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July 16, 2011

ELCIC National Convention Delegates Approve Social Statement on Human Sexuality

Following more than two hours of debate, delegates of the 2011 ELCIC National Convention approved a Social Statement on Human Sexuality. The results came late in a day and were done by written ballot, with 213 votes in favour of the motion and 134 against.  

The document is the result of a four-year process involving: a study guide, a church-wide feedback process, a draft statement that allowed for further feedback opportunities, and the statement. The statement analyzes the current social problem, provides theological and ethical foundations, and applies insights from the first two sections to the contemporary situation.

Convention delegates first considered the statement Thursday evening during a Committee of the Whole session. The Human Sexuality Task Force introduced the 14-page report and responded to questions and comments from delegates.

Delegates returned to debate the matter in a Friday morning business session, and long lines of people approached the plenary hall microphones to speak for and against the motion. As on Thursday, comments covered a wide range of subjects, including the interpretation of scripture, church tradition, theology, and human rights. Many shared personal stories and many quoted the Bible.

“The statement is honest,” said a delegate in favour of the statement. “The church is conflicted but the statement full of love and grace.”

Another delegate said that the social statement acknowledged homosexual orientation as a genetic reality. “Our loving God gave them these characteristics,” he said. “The least we could do is love them the way God does.”

Speaking against the statement, one delegate noted, “Nowhere in the Bible do I see anything in support of same-sex relationships.” He continued, “One day we will stand before God and we will be judged not by the UN Declaration of Rights or the Canadian charter, but by God’s holy laws.”

Others said the statement was not appropriate at this time for the church. “It’s so ambiguous no one understands it,” said a delegate. “This isn’t our solid ground that we stand on. After ten years of debate, we still do not have a consensus. We don’t have anything but divisions.”

In this midst of this conversation, delegates considered several motions that proposed to alter the process of the vote. Delegates approved, almost unanimously, a motion to vote by written ballot instead of public voting by raising cards. The delegate who proposed the motion said this more private method would help people to vote according to their consciences.

Delegates defeated another motion that requested a two-thirds majority to pass the motion instead of the usual majority of 50 per cent plus one vote. They also defeated a proposed amendment to provide more material in the statement’s footnotes.

After the allotted hour-and-fifteen-minute session during Friday morning’s session, the question had not yet been called. National Bishop Susan C. Johnson, chair of the meeting, proposed that delegates return from dinner one hour early to finish the discussion and vote. She requested that those lined up at microphones maintain their order until the later session.

After other business and a meal, convention resumed the discussion in a similar tone. Many people stood up to express earnest opinions both for and against the statement.

Following an hour of debate, and with people still lined up at the microphones, a delegate asked for the question to be called.

Delegates voted on whether to call the question and the results were announced as 166 in favour and 162 against. As convention moved on to consider the adoption of the social statement, a steward announced that there had been an error with the previous count and the majority of delegates had voted not to call the question.

After a brief time of reflection, Bishop Johnson sited Bourinot’s Rules of Order and ruled the decision to call the question stood, since delegates had proceeded in good faith according to information from the stewards. A motion was made to challenge the chair, but delegates upheld the decision of the chair.

The original vote to approve the proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality resumed, and after voting, delegates heard a presentation and several announcements. They then finally stood to sing hymns together.

At around 7:30 p.m., Bishop Johnson announced the statement had been adopted by a vote of 213 to 134, plus two spoiled ballots. Following the announcement and prayer, Bishop Johnson acknowledged the ongoing divisions in the church and celebrated the continued unity that the church has in Christ.

The ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality is available online at: elcic.ca/Human-Sexuality/default.cfm.

Over 500 Lutherans and special guests are meeting in Saskatoon at the ELCIC's 13th National Convention. Full agenda details and a live link to the proceeding are available on the National Convention website: elcic.ca/In-Convention/2011-Saskatoon.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 152,500 baptized members in 607 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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