Given its linear-bound cultural conditioning, the church is always in jeopardy of losing its kairotic direction, meaning and prophetic voice. The current conflicts over sexual identity and homosexual rights, new meanings of marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions has us Lutherans all praying that the fruit of these issues will only temporarily drive a wedge and weaken, but ultimately strengthen and season the Body of Christ.
As mentioned in the October 2004 issue of the Anglican Journal, last year the Eastern Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) petitioned 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 in Winnipeg. At its September meeting, the national council (of which I am a member) began this process, whereby scholars from across the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were invited to write short essays on various aspects of the issues as might be understood or implied in the Eastern Synod motion.
The idea was that these essays would inform the work of National Church Council, assist the conference of bishops in their deliberations, serve as background material for national convention delegates and form the basis for conference and/or congregational study this winter and spring.
As the essays were completed and edited, they were then posted on the Web, together with study aids. In this way, members of the ELCIC would have access to the very best in scholarship and pastoral wisdom in some 22 papers offered by ELCIC scholars. The essays were reflections distributed over four categories: biblical; theological and confessional; pastoral and societal; ecclesiastical and ecumenical.
Then, meeting March 2-5 in Winnipeg, the National Church Council met to deliberate on the matter, and passed in a unanimous vote the following recommendation for approval by its national assembly: “That the ELCIC allow pastors to perform blessings for same-sex couples who want to make a life-long commitment to one another in the presence of God and their community of faith. Authoriza-tion 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 in consultation with the synodical bishop. These blessings shall use a rite authorized by this church.”
Clearly, there will be controversy and conflict as the delegates gather for the 2005 National Assembly under the theme “In Mission for Others,” in order to consider this historic recommendation. While the “local option” is an accommodation to both sides of the issue, the ELCIC also faces the shrinking of resources, which leaves some questioning the church’s ability to remain viable in its present structure.
In the meantime, at the invitation of our sister body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) headquartered in Chicago, the National Church Council sent two qualified representatives to observe their discussions on these very issues, with the purpose of adding a Canadian contextual analysis and then using its results for council decision making.
(ELCA recently released a report and recommendations from its task force on sexuality. The report encouraged the church to find ways to live together amid strong disagreements; it recommended a “local option” that would allow clergy and bishops to make pastoral decisions about same-sex blessings; it also recommended that the ELCA retain its policy of not ordaining non-celibate clergy, but also allow leaders to use their discretion whether to discipline congregations which, for good reasons, call such clergy.)
It may be that delegates to our National Assembly will take a step back from the threshold and vote to defer the recommendation for more study, as did the Anglican Church of Canada last year, or we may bite the bullet in its acceptance or defeat, and then face the consequences. But whatever the decision, the foundation of the church, the Body of Christ, remains the same. The church rests not upon its racial, ethnic, religious or sexual composition, but upon the gift of God’s amazing grace.
Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.