How Lutherans Justify Sex

An ELCA commission looked immorality in the eye and called it sin. So why did they blink when they came to homosexuality?

The release this fall of a draft statement on human sexuality by a task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) resulted in several days of distorted news reporting. Media coverage focused on the statement’s suggestion that the ELCA affirm lifelong, committed, faithful, same-sex relationships. And it typically reported only half of a statement about masturbation, omitting the cautionary phrase “unless it becomes compulsive or hinders development of life-fulfilling relationships.”

But the news media missed the real news: that in 1993 a mainline Protestant denomination was:

• releasing a sex statement that used the word sin freely to talk about that which the statement’s authors saw falling short of God’s ideal for his human creatures: adultery, for example, and promiscuity, pornography, sexual abuse, and prostitution;

• basing a sex statement largely on Scripture and theology, rather than social science and pop philosophy;

• thinking about sex as much in terms of its relationship to the community as to the individual, and as much in terms of right and wrong as in terms of compassion and caring.

The ELCA task force even called on unmarried couples to abstain from sex and not to live together until they could tie the knot. We commend the task force for not concocting some abstract principle such as “justice-love,” as a commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) did several years ago, overhauling Christian sexual ethics. The Lutherans listened instead to Scripture and theology.

Gospel myopia

When the ELCA task force listened to Scripture and theology, however, it listened ...

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