Members from the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met in Assembly April 27-29, to be encouraged in our mission and ministries together. Our theme was the “Marks of Discipleship” the ancient practices of the Christian life; prayer, scripture study, encouragement, worship, serving beyond the congregation, giving and inviting. There were around 350 voting members present.
As a part of one plenary session, a resolution was passed that the Northeastern Minnesota Synod in Assembly affirm its welcome, care for and support same-gender couples and their families and oppose legislation or public policies that would prevent same-gender couples and their families from pursuing ordinary legislative or legal means to gain the support and protections afforded to all others. This resolution, like others we have made together is important, however the resolution cannot bind the individual members of the synod or our church to conformity of thought nor does it compel anyone to vote a certain way in the public sphere. Instead, it represents the thoughts, urgings, and prayers of a certain group of people gathered in Assembly at a certain time and place.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we have deliberated together on issues of race, the death penalty, genetics, abortion, and human sexuality among others. It has been our time honored practice to hold to the core of our faith; the good news of Jesus Christ as the place that unites us, and to deal with social issues as important, but never to replace that core. We are called upon to pray and deliberate about complex matters in a way that respects and honors differences of understanding. With regard to conversations about same-gender relationships, we have particularly held up three guidelines: 1. Bear one anothers burdens; 2. love the neighbor, and 3. respect the bound consciences of all. These instructions are all found in scripture, and as we practice them, we bring a faithful and civil tone to the table, especially with regard to the upcoming Minnesota marriage amendment in November.
It is worth noting that ELCA Lutherans live well in paradox. As a church we are able to hold strong convictions in respectful tension all the time. We recognize that faithful Christians, tending to scripture, prayer, and faithful discernment live together with differing understandings of capital punishment, war, and genetics, just to name a few ethical issues.
With regard to same-gender relationships, we know that there will always be diversity of conviction and understanding within our church. We urge one another to respect the bound consciences of one another and seek to continue healthy conversation. That may not be an easy commitment, but it is worth the work. It takes humility, as Scripture itself urges us in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13 where he admits no one of us knows all the answers, we know only in part in this life.
Some congregations in our synod, in their faithful discernment, will decide to bless faithful, life-long, monogamous same-gender couples utilizing the highest legal authority. Others will choose not to, again based on faithful discernment. Yet, all can find themselves united in the gospel and God’s mission. Whatever individual Lutherans may believe concerning same-gender relations, we have clearly stated that we oppose all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation and seek to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. Since life will continue to present us with complexity and gray areas it is my prayer and hope that we practice the difficult but good work to live together with respect for this diversity, while focusing on Christ and the gospel as our theological core.
Bishop Thomas M. Aitken
Northeastern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran church in America.