Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
An ad published in small town newspapers is making its way around our synod. It begins with a comment on the upcoming marriage amendment, then moves to a curious deprecation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Members of our congregations will see it and it will cause concern for some.
I have responded to this ad in the spirit of civility, integrity, and truthfulness. I urge you to share this message with your congregations while remaining focused on God’s mission.
The ad makes the claim that many Americans representing many religious groups believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. The ad then claims that our church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is an exception to this reality. This is not true. Some in our church agree that marriage is only to be between a man and woman; some don’t agree with that; and some wrestle with it. We are not of one mind on this as ELCA Lutherans. If you polled every person belonging to the 14 religious groups mentioned in the ad you would find they would not be of one mind either.
The fact is that our social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust affirms that marriage is between a man and a woman. At the same time, the statement urges our members to affirm, welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families. We leave the way in which it will pastorally care for all its members, including those who desire to be in a publically accountable, life-long, monogamous same-gender relationship, to the wisdom of each congregation.
The ad says it comes from the group “Concern for Children” out of Almont, North Dakota. We have no idea who this group is, where they come from, or what they stand for. In total contradistinction, our church is transparent and directs people to its contact information, websites, and documents.
The ELCA social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust spends considerable time sharing our strong stance for children as it exposes our culture’s obsession with pornography, condemns sexual commodification and sexual exploitation - especially of children, and lifts up the centrality of a healthy home for the raising of children. We continue to place high value on children and youth through our Lutheran Youth Organization, ELCA Youth Gatherings, Middle School Gatherings, Cardia Deo, Cross Training, our current NE MN Synod Discipleship Challenge, Discipleship Challenge Facebook page, and our Lutheran Bible Camps where faith formation and discipleship are the center and focus.
The final paragraph of the ad declares that the ELCA is not in conformity with Lutheran doctrine and should not function as a Lutheran church. We are in fact committed to the Gospel, the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the ancient Creeds of the church. It is the opening section of our Constitutional Documents.
Christians don’t need to deprecate other Christians over differences that are born out of honest, intelligent, and faithful study. The divisive nature of our times has not served us well in this great country of ours. We should all be aware that as Nov. 6 approaches there will be more misinformation, half-truths, and lies propagated by individuals and groups. The increased and hostile polarities of our culture should not be mirrored in the church—whatever the denomination. Instead we could serve as models of deep respect and honor. May we serve as light and love to the world, just as our Lord has asked us to do.
Thomas Aitken is Bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA.