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Visions of our own minds

Dr. Merton Strommen

Date Unknown

Visions of our own minds: The ELCA and the blessing of homosexual unions; a paper of the Great Lakes Confessional Lutherans; Pentecost, 2002

(Note: All scripture citations are from the NRSV Bible.)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (emphasis added) (Jeremiah 23:16 )

“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

In these matters, which concern the external, spoken Word, we must hold firmly to the conviction that God gives no one his Spirit or grace except through or with the external Word which comes before. Thus we shall be protected from the enthusiasts – that is, from the spiritualists who boast that they possess the Spirit without and before the Word and who therefore judge, interpret, and twist the Scriptures or spoken Word according to their pleasure. Münzer did this, and many still do it in our day who wish to distinguish sharply between the letter and the spirit without knowing what they say or teach.

"In short, enthusiasm clings to the old Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy. . . Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil.” (Smalcald Articles VIII, 3, 8)


There are many warnings about false teaching in the Holy Scriptures. Although we live in a culture that regards sincerity as the true measure of religion and content as relatively inconsequential, the writers of Holy Scripture and the authors of the Lutheran Confessions staked their lives on the content of their proclamation. Indeed, proper interpretation of Holy Scripture was of such importance to the Lutheran reformers that they produced numerous confessional documents (collected into the Book of Concord) which have been affirmed as authoritative by the Lutheran church in every succeeding generation. We must acknowledge that what we teach matters. Faithful teaching of the Holy Scriptures, in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions, sets us before the scalpel of the divine Word[1][1] putting us sinners to death and raising us to newness of life. On the other hand, teaching that fails to take the authority of the Holy Scriptures seriously pampers us with a cheap and ineffectual blessing that will have no power to heal or transform our lives nor bring us into the reign of God.[2][2]

The debate that has arisen within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) regarding the blessing of homosexual unions has power to divide the church. This power, however, does not arise because some of us are wise and understanding souls who have seen the light while others of us are homophobic, biblical literalists who need to be talked into the truth. (Indeed, the labeling and stereotyping that is prevalent on both sides of this issue within the church is neither helpful nor respectful.) This issue has power to divide the church because it is a debate about the authority of the Word (as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions) in the life of the church and individual believers.


By the authority of the Word we mean above all that we do not interpret the Word, but that the Word interprets us.[3][3] The Holy Scriptures are not a resource that we mine to create or buttress our convictions and choices in life. The Word is the searching scalpel of God that reveals the character of the human heart and declares vain all its attempts at self-justification.

The Holy Scriptures stand over and against us as a tool for our edification[4][4] and not as a tool in an ideological or doctrinal battle. Thus, to quote a text about false teaching, as we have done at the beginning of this essay, is to set ourselves before that very Word so that it will address, conform and transform us. It is to let that Word challenge us, examine our lives and our teaching, and reveal the desire of our hearts to seek out both the teachers and the message we prefer. The Holy Scriptures are the weapon God uses against our own hardened hearts and not a weapon we are to use against one another. The goal of our debate must be, therefore, to stand together under the Word. To the extent that we are unwilling to do this, we show ourselves to be schismatic.

Again, we urge that it be recognized that one is properly accused of schism not by whether one stands with or against the majority opinion, or with or against the position of elected leaders, but whether one stands under the Word. If the ELCA embraces a position contrary to the witness of Scripture, regardless of the size of the majority with which it is approved, that majority has embraced schism. Likewise, if a minority embraces a position contrary to the witness of Scripture it will also have embraced schism.

The Holy Scriptures stand over and against us as a tool for our edification and not as a tool in an ideological or doctrinal battle. Thus, to quote a text about false teaching, as we have done at the beginning of this essay, is to set ourselves before that very Word so that it will address, conform and transform us.[5][5] It is to let that Word challenge us, examine our lives and our teaching, and reveal the desire of our hearts to seek out both the teachers and the message we prefer.[6][6] The Holy Scriptures are the weapon God uses against our own hardened hearts and not a weapon we are to use against one another. The goal of our debate must be, therefore, to stand together under the Word. To the extent that we are unwilling to do this, we show ourselves to be schismatic.

Again, we urge that it be recognized that one is properly accused of schism not by whether one stands with or against the majority opinion, or with or against the position of elected leaders, but whether one stands under the Word. If the ELCA embraces a position contrary to the witness of Scripture, regardless of the size of the majority with which it is approved, that majority has embraced schism. Likewise, if a minority embraces a position contrary to the witness of Scripture it will also have embraced schism.[7][7]


This weapon of the Spirit is first of all a resounding “NO” against all attempts at self- justification. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul lets neither those who are celibate nor those who are married claim that their status makes them any nearer or farther from God. We are brought near to God in Christ by grace alone, not because of any moral or spiritual superiority we might claim. Those of us who imagine that we are righteous because we live chaste lives within the bonds of marriage, nevertheless, stand under the judgment of God. Those of us who consider ourselves righteous because we have recognized and repented of our unchaste, heterosexual behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes, also stand under the judgment of God. Those of us who consider ourselves righteous because we have abstained from acting out our homosexual desire stand under the judgment of God. Likewise, those of us who consider ourselves righteous because we have embraced our gay identity stand under the judgment of God.

In whatever form we try to claim a righteousness of our own, the Scriptures reveal such righteousness to be worthless rags.[8][8] Paul’s ruthless attack on pagan culture in Romans 1 comes to its devastating conclusion in 2:1 where Paul turns the finger of accusation at his Christian and Jewish audience. As his audience gleefully nods their heads in agreement with his searing judgment on the corruption of their pagan society, he suddenly turns and aims his word straight at his hearers declaring “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are… because you … are doing the very same things.” No party in this debate has any other righteousness than that which is given them in Christ Jesus. We stand together as sinners under the Word.


God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is a divine address, an encounter that judges and frees us, condemns and forgives us. Thus, it is inappropriate for Christians to proof text their positions, quoting only those scripture texts that justify their own positions and/or condemn their opponents’ positions. The more challenging work is to consider the entire Biblical witness (giving due consideration to the scripture’s original context) and from this witness, attempt to discern God’s desire for the living of our lives.

For example, we cannot quote the prohibition in Leviticus 20:13 without submitting ourselves to the whole text which calls us to holiness of life, and prohibits adultery, incest, homosexual acts and bestiality, concluding:

"You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them, so that the land to which I bring you to settle in may not vomit you out. You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them." (Leviticus 20:22-23)

We are called to a sexual life distinct from the world around us. This is a consistent and oft-repeated proclamation of the biblical text:

"Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5)

"Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9 – 10)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons — not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9- 13)

"Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (1 Corinthians 6:13)

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!" (1 Corinthians 6:15)

"I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced." (2 Corinthians 12:21)

"Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19 – 21)

"But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints." (Ephesians 5:3)

"Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things - anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator." (Colossians 3:5 – 10)

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you." (1 Thessalonians 4:3 – 8)

"Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers." (Hebrews 13:4)

"But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication." (Revelation 2:14)

"But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols." (Revelation 2:20)

"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me." (1 Timothy 1:8 – 11)

It is clear that we have all failed in this. We have gathered teachers to ourselves who silently ignore or openly bless patterns of sexual expression largely indistinguishable from the society around us. We must acknowledge that the biblical texts call us to repentance for embracing the values and practices of our society.


With regard to homoerotic behavior we have the explicit prohibition of male anal intercourse in Leviticus 20:13. The central text, however, is Romans 1 where Paul uses homosexual desire as definitive evidence of the world’s rebellion from God:

"God's anger is shown from heaven against all the evel and wrong things people do. By their own evil lives they hide the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die-- yet they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them." (Romans 1:18-32)

There are also several passing references to homoeroticism in various lists of condemnations such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Although the specific meaning of the terms involved in such lists is not completely clear (even as we regularly use euphemisms to refer to various sexual acts), the fact that these terms are used within broad sweeping generalizations means we cannot interpret them as if they had a narrow and technical meaning. It would be a misuse of the text, therefore, to argue that it only prohibits homosexual rape or pederasty.[9][9]

In addition, it is important to note that we have no texts that affirm homoerotic behavior or describe it positively.[10][10] Further, we have the numerous texts cited above about Christian renunciation of sexual immorality as well as the positive teaching about marriage - understood as one man and one woman in a covenanted relationship - in such places as Genesis 1 and 2, 1 Corinthians 7, Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5.

No one disputes that human sexuality was understood differently in the Ancient Near East than in the modern West.[11][11] But those ancient ideas do not alter the fundamental biblical conviction that the proper and divinely instituted context for the expression of our sexuality is in the covenant union of one man and one woman in marriage. Thus the legal consequence of a premarital sexual liaison was marriage.[12][12] This conviction that heterosexual marriage is the only divinely instituted context for erotic sexual expression has been sustained throughout the centuries of Christian tradition. Polygamy is acknowledged in the biblical witness as a fact of life, but nowhere is it divinely commanded or blessed. Similarly, with the exception of Levirate marriage,[13][13] no other variation on the traditional family structure or sexual ethic is divinely commanded or blessed. Indeed, other texts defend the integrity of marriage and family structures by prohibiting incest, and limiting and restricting divorce and remarriage.


Scripture declares that we are sinners. In the language of the reformers we are turned in upon ourselves. The serpent tempted Eve by declaring that she would become like God. We come forth from the womb believing we are the center of the universe. We are from birth in rebellion against God, wanting to be the masters of our own destiny, wanting to make our own rules, and wanting to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong (and so, to justify ourselves).

Against this narcissistic idolatry stands the word of Scripture which declares a divine will and order to creation that exists independently of us and by which our lives are judged. The church must affirm this objective moral reality and cannot deny it without denying its faith in the sovereignty of God.

It is not individual experience, feeling, or desire that establishes right and wrong. Because something “feels right” does not make it right. Neither do the judgments of modern science nor current cultural mores establish right and wrong. As confessing Lutheran Christians, we are bound to look to the Holy Scriptures to find our standard of right and wrong, a standard established by God, not by us. According to the Lutheran Confessions, this universal moral standard is summarized above all in the Ten Commandments, though it is not limited to them and is revealed throughout the biblical narrative.[14][14] The role of ethical reasoning is not to establish our own standards of right and wrong, but to discern how to conform our lives to the divine will. No amount of reason and research will make murder, theft or adultery right, only whether a specific act constitutes the murder, theft or adultery that God has forbidden. And given the human capacity for self-deception and self-justification, we must repeatedly remind ourselves that our task is to submit a rebellious human heart to divine command.

Further, we acknowledge that the church has traditionally made a distinction between the ritual laws and the moral laws that were given to Israel.[15][15] However, the argument that the laws against homosexual acts in Leviticus are only ritual laws and, therefore, not part of the God’s universal moral law, is shown to be false by the argument of Paul in Romans 1 & 2. Paul uses homosexual behavior in pagan culture as evidence of humanity’s fundamental rebellion from God. Paul’s argument in Romans 1 is often discounted by modern interpreters on the assumption that the motivation behind homosexual behavior in Paul’s day (lust) is different than the motivation for such behavior in a mutual, committed relationship (love.) However, even if this distinction is true[16][16], it is irrelevant. For Paul, the primary issue is the false object of human desire (idolatry) made manifest by homosexual behavior itself and not the motivation behind the behavior. Sin has warped human desire, so that it no longer seeks its proper object – to please God in lives of faith and obedience. In our fallen nature, we act in our own interest and according to our own desires. We choose self over others, our own pleasure over the well being of our partner, our children, our neighbors, or our society. We choose to leave marriages we find unsatisfying and convince ourselves that children are resilient. “If I am happy, they will be happy,” we say, despite the evidence of the social sciences that such children are not happy and bear the scars of their parents’ choices well into adulthood.[17][17] We justify our choices to have children outside of marriage because we want the joy and satisfaction that children bring, as if children were given to make our lives better. We choose to live together before marriage despite the evidence that the divorce rate is higher among people who live together before marriage. We elect to enter into all kinds of unions and justify them all in the name of love and good intentions. To all of this the church is bound to speak God’s Word of judgment.


We recognize that individuals may, as a matter of conscience, choose to act contrary to the witness of Scripture, but the church’s public witness testifies to fundamental biblical principles even when an alternate action seems right. That Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to participate in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler does not mean that the church should cease to teach the fifth commandment, or that the church can institute a blessing of those intending to commit murder. What is being debated within the church is not whether two people of the same sex can enter into a committed union, but whether the church can provide a public blessing of that union. What is at stake is not individual conscience, but the church’s submission to the authority of Holy Scripture, and the faithfulness of its public witness and teaching.


When the church speaks of Natural Law, it refers not to the world as it exists in its fallen state, but to the world as it was created to be. Adultery is natural to humanity in this fallen state, but it is not an intentional part of the created order. We cannot argue from what is to what ought to be, for to do so would deny the authority of the Scriptures and the reality of sin, and we would find ourselves sinking into moral chaos. It is an incorrect argument, then, to say that because some individuals have experienced a homosexual orientation for a long time, perhaps even from birth, their experience is therefore “natural” and should be blessed by the church. And, of course, the possibility of a homosexual orientation from birth is, itself, still a matter of debate.

It should also be noted that if we permit the argument to proceed from what is to what ought to be, then a whole host of behaviors become theoretically permissible. The various supporters of adultery, polygamy, plural marriage, pederasty, and bestiality could all vie for the church’s blessing within the boundaries of loving, committed relationships, since all such things can be found within human experience.


What clearly distinguishes the human being from all other creatures is our capacity to make moral choices. We are not automatons, driven simply by the chemicals in our brain or bloodstream. We are not captive to our drives and desires. Indeed, we have the capacity to consider whether and how to act upon those drives and desires. A dog in heat does not ask about pedigree papers or the safety of jumping the fence to reach the neighbor’s dog. We, however, can and do ask those kinds of questions. We may not choose our desires, but we choose whether and how to act upon them.[18][18] The argument by some in the gay community that they did not choose their homosexual orientation, however true, is irrelevant. What is in question is how will they choose to act on such desires, just as the question for a heterosexual person is how will they chose to act on their desires.

We recognize that persons of heterosexual orientation have the option of marriage within the church while persons of homosexual orientation do not have the option of a same-sex blessing within the church. However, we do not believe that this should automatically lead to the conclusion that the church should perform same-sex blessings or any other blessings of sexual relationships outside the covenant of marriage. There are all kinds of persons of heterosexual orientation who for, numerous and various reasons, do not and will not have the opportunity for marriage. Yet, the church has not created special rites of blessing for the sexual relationships of these people. We concur with the statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops in 1993 that “ . . . there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.”[19][19]

We have sympathy for those who struggle with powerful desires that are contrary to the witness of Scripture; those who struggle with anger, gossip, adultery, fornication, and addictions. However, the fact that a desire is powerful and lifelong does not alone justify acting upon that desire. Nor does it justify dismissing parts of God’s universal moral law as discerned from Holy Scripture which govern behavior within the believing community.


Marriage is distinct from all other forms of coupling in that it sets our choice above our passion. Marriage is a covenant, a relationship created by our free choice. It is certainly prompted by desire, and supported by desire, but it is ultimately founded on our choice to commit ourselves to another person, and only that person. For this reason, some within the church catholic have regarded the marriage covenant as sacramental because it gives witness to the covenant character of God who chooses to love.

Although polygamy is described in the biblical text, only the monogamous, publicly covenanted union of one man and one woman is declared holy and blessed. (Genesis 2:18-25) There is no precedence in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, or Christian tradition for the blessing of any sexual act outside the covenant of marriage.[20][20]

The church is bound by Scripture, confession and tradition to recognize that there is no blessing in the Scriptures for any sexual union apart from marriage. We understand and sympathize with those who feel no call to heterosexual union, but we have no blessing to offer other than that which the church offers to all through the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.

Again, please note that in marriage we choose to be monogamous. This choice resists the “natural” desire of the human creature (in its fallenness) to engage in any number of sexual behaviors (for example, polygamous or adulterous relationships, or promiscuous relationships outside the bonds of marriage). Moreover, this choice submits to the “natural” design that God desired for humanity in creation (that the two shall become “one flesh,” Genesis 2:24.)


The biblical witness unambiguously declares that God is concerned for the welfare of widows and orphans, those who are weak and unprotected in society. The church’s defense of marriage is bound to the protection of the weak, especially to the care and nurture of children.

With rare exception, every act of heterosexual intercourse carries the potential for the creation of a child. Every form of birth control has a published failure rate. One reason for locating the physical expression of our sexuality within the covenant of marriage is that it places the potential child into the context of a family to protect and care for it.

Modern technology has limited the connection between sex and procreation but it has not eliminated it, and cannot eliminate it. This does not mean that sex is only for the purposes of procreation, but that procreation is an inherent dimension of the act, as is evident in the biblical command “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:22, 9:1) Insofar as procreation is an inherent dimension of our sexuality, the proper locus for the expression of that sexuality is a marriage covenant that creates a family unit rooted in the mutual promises between a man and a woman.

There is no biblical concept of marriage apart from family, and the biblical command to marry includes children, mollified only by the New Testament call to chastity for those who are able to exercise self-control for the sake of “unhindered devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). The biology of the human species requires a male and female, and the evidence of the social sciences makes clear that children need both a father and a mother.[21][21] That some parents are poor parents, or that some children thrive in spite of the loss or lack of a parent, does not negate the general fact that children are more likely to successfully negotiate their way into healthy adulthood when they have both a father and a mother. Such children are less likely to live in poverty, less likely to suffer emotional or physical abuse, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, more likely to succeed at school, and more likely to form stable adult relationships.[22][22] There are some that assert that having two loving fathers or two loving mothers is equivalent to having one mother and one father within the family unit. However, there is significant research that indicates that healthy social and emotional development of children is most likely to occur within the family unit that includes a loving mother and a loving father.[23][23]

The church must articulate the biblical call to loving and committed marriage and parenthood. It should not bless whatever varieties of experimental family life human beings can conceive. The witness of Scripture stands against such blessings and the witness of the social sciences makes clear that such experiments are contrary to the best interests of children for whom God commands special care.

It is a great and painful irony that our church body declares itself to seek the welfare of children, but at the same time seems willing to support alternative family arrangements that have clear negative consequences for the well-being of children.


The church’s teaching should not be determined primarily on the basis of what we feel or experience. On the contrary, our experience is the context into which the church’s teaching is to be proclaimed. We live in a time when truth is generally considered to be subjective by the masses. We speak easily and naturally of “my truth” and “your truth”, disconnected from any outward norm or reality. Your speech is judged as hate speech if I experience it as oppressive, regardless of your words or your intent. In such a context it is important for the church to remember and declare that the Law does not just make me feel condemned, it actually condemns me. Likewise, the Gospel does not just make me feel forgiven, it actually forgives me. That I do not feel condemned does not make my action righteous or God pleasing. That I do not feel forgiven does not invalidate the promise of forgiveness given by God.

One irony of our current debate is that the experience of those who say that their homosexual desire is a lifelong and fixed condition is regarded as normative, while the experience of those who say they have been delivered from their homosexual desire or lifestyle is dismissed.[24][24]


There has been great appeal to the evidence of the social sciences regarding homosexuality. First, it is necessary to acknowledge that the evidence of the social sciences is, at best, ambiguous. Second, it is necessary to acknowledge that the science of genetics is frequently misused or misunderstood in the debate. Genes don’t determine behavior. They provide the range of options with which a person can respond to their environment.[25][25] In other words, they create tendencies. Some children will tend to withdraw from conflict, others will stand and fight, but experience and training can teach a child to adopt alternate strategies. Indeed, part of what we mean by maturity is the ability to make choices against our natural tendencies when such choices are necessary or right.

This interplay between the range of possibilities available to us through our genetic makeup and the environment includes not only the life experiences of the individual, but physical environmental factors, whether the chemical soup of the womb or the effects of diet. The children of immigrants to the United States almost always grow taller than the previous generation because of the quality of diet, and we are all familiar with the effects of smoking or crack cocaine on children. If genes determined outcomes, then identical twins raised apart would have identical outcomes, but they do not. There is some correlation between our genetic makeup and homosexuality. When one identical twin is gay it is more likely the other will also be gay, but the latest research indicates that this happens much less than 50% of the time.[26][26]

Third, it should be acknowledged that the evidence of the social sciences does not and should not be the primary determinant of the teaching of the church. The scientific evidence for evolution does not mean the church can stop declaring the biblical witness that we are created by God. Even if science should someday prove beyond any doubt that homosexual orientation is somehow pre-determined (though this seems unlikely given the currently available scientific research on the subject) it cannot supplant the biblical witness that the gift of sexual intercourse was created for marriage.


Today’s society declares that genital expression of our sexuality is necessary for wholeness of life. As Marva J. Dawn has pointed out[27][27], we live in a culture that is highly sexualized, especially the mass media. In addition, we live in a highly technological society, which increasingly separates and isolates individuals from each other, leaving many with unfulfilled longings for intimacy. There are strong, cultural forces within society that reinforce the idea that physical genital expression is synonymous with intimacy. Of course, thousands upon thousands of people throughout the western world have learned through difficult and painful experiences that this is a false teaching.

The church has two messages that it needs to proclaim clearly and often. First, intimacy is not synonymous with sexual intercourse. Relationships need not have a genital-sexual component to be intimate. Conversely, as many have discovered, relationships based solely or primarily on sexual intercourse do not create intimacy, and they generally are not wholesome or life-giving on emotional and spiritual levels. According to Ms. Dawn, one of the goals of the church ought to be to encourage the formation of small groups within the church that provide safe places for non-sexual, emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, intimate relationships to form and thrive.[28][28] In other words, we ought to be encouraging the formation of healthy, non-genital friendships.

The second message that the church needs to proclaim is that sexual intercourse is intended by God to be a profound and powerful symbol of the emotional and spiritual intimacy that exists within the marital relationship between a man and a woman, and therefore should be reserved for that relationship.[29][29]

When the church chooses to forfeit its responsibility to proclaim these two messages, it is unfaithful to its scripture and tradition, and it does the world a huge disservice by failing to provide a hopeful alternative to the hopeless sexual idolatry that is so prevalent in our society today.


When we declare that we are free in Christ we declare that we are free by being bound to Christ. As a Lutheran community and in keeping with the biblical witness we recognize that we are either bound to Christ or bound to sin.[30][30] There is no neutral, independent ground on which to stand. Indeed, it is precisely such independent ground that constitutes the essential nature of sin as rebellion from God. This “independence” is what Adam and Eve sought when they ate from the tree.

Evangelical freedom is misunderstood and misrepresented by those who suggest that we who are forgiven in Christ are free to do whatever our consciences allow. Evangelical freedom is the freedom from attempts at self-justification. It is the freedom to give ourselves in love and service to God and others. It is the freedom of obedience. A dog that does not obey is kept on a chain. Only when it is obedient is it truly free. And so it is with the human heart. The Law is our chain. The Gospel is our freedom in that it writes God’s law on our hearts.[31][31] It binds us to God in love and obedience.


While many, especially young adults, try to defend their choices by saying “But we love each other,” we must acknowledge that love has content, standards and tasks. This becomes abundantly clear in St. Paul’s celebrated “love chapter, I Corinthians 13. There Paul does not celebrate romantic attachment, but the challenging work of setting the well- being of another ahead of one’s own wants, needs and desires. Out of love, we change children’s diapers, not because we enjoy it so much, but because the well being of the child requires it. Out of love, we refuse to give cookies to our children before dinner, not because we enjoy their subsequent tantrum, but because we set the child’s welfare ahead of our own. Out of love, we require our child to pay for the window they break, in spite of the hassle it causes, because children are spiritually harmed if they are taught that they can escape the consequences of their mistakes. The temptation we face in this conflict within the church over homosexual behavior is to throw up our hands and let people do what they want. That is not love.


The critical question facing the ELCA is whether we stand under any authority at all. Are we bound by the authority of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran confessions? Or are we free to make our own opinions into church teaching? Those who choose the latter have separated themselves from the historic community of the Christian faith. To the extent that our church leaders reveal themselves to be schismatic, we are no longer bound to follow or obey them. Indeed, we are obligated to oppose them.


We regret that brothers and sisters whom we love are being caught in the crossfire of this debate. Without a doubt, we are called to oppose fear, discrimination, hate and prejudice. Without a doubt, we are called to love and walk with one another in the journey of faith and life. Without a doubt, we are called to listen to one another. “Let everyone be quick to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Yet the church is engaged in a battle for its teaching on this ground and the battle must be waged. We regret the collateral damage that occurs in battles such as these, and we pray that God will guard the hearts and minds of all and keep them in his peace.

Unfortunately, we cannot in this essay ease the fears and concerns of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who have found the church an inhospitable place. Where this has been their experience, we grieve, for we are clearly called to receive one another as Christ receives us.[32][32] We can only declare again our conviction that we stand together under the Word, which not only judges but frees, which not only condemns but forgives, and grants us a righteousness not our own and a peace beyond our understanding. This is not an essay on pastoral care but on the public teaching of the church about our sexuality.

Finally, as we all struggle under the conviction of the Law, let us all seek refuge in the One who alone is able to lighten our burden and forgive our sin, Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

For he is our peace, who has made (us) into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)

May the Lord of the Church keep us faithful.

Great Lakes Confessional Lutherans are a group of ELCA members from Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio who are concerned that the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions remain “the authoritative source and norm” of our church’s “proclamation, faith, and life.”

We have prepared this paper in order that it might be a resource for congregations and individuals to use to study the issue of homosexuality, especially now that the ELCA has embarked on its own three-year study. Please feel free to copy and disseminate this paper. Also feel free to quote from it, provided that you give due credit.

Finally, we will gladly add the signatures of any that endorse the positions and conclusions expressed in this paper.

Pastor Harold Schlachtenhaufen
Dearborn, Michigan
Pastor Mark Gibbs
Vickery, Ohio
Pastor William Sullivan
Ottawa Lake, Michigan
Pastor Vernon DeVantier
Ottawa Lake, Michigan
Pastor David Bonde
formerly of Westlake, Michigan
Pastor Joe Bonno
Canton, Michigan


[1][1] Hebrews 4:12 “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

[2][2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1961.) See especially the author’s chapter “Costly Grace”, pp. 45-60.

[3][3] Gerhard O. Forde, “The Normative Character of Scripture for Matters of Faith and Life: Human Sexuality in Light of Romans 1:16-32”, Word and World, 14.3 (Summer 1994) pp. 306-07.

[4][4] 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righeousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

[5][5] Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

[6][6] Jeremiah 5:31 “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” See also 2 Timothy 4:3-4 quoted at the beginning of this paper.

[7][7] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “You Shall Not Lie with a Male: Standards for Churchly Decision-Making on Homosexuality,” Lutheran Forum, 30.1 (February 1996) pp. 28-29.

[8][8] Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

[9][9] Richard B. Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to Jon Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1,” The Journal of Religious Ethics, 14.1 (Spring 1986) p. 210.

[10][10] Ibid, p. 208.

[11][11] See Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, A Historical Perspective. Kirsi Stjerna, trans. (Minneapolis, Augsburg-Fortress, 1998.)

[12][12] Exodus 22:16 “When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.”

[13][13] Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It is important to note that the specifics of the practice of Levirate marriage are unclear from the biblical texts (See Richard Kalmin,“Levirate Law,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, pp. 296-7.) and it ceased in Judaism with the formal rejection of polygamy in AD 1000. ( See J. H. Hertz, ed. Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary, 2nd. Ed. (London: Soncino 1976) p. 855).

[14][14] See The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4, paragraphs 6-7(p. 108) and paragraph 131 (p. 125) in The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.)

[15][15] Ibid, Art. 4, par. 6 (p. 108) and Art. 23, par. 41(p. 245.)

[16][16] This issue is still a subject of continuing debate in scholarly circles. For examples of scholarship that assert that Romans 1 refers to all homosexual behavior, see Hays, pp. 209-211 and see Robert A.J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001) pp.380-392. For an example of scholarship that asserts a distinction between the understanding of homosexuality in Paul’s day (people who engage in homosexual acts are acting “against nature”) and our own day (people with homosexual orientation who engage in homosexual acts are acting “naturally,”) see Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983) pp. 123-29.

[17][17] Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis & Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (New York: Hyperion, 2000.) See also her earlier study with Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.)

[18][18] This is not to minimize the realities of addiction or personality disorders related to brain chemistry. It is to recognize the complexity of the human creature and the interplay between our thought and that chemistry. It is precisely the spiritual program of recovery in AA, for example, that has the capacity to free us from that addiction and enable us to choose differently. The notion of our bondage to sin never removes our responsibility for our choice.

[19][19] The full text of the Bishop’s statement concerning the blessing of homosexual relationships dated October 8, 1993 is available at the ELCA website.

[20][20] Boswell’s argument that medieval prayers that bless friendships are celebrations of gay unions has been repudiated as a gross distortion of the historical record.

[21][21] H. Biller, Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors In Child Development (Westport, CT: Auburn House, 1993) pp. 12-13.

[22][22] See a summary of the research supporting these assertions in two articles by Bridget Maher, “Say ‘I Do’ To Marriage 2002” and “The Devastation of Divorce.” Both can be found at

[23][23] Dale O’Leary, “Is This Diversity or Tragedy? Children as Victims of Their Parents’ Choices, 2002,

[24][24] See the press release announcing the publication of the NARTH survey of sexual-orientation therapists in Pschological Review, May 2002,

[25][25] J. Madeleine Nash, “The Personality Gene,” Time, April 27, 1998, p. 60. This article is based on an interview with Dean Hamer, a molecular biologist at the National Institutes of Health who has done extensive work exploring the relationship between genes and behavior. Mr. Hamer identifies himself as a person of homosexual orientation. Nash writes “Unlike the genes that are responsible for physical traits, Hamer emphasizes these genes identified (genes that play a role in determining personality traits) do not cause people to become homosexuals, thrill-seeking rock climbers or anxiety-ridden worrywarts. The biology of personality is much more complicated than that. Rather, what genes appear to do, says Hamer, is subtly bias the psyche so that different individuals react to similar experiences in surprisingly different ways.”

[26][26] Michael J. Bailey, “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Sexual Orientation and Its Correlates in an Australian Twin Sample,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,78 (2000), pp. 524-36. This study demonstrated that there is about a 10 - 15% chance that when one member of a twin pair is gay the other twin will also be gay. For a thorough summary of twin studies related to homosexuality, Gagnon, pp. 403-406.

[27][27] Marva J. Dawn, Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 8-17.

[28][28] Ibid, p. 85-90.

[29][29] Ibid, p. 56.

[30][30] Romans 6:16-18 “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

[31][31] Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

[32][32] Romans 15:7 “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”