The recent decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) to allow gays and lesbians in a committed same-sex relationship to serve in the ministry, rests on the theological reasoning found in "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," a document approved last week at the national meeting. For full text go here, then click on the link to the document. Adobe Reader required.

In the document, Christian duty is defined as loving God and neighbor. Ideal human relationships in all forms are defined by trust. In many ways this document is an excellant example of faithful theological reflection done at a high level. The problem with the document is not so much what it says explicitly, as what it implies, and its tone against "conscience-bound" thinking.

I see three major problems that led to the present ELCA position.

First, in Lutheran understanding, the Law of God (broader than the 10 Commandments and including all of God's commands) has two uses: the Theological in which Law convicts us of sin by making us aware of our shortcomings, and the Civil in which Law guides civil society by helping provide godly structure (e.g. don't murder). In Reformed understanding the Law (again understood as all God's commandments) has three functions: to convict of sin, to guide the Christian in living a life of gratitude to God for salvation, and as a guide for civil society. In the Reformed understanding we Christians are naturally clueless about how to love and trust unless guided by God's Law. It seems to me that the Lutheran document "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" does not allow sufficient Scriptural guidance on the specifics of loving and trusting. Years ago my seminary professor of historical theology noted that if Luther were pushed off-balance, he would fall an antinomian. And that while Luther kept his balance, his disciples have not always done so.

Second, I think the document does not follow traditional Lutheran concepts of authority in understanding the Christian life. Both the Reformed and the Lutheran understandings elevate the Word of God above all other sources of authority, including experience. We are to evaluate our experience on the basis of Scripture. Yes, we bring our experience with us to our reading, but, human experience always must stand under the Word of God, never be equal to it, or superior. "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" seems to me to elevate human experience, including the social sciences, to a determanitive position over clearly worded Scriptures.

Third, I think the document takes a too disembodied view of human life, opening the possibility of a proto-gnostic ethic in which bodily existence is meaningless. "Love" and "Trust" in sexual relationships become divorced from the physical reality of ovaries and testes. While human sexuality is more than the physical spect of our being, it is not less.