The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Wednesday approved a new policy that no longer declares marriage as “the appropriate place” for sexual relations, but rather calls for “social trust” in associations that are “loving” and “committed.” One critic characterized the move as an embrace of moral relativism.
The ELCA claims about 4.6 million members. Its numbers have declined by 1 million over the past forty years.
The ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly, meeting from August 17 to 23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, formerly said that marriage is “the appropriate place for sexual intercourse.” Such language is absent from the new policy, which says that heterosexual relationships are “best served through binding commitment, legal protections, and the public accountability of marriage.”
“Some cohabitation arrangements can be constructed in ways that are neither casual nor intrinsically unstable,” the policy adds.
The policy calls for “social trust” in relationships that are "loving," "life-giving," "fulfilling," "nurturing," and "committed."
On the issue of homosexuality, the ELCA claimed that “consensus” does not exist and recognized four “conscience-bound beliefs” ranging from disapproval of all homosexual relations to honoring them as equally valid marriages.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), commented on the decision.
"How sad that the ELCA no longer affirms the timeless Christian understanding of marriage. Instead it is touting secular psycho-babble about 'fulfilling' and 'nurturing' relationships. How will the church's young people interpret this tacit approval of at least some non-marital sex?"
“In embracing moral relativism, the ELCA assembly has disregarded the Bible, the views of its own members, and the pleas of Lutherans in Africa and Asia. It has left the mainstream of U.S. and global Christianity, instead following other shrinking denominations like the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ towards internal division, accelerating membership loss, and cultural irrelevance.”
During the Wednesday vote on the policy, a tornado struck the area around the convention center. It knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church, just across the street from the center.
Washington Times reporter Julia Duin reported that during the storm ELCA President Mark Hanson read out loud Psalm 121 to calm those in the convention center.
"We trust the weather is not a commentary on our work," said the Rev. Steven Loy, author of the statement on sexuality, Duin reports.
CBS affiliate WCCO reported that John Piper, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, characterized the tornado as a “gentle but firm” warning to the ELCA and everyone else to turn from “the approval of sin.”
On Friday the ELCA assembly will vote on proposals that would allow for the formal blessings of same-sex unions and for the ordination of active homosexuals.