Q. Why did the National Church Council (NCC) feel it needed to be involved in this issue at all?
A. In June 2003, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in the case of "Halpen vs Canada" that the law that defined marriage violated the equality provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for gay and lesbian couples. Similar rulings were made in British Columbia and Quebec. While religious institutions were exempted, pastors and congregations were asking about the implications for ELCIC clergy. With the hope of developing a church-wide response, the Eastern Synod requested NCC "to initiate a study of the theological, ecclesiological, and pastoral implications of authorizing a parish-based local option to perform same-sex blessings and bring appropriate recommendations to the 2005 ELCIC National Convention."
Q. Hasn't the NCC already decided the issue for the church?
A. No. The NCC is simply presenting a resolution to the convention for its consideration. Any decision on this matter belongs solely to the convention. It is our main governing body and it will decide what is best for the church.
Q. Why now?
A. This has been an issue of public debate in Canada for some time now. ELCIC bishops and pastors have requested guidance from the church. ELCIC members have become increasingly uneasy and want the church to resolve the issue. It is time for the church to face the issue and remove any ambiguity concerning its position on same-sex blessings, one way or the other.
Q. Why blessings?
A. Our practice would be to recognize and bless same-sex committed relationships. Marriage in this case is a matter for civil authorities.
Q. What does "local option" mean?
A. Local option means that the decision whether or not to bless same-sex relationships belongs to the congregation. This issue is not one of confessional integrity; therefore it can be decided locally. If this resolution passes, it would provide authority and a mechanism for congregations to do so.
Q. What process did the NCC follow?
A. The process was as follows:
- The NCC received the Eastern Synod resolution.
- The NCC solicited noted theologians, pastors and lay leaders to provide
essays to inform the NCC and the ELCIC public on various aspects of the issue.
study guide for personal or group consideration of the essays and issues has been provided on the ELCIC website.
resolution has now been prepared and will be forwarded to the convention for consideration.
Q. Why do all the essays on the ELCIC website seem one-sided in favouring a local option for same-sex blessings?
A. Twenty-nine persons were asked to submit essays on the issue of allowing a local option for same-sex blessings. Twenty were received. Although some of those who were invited to provide submissions could have been expected to present a more traditional view on this issue, no essays reflecting this point of view were submitted.
Space has been provided for other members of this church to contribute
Q. Why didn't the NCC listen to other points of view?
A. The NCC did receive many letters representing a variety of views and proposals. These were all taken into consideration. Given the diversity of views, the NCC sought to develop a proposal for delegates to consider that accommodated as many of the perspectives as possible. The resolution delegates will consider reflects this diversity but does not favour one position over another.
Q. What is the status of A Statement on Sex, Marriage and Family, A Social Statement of Lutheran Church in America, 1970?
A. Social statements from the predecessor churches (e.g. Lutheran Church in America-Canada Section and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada) are "resources for the instruction and guidance for the life and witness of the ELCIC."(DCS 86-41) They serve as the basis for public statements and actions for those representing the ELCIC until new statements or positions are adopted by the church in convention or by the NCC between conventions. The proposed resolution recognizes that references to homosexuality in A Statement on Sex, Marriage and Family may not reflect the current thinking by the church and need to be reconsidered.
Q. This issue makes me feel uncomfortable. Why should I even bother attending the convention at all?
A. This is not an uncommon feeling among some delegates. Taking time to review the study guide and participating in learning opportunities that will be provided at the convention will help you feel more informed and more comfortable. Besides, you have a lot to offer in fulfilling our vision of being a church in mission for others. This is only one issue of many that are important.
Q. What is going to happen in my congregation if this resolution passes?
A. Nothing, unless it is initiated by the congregation. That is why it is called a local option. However, if this resolution passes, congregations can use available resources to study the issue together and then follow the procedure outlined in the resolution so that a policy exists before couples might present themselves for a blessing.
Q. Is this blessing going to be like a marriage ceremony?
A. This resolution will also call on the Program Committee For Worship to develop a rite unique to the blessing of same-sex couples. Civil recognition of same-sex marriages would be left to civil authorities. Pastors would not read banns nor sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Q. Isn't this idea of a blessing rite something new to the church?
A. Not at all. There have been all manner of blessings prescribed by the church. For example, Occasional Services already contains rites for the blessing of homes and for civil marriages.
Q. If a congregation wished to allow same-sex blessings, what procedure would it follow?
A. Both the pastor and the congregation would have to consent. The congregational consent would require a 2/3 vote of the membership at a duly constituted congregational meeting held in consultation with the synodical bishop. This will ensure that all points of view are heard. Of course, such a process should also include deliberate and careful personal and group study and prayer.
Q. Won't we lose members if this resolution passes?
A. People hold deep and sincere convictions on both sides of this issue. There is always the risk of losing members regardless of the ultimate decision. On this issue, it is clear that doing nothing is not an option.
Q. Aren't we going to cause concern and maybe even condemnation from some churches in the Lutheran World Federation?
A. It is true that some member churches in the Lutheran community are strongly opposed to any consideration of gay and lesbian relationships. There are also member churches who already are blessing same-sex relationships. Still other churches are considering moving in this direction. Our national bishop will be proactive in informing all of our important partners about our actions and we will seek their response and understanding in recognizing the pastoral situation being faced by the ELCIC.
Q. What happens if our congregation follows the process and decides against blessing same-sex couples but a couple comes and asks for such a blessing?
A. You would not be able to perform the blessing because you have decided not to. In the same way if a congregation agrees to bless same-sex couples, the pastor may still require the couple to conform to the same standards of commitment and faith that the pastor might apply to a heterosexual couple.