By Smith Heavner
In February, I was appointed to the ELCA’s national working group on ministry to same-gender families. This working group, established by the ELCA Church Council in response to action from the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, is exploring the conversations and resources available to congregations ministering to same-gender families. The group strives to explore the ways our church walks with lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their loved ones.
We are a diverse group representing the spectrum of bound consciousness. Some of us identify as gay, some may affirm such identities, some may hold that such a lifestyle is a sin, and some may hold no strong convictions. That said, we have agreed that we must find ways to live into our baptismal promise to be the church together.
In its recommendation to the 2013 Churchwide Assembly, the memorials committee noted the commitments made by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in adopting the social statement on human sexuality. The social statement says, “This church acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation.” The statement continues, “We further believe that this church, on the basis of ‘the bound conscience,’ will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.” The social statement contains four convictions about human sexuality based on the conscience-bound beliefs of members of the ELCA.
The ministry to same-gender families working group recently released a questionnaire calling for stories of ministry to people in same-gender relationships and their families. The questionnaire includes eight questions aimed at receiving not only a snapshot of the realities of life in individual congregations, but also providing the data needed to piece together our story as the ELCA.
At the working group’s initial meeting earlier this year, we shared our stories with each other. We talked about our families, our faith stories, and our professions. We shared the journeys that led us to that conference room. We “came out” as conservatives and liberals, as progressives and traditionalists, as “gay” or “straight.”
Sitting around the table, we talked about our pain and our joy, and we realized, at some point, each of us had felt excluded, pushed aside – some because of the relationships we were in and some because of the convictions we held. We each had been wounded and had each felt poured out.
Regardless of orientation or bound conscience, we are the church together. As we move forward, and as same-gendered couples continue to gain legal standing across the United States, we must find faithful, confessional, loving and compassionate ways to respond to families sitting in the pews next to us and walking in the streets beside us.
The survey will not capture everyone’s entire story. It will not be a “coming out,” but it will help us to understand the story of our ELCA. These are eight, generalized questions about the context of a community’s ministry, resources and needs. We welcome everyone’s participation in this questionnaire and prayers for our work.
The survey is available at https://surveys.elca.org/scripts/rws5.pl?FORM=samegen.
Smith Heavner, a registered nurse, is a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Greenville, S.C. He convenes the communications team of the working group on ministry to same-gender families.