet1989: The ELCIC bishops issued a statement on homosexuality:

"Faced with the need to respond to questions concerning the ordination of homosexual persons in the ELCIC, the bishops of the Church state their practice as follows:

A self declared and practicing homosexual is not to be approved for ordination and, if already ordained, is not to be recommended for call."

"Regarding the Church's ministry with all of its members, including those of homosexual orientation, the bishops urge the church to undertake a careful study of human sexuality based on the biblical witness so that the ELCIC may be helped to provide ministry in the love of Christ." 8

The statement was endorsed by the National Convention in 1993.

bullet1991: The National Convention passed resolution NC-91-48:

"That the ELCIC seek to minister to those who commit violence against all people, most especially women, children and lesbian and gay people, those victimized by such violence, and those who observe it and do nothing; that the ELCIC repent occasions when we have permitted such acts of violence to pass by unnoticed and unchallenged; and that the church study, seek to understand and work to overcome the verbal, emotional and physical violence that is rooted in our social structures."  8

bullet1999: The National Church Council (NCC) passed a resolution to help the church become "a more inclusive and welcoming place for gay and lesbian people." This included recommendations that:
bulletMembers listen to the experiences of homosexuals and their families.
bulletA task force be appointed to act as consultants to assist at the listening events.
bulletA listening workshop be held at the National Convention.
bulletetc.  8

This resolution was affirmed at the National Church Council of 1999.

bullet1999: The National Convention passed a resolution to distribute copies of Dr Erwin Buck's book titled "Six Studies on Homosexuality." 9
bullet2002: Dr Buck updated and and revised his 1985 book and produced a document called "Studies on Homosexuality and the Church." 10 It was distributed to all ELCIC congregations.

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2003 activities concerning sexual orientation:

bullet July: The Conference of Bishops issued a letter to pastors. It said in part:

'In the Federal announcement the government was clear in stating that religious leaders will not be compelled to perform same sex marriages. Regardless, the churches still face questions about the blessing of such relationships. Since the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has no official policy authorizing clergy to bless same sex relationships, pastors are not permitted to perform such rites and will be disciplined for doing so. For the sake of the unity and good order of the church, it is important that any changes to this practice be authorized by this church acting together."

bulletNovember: The National Church Council of 2003-NOV encouraged other groups in the denomination to discuss blessing same-sex relationships by their pastors. They gave a number of reasons for this recommendation:
bullet"...Concern in congregations and among pastors about their pastoral practice,
bulletQuestions in the wider society regarding the practice,
bulletReligious freedom and its protection in Canada, and
bulletOur commitment to a church united in the gospel."

The Council encouraged

"...congregations, clergy gatherings, conferences and synods to use the constitutional process of this church to examine the issue and give direction to this church’s deliberations; such examination should include prayer, biblical and confessional study and responsible engagement with one another with insights from scientific and sociological disciplines and with awareness of implications for our ecumenical relations." 6

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2004 activities concerning sexual orientation:

bullet2004-MAR: At the National Church Council meeting, members engaged in a discernment session, using a resource prepared by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) called: "Journey Together Faithfully." 11 They passed motion CC-04-43:

"That the National Bishop issue a news release that reiterates the information given in the release issued after the November 2003 meeting and that advises that the National Church Council offers Journey Together Faithfully and an accompanying resource that sets the ELCIC context related to the material as an option for study within the ELCIC." 7

The ELCIC context included an excerpt from a Lutheran Church in America Social Statement titled "A Statement on Sex, Marriage and Family," which was unusually positive, considering that it was almost 35 years old:

"Scientific research has not been able to provide conclusive evidence regarding the causes of homosexuality. Nevertheless, homosexuality is viewed biblically as a departure from the heterosexual structure of God's creation. Persons who engage in homosexual behavior are sinners only as are all other persons - alienated from God and neighbor. However, they are often the special and undeserving victims of prejudice and discrimination in the law, law enforcement, cultural mores, and congregation life. In relation to this area of concern, the sexual behavior of freely consenting adults in private is not an appropriate subject for legislation or police action. It is essential to see such persons as entitled to understanding and justice in church and community."

bullet2004-MAY: The Forum, published by the ELCIC's Synod of Alberta, contained a debate on SSM. Editor Pastor Brad Everett wrote:

"In the ELCIC, two of the more pressing issues are (in order of importance), the understanding of the authority of Scripture and homosexuality. Homosexuality as a social issue came to the fore this past year when various court decisions altered the traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Homosexuality has been an issue in the church for some time now, with individuals and groups working to change the Church’s traditional teaching on this matter to allow for blessing same-sex relationships, and for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals."

bullet2004-JUN: The Eastern Synod includes the Maritime Provinces, Quebec and the southern and eastern parts of Ontario. At their 2004 Assembly, they passed a motion:

"That the Eastern Synod petition the National Church Council to initiate a study of the theological, ecclesiological, and pastoral implications of authorizing a parish-based local option to perform same-sex blessings and bring appropriate recommendations to the 2005 National Convention." 4

bullet2004-SEP: At the National Church Council, a project was launched to ask ELCIC scholars to write essays on topic implied in the Eastern Synod's motion. Twenty essays were written by individuals and pairs of individuals. Additional submissions were made by 43 people. All were subsequently placed online during 2005. 5

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2005 National Convention:

This was held in Winnipeg, MB, on JUL-21 to 24.

The National Bishop, Ray Schultz, reported that a person who is no longer in the employ of the National Office released a list of the convention's voting members with their addresses to a conservative group "Take a Stand." That group wrote letters to the delegates, supplying them with a "Take a Stand on the Word of God" ribbon, and asking that they wear the ribbon if they opposed a local option motion that would allow individual congregations to have their pastor bless loving, committed same-sex relationships. Schultz banned the wearing of the ribbons at the Convention.

Bishop Schultz asked that the Youth Convention be allowed to address the Convention and vote. However, since it was not an agenda item, it required unanimous support of the delegates. Eight of the 377 delegates vetoed the proposal. The eight apparently were mainly opposed to the local option proposal. Young people could be expected to be in favor of a local option.

The National Church Council (NCC) recommended that Motion 15 be approved, as proposed:

"NCC recommends that the ELCIC acknowledge the inadequacy of sections of 'Sex, Marriage and the Family, A Social Statement of the Lutheran Church in America, 1970' referring to homosexuality and homosexual behaviour in light of developing theological, pastoral and sociological scholarship and that the ELCIC suspend the application of those references.
"That the ELCIC allow pastors to perform blessings for same-sex couples who want to make a lifelong commitment to one another in the presence of God and their community of faith. Authorization to perform such blessings shall require the consent of the pastor, the consent of the congregation or calling agency as expressed by a two-thirds majority vote at a duly called meeting, and consultation with the synodical bishop. These blessings shall use a rite authorized by this church.
"That the ELCIC's Program Committee on Worship be requested to develop a provisional rite for the blessing of same-sex couples in committed relationships."

On the afternoon of JUL-22, small group discussions, called Listening Circles, were held on the local option motion.

A motion was proposed to express regret that the Youth Assembly were refused voting privileges. It passed overwhelmingly.

Grace Lutheran Church in Kelowna, BC, presented a motion asking that Motion 15 be referred to the Court of Adjudication. They supplied a 12 page rationale with a two page summary, The motion was defeated 224 to 108.

A motion to provide literature to pastors to help people quit their same-sex orientation was tabled. It was revisited later in the Convention and was defeated.

Prior to the vote on Motion 15, delegates were given three minutes to present their case. Among the more interesting comments were:

bulletA woman who draw a parallel between the present rejection of same-sex relationships and her past situation. She had been excluded from the church because she had entered an interracial marriage -- presumably many decades ago.
bulletThe belief that 62% of the membership under 35 years-of-age supported the motion while 62% of those over 35 opposed.
bulletMany references to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.
bulletThat the motion was originated by the Eastern Synod after a seven year process.
bulletA 21-year-old delegate heard it said that if the motion is defeated it would come back in the future when his generation takes charge. But he/she is the only member between the ages of 18 and 32 in their congregation. When her/his generation takes charge, there will be no church.
bulletAn analogy between loving committing same-sex couples wishing a blessing, and murderers wanting their knives blessed and incestuous couples wanting a blessing, etc.
bulletGenesis says it is not good for a man to be alone. God values diversity. We should too.

The convention had earlier decided that a 2/3 majority would be necessary to pass Motion 15. The motion was defeated with 183 votes in favor and 220 against with 5 abstentions.

A motion was passed overwhelmingly:

"Move that our church's leaders, congregations and pastors 'seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3), rejecting all words and actions hostile to gays and lesbians in our churches and communities, and taking steps to create a more welcoming place in this church for gays, lesbians, and their families'."

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Eastern Synod's 2006 convention:

The Eastern Synod of the ELCIC held their eighth biennial convention in Waterloo, ON, during 2006-JUL-04 to 08. Over 40% of the national membership of the denomination live in this synod. By an overwhelming vote of 197 to 75, they decided to implement a local option so that individual congregations can decide whether or not to bless same-sex relationships.

On JUL-08, opponents to blessing same-sex couples mounted an unsuccessful motion to ask the National Church Council to consider the matter. They argued that the Synod did not have the jurisdiction to conduct the vote. Essentially the same motion had been presented to the ELCIC's national convention in 2005, where it was defeated.

Mirko Petricevic of The Record, a Waterloo ON newspaper wrote:

"Before a Lutheran pastor can bless a gay couple's union, the pastor must consult the bishop and get a two-thirds majority approval from the congregation. This approach has been dubbed the 'local option' and affects about 204 congregations from Sault St. Marie to Halifax...."

"Rev. Raymond Schultz, the church's national bishop, said he believes jurisdiction over same-sex blessings resides with the national church. 'On the other hand, social change doesn't occur in societies unless somebody pushes the boundaries,' Schultz said. He said he views the Eastern Synod's vote as an act of civil disobedience akin to the civil rights movement in the United States which fought for equal rights for African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s." 12

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "A Guide to the ELCIC," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  2. "Called to Full Communion (The Waterloo Declaration)," 2001, at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  3. "Full Communion," Anglican Church of Canada, undated. Online at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  4. "Considering the Matter of Same-Sex Blessings," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  5. "Considering the Matter of Same-Sex Blessings - The Essays," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  6. "Discussions on Human Sexuality," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  7. "ELCIC Context for 'Journey Together Faithfully'," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  8. "Related National Church Council and Convention Motions," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  9. Erwin Buck, "Six Studies on Homosexuality," (1985), ISBN 0-968844502. Currently out of print. Available online at: http://www.telc.ca/ **
  10. Erwin Buck, "Study on Homosexuality and the Church," at: http://www.elcic.ca/
  11. "Journey Together Faithfully: A call to study and dialogue," ELCA, at: http://www.elca.org/
  12. Mirko Petricevic, "Lutherans confirm same-sex blessings. Conference delegates reject appeal; congregations will get final say," The Record, ON, 2006-JUL-10, at: http://www.therecord.com/
  13. "News from the ELCIC 2005 National Convention," Lutherans Concerned/North America, 2005-JUL, at: http://www.lcna.org/

** This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUL-10
Latest update: 2006-JUL-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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