A NEWS RELEASE
From the Office of the Bishop
Winnipeg, November 6, 2003 (ELCIC) -- National Church Council (NCC) adopted an action plan on Tuesday, November 4, 2003, for addressing the question of same-sex blessings across this church.
Although the issue has been under discussion in this church for years, and a pastor was disciplined in 1999 for conducting such a rite, the urgency surrounding the matter was increased by several incidents that took place this spring and summer.
The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, meeting the end of May, voted for the third assembly in a row to approve the blessing of same-sex unions. The bishop of New Westminster, who had refused to approve the previous two votes, felt constrained to honour the wishes of the diocese at this time and issued a rite and licenses to parishes and priests wishing to adopt this practice. The communion-wide controversy that this action generated has been reported in most secular news media across the country.
A resolution calling for the blessing of same-sex unions was brought to the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) by the Church of Sweden. Strong objections were voiced by representatives of African, Asian and Eastern European churches, prompting some leaders to speculate that they might break communion with churches that would adopt such practices.
About the same time, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples. This ruling led the governments of Ontario and British Columbia to legalize same-sex marriages.
These actions prompted some pastors of this church to declare that they wished to begin conducting such blessings in their ministries. Others feared that they would be forced to adopt a practice they could not, in conscience, condone. The bishops of this church began to receive numerous letters of request, protest and admonition.
In response, the Conference of Bishops circulated a pastoral letter outlining its interpretation of this church’s present policy on marriage. On the basis of this interpretation the bishops felt that they could not grant permission for the blessing of same-sex unions. The letter caused considerable controversy in some quarters and prompted a new round of letter-writing; some from individuals, some from consulting groups of members.
The response to the bishops’ letter was reviewed at the Conference of Bishops meeting on October 27, 2003, resulting in a recommendation to NCC to initiate a church-wide process of engagement with the issue. The resolutions adopted at the NCC meeting read as follows:
That the National Church Council encourage discussion in the different expressions of this church to engage the question of the practice of blessing same-sex unions, and communicate with this church that:
a. there are specific and compelling reasons to engage this question such as concern in congregations and among pastors about their pastoral practice, questions in the wider society regarding the practice, religious freedom and its protection in Canada and our commitment to a church united in the gospel;
b. this is a difficult issue for the ELCIC and the participation of the whole church is needed to address the question;
c. we affirm the high level of interest and deliberation already expressed as a sign of vital engagement with issues of importance;
d. we encourage congregations, clergy gatherings, conferences and synods to use the constitutional process of this church to examine the issue and give direction to this church’s deliberations; such examination should include prayer, biblical and confessional study and responsible engagement with one another with insights from scientific and sociological disciplines and with awareness of implications for our ecumenical relations; and
e. we will receive input from across this church in order that the ELCIC may act together on this issue.
That National Church Council commit [itself] to become informed about the issue [of same sex blessings] by agreeing to sample the [ELCA] study Journey Together Faithfully at the March 2004 meeting and if appropriate, commend the study to congregations.
That National Church Council affirm the Conference of Bishops’ interpretation of the ELCIC’s present policy as stated in their pastoral letter of July 2003. Given that current policy is determined by the 1970 LCA statement Sex, Marriage and Family, affirmed by the ELCIC convention in 1991, National Church Council recognizes the pressing need to review this and if appropriate, to develop a new directive. The church is encouraged to engage at all levels in the process outlined in CC-03-88 as a means of doing so.
National Bishop Raymond Schultz reported that the Conference of Bishops was not prepared to recommend any particular process outline, but that any engagement, whether by congregation, conference, clergy gatherings, study groups or special events, meet certain criteria. These criteria, as Bishop Schultz outlined them include:
- An assessment of the value of church unity
- Implications for our ecumenical relationships
- How we grant authority for decision-making in this church
- The Lutheran way of interpreting and applying scripture
- A fair and respectful process that allows for a full expression of all opinions without fear of attack
The National Bishop further called for an intentional time of prayer across the church. He spoke of an Anglican diocese in which parishes were asked to schedule members for one-hour prayer vigils at the church after which they were asked to write notes on the experience and submit them to the diocese for inclusion in the material to be deliberated at the assembly. “These prayer sessions ought to focus on the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Schultz. “The purpose of this prayer is not to ask God to give success to our opinions or political actions, but to allow us to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. This needs to be listening prayer rather than talking prayer.”
A large number of resources are available via the Internet. Some can be found at the following sites:
Members of this church are encouraged to observe the constitutional process for bringing actions to an assembly for deliberation. Congregations and Conferences are entitled to petition the Synod and the National Convention to give consideration to motions or resolutions they wish to put forward. Synod Conventions may also petition the National Convention. Each group meeting around this concern should make itself aware of deadlines for submission of material for inclusion in the docket of synod or national conventions.