Augsburg Fortress

Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality

Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality

Bitter battles over the churches' stance toward its gay and lesbian members have tested the churches' fundamental orientation and even threatened to split whole denominations apart. The blessing of homosexual unions and ordination of gays and lesbians have proven to be special flashpoints at both local and national levels.

Part of the widespread perplexity over the issues stems from their complexity. They involve questions not only of personal ethics and church polity but also of Christian history, conflicting readings of the biblical data, and uncertainty over basic anthropological frameworks, especially as driven by findings of the social sciences.

This volume, initiated by the ELCA seminary presidents in response to a churchwide mandate for study of the issues, is aimed at engendering real reflection and conversation by providing Christians with the basic tools to engage the many dimensions of this question for themselves and with each other. Based on sound scholarship but written in a readable fashion for a broad audience of laypeople and pastors, the volume includes five essays, an authors' forum about how specific issues in the church are affected by these perspectives, a select bibliography of further readings, and directions on how this resource might be used.

Contributors: James M. Childs Jr., Mark Allan Powell, James Arne Nestingen, Martha Ellen Stortz, Richard J. Perry Jr., José David Rodríguez, Daniel L. Olson

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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800635800
  • eBook ISBN 9781451410518
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 144
  • Publication Date May 2, 2003


"This book should generate some solid discussion in our church. The variety of perspectives will challenge readers, whatever their viewpoint, to examine their own thinking about homosexuality. While acknowledging the subject's importance and potential divisiveness, the authors recognize, refreshingly, that our unity in Jesus Christ is a far more important reality. The spirit of respect and civility that permeates this book is a powerful model for each of us."
– Paul Jersild, Professor Emeritus, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC, Author of Spirit Ethics (Fortress Press, 2000)

"Building on a quarter century of learnings from studies and deliberations in the U.S., these authors probe for fresh insights in how the church's responses can be grounded in what is central in the Christian faith. Their insights are worthy of consideration."
– Karen L. Bloomquist, Theology and Studies Director, the Lutheran World Federation, Co-editor of The Promise of Lutheran Ethics (Fortress Press, 1998)


"A wise pastor once noted that 'Life is a dramatic mixture of brokenness and grace.' Imperfect and forgiven, Christians live our callings in our homes and families, our work, our public roles, and our communities of worship. As the world and the church deal with various social, scientific, and personal interpretations of homosexuality, we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are a community of faith seeking understanding, intent on bearing witness to the world of the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Faithful Conversation contributes to the quest for understanding and exhibits our commitment to public witness. When the conference of seminary presidents commissioned this project, we knew that the questions are hard and the answers are disputed. Before the ELCA authorized the current studies in sexuality and prior to his current appointment as the director, we asked Dr. James Childs to gather faculty from our seminaries so that they could consult with each other on these difficult concerns and prepare a volume for the church. We expected that they would argue with each other just as other faithful Christians disagree among themselves. We also anticipated that these trusted teachers of the church would respect each other and know how to keep the unity we share in Christ Jesus at the center of their conversation.

Now we hope that you who read these essays will follow the examples of these teachers. On first reading, you may be eager to discover which essays make arguments with which you agree. Please stay in the conversation longer, perhaps especially with those essays with which you first disagree. You might not change your mind, but you might at least benefit from the differences brought together in one place and gain a new understanding of a point of view that is not your own.

All of these authors are seeking to be faithful to the witness of scripture. All of them are firmly opposed to all sexual promiscuity and infidelity. None of their cases are built on narrow notions of sexual freedom or personal rights. So also, none of them resorts to a simplistic literalism, as if the letter of God's law were God's final word.

Even some Christian practices change. To choose an easier example, the Apostle Paul declared that it is shameful for a man to cover his head in prayer or for a woman to pray with her head uncovered (1 Cor 11:4-5), but those disputes about what is or is not shameful do not divide the church in our time. The questions of sexual orientation or response patterns also do not threaten our unity. But we disagree on the boundaries of intimacy between members of the same sex. Many Christians also disagree on the boundaries of intimacy between members of the opposite sex, but the question at hand is that of homosexual relationships. How deeply divided are we?

Some Christians see almost all sexual intimacies among members of the same sex as immoral, even when the people involved are expressing their love and care in committed relationships. Other Christians regard the protection of such committed relationships as a matter of justice both in public and in the church. Some take their stand defending the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. Others intend to extend the circle of care and the security of intimacy to the homosexual sons and daughters of our families and to all whom Jesus Christ calls to faith. At their extremes, both groups are tempted to claim God's righteousness or God's mercy for their own views. Ultimately, only God's Holy Spirit joins righteousness and mercy in Christ Jesus. And at our best, all Christians will advocate God's law as a protection of the neighbor and the community.

As members of the ELCA conference of seminary presidents, we invite you, dear reader, into these Faithful Conversations. We do not know how our church will eventually address the questions of blessing same – sex committed relationships or the ordination of homosexual persons in committed same – sex relationships. We do not endorse everything written in these essays, but we are grateful for the courage and conviction of our faculty authors. We are heartened by their mutual confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ, even as they sort many complex questions from several perspectives. We have learned from these teachers of the church. We pray for the counsel of the Holy Spirit for our church. May God's righteousness be accomplished among us forgiven sinners through God's mercy in Christ Jesus and for all people in the world God loves."

– Conference of ELCA Seminary Presidents
April 14, 2003

Table of Contents


Conference of ELCA Seminary Presidents

James M. Childs Jr.

1. The Bible and Homosexuality
Mark Allan Powell

2. The Lutheran Reformation and Homosexual Practice
James Arne Nestingen

3. Rethinking Christian Sexuality: Baptized into the Body of Christ
Martha Ellen Stortz

4. We Hear in Our Own Language: Culture, Theology, and Ethics
Richard J. Perry Jr. and José David Rodríguez

5. Talking about Sexual Orientation: Experience, Science, and the Mission of the Church
Daniel L. Olson

Authors' Forum