Monday, October 13, 2008

Response to the Draft Social Statment on Human Sexuality

Last week about a third of the PLTS student body met to discuss the proposed sexuality statement. We had small group discussions, after which I spoke to many individuals. A common sentiment that I heard was that while people were comfortable with the theology of the statement, they felt it was poorly applied. In fact many people felt that this document should focus solely on the theology and refrain from attempting to apply it for every context in the denomination. As such, I have drafted a possible response. Please read it and comment on whether you feel it reflects the desire to separate the core theology of the document from the application. Also please comment on the language and phrasing used in the response.

A Response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

from the

Student Body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Having gathered together in communal discernment, the student body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary offers this response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality. We affirm the Draft’s foundational theological and ethical framework found in sections I-III as well as Section V’s call for people of faith to foster social trust. However, we feel that much of Section IV failed to follow from the framework set out in other sections of the document. Furthermore, having applauded the Draft’s insight that human sexuality is deeply shaped by social contexts (528-578), and its awareness that this country’s conventions of family structure and marriage were historically created (673-4, 1151-2), we were disappointed that much of Section IV attempted to define currently dominant standards of sexuality as normative for all people, particularly in the topics of commitment and sexuality, marriage, intimate sexual relations outside of marriage, and same-gender committed relationships.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America contains within it a multitude of social contexts with vastly divergent pastoral needs. Just as the one gospel of Christ inspires different communities to respond in praise in different ways, so too will a common theology of sexuality manifest itself differently in different communities. No one document will be able to adequately, or even responsibly, attempt to apply a theology of sexuality to every context. Instead, local communities should be encouraged and resourced to discuss and apply the theology to meet their own contextual needs. Section I seems acknowledge this, saying that the document offers “a foundational framework that will help [this church] discern what it means faithfully to follow God’s law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality” (27-9). We therefore propose the following changes to the Section IV of the Draft in order to separate what we see as the foundational theology from attempts to create a blanket application for that theology.

Section IV

  • Remove lines 950-990a. This subsection attempts to prescribe how trust should grow in relationships. We feel it is presumptuous to set out how something as personal is trust is developed in individual relationship, particularly by reducing it to what is essentially a mathematical formula. Furthermore, what is described did not speak to the experience of many members of the student body. We recommend that, just as for families, what be emphasized is not what form relationships take, but whether or not they provide safety, shield intimacy, and build trust (682-686). The manner in which this occurs will vary from context to context; the social statement should encourage individuals to discern how best to achieve this with the support of their communities.

  • Remove lines 996-1178. These subsections have two underlying problems. First, they universalize the particular cultural understanding of marriage as a life-long, legal, heterosexual, monogamous, and emotionally intimate relationship. Second, after stating that sexuality is fundamentally relational and an indelible feature of our very being, these sections imply that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is inappropriate, thereby making marriage the telos for all people (831, 840). Once again, we recommend that relationships be measured their ability to foster trust, not the form they take. Individuals should be encouraged to find communities of support and discernment for their relationships.

As communities apply this theology, we wish to emphasize two more aspects to guide their discernment.

  • Though these statements are already present, we recommend that the social statement further emphasize that this church will not tolerate any form of abuse or exploitation, as well as discrimination and exclusion because of a person’s sexual orientation or relationship status.

  • We recommend that the social statement further emphasize that all relationships are subject to the brokenness of sin and that therefore trust will always be violated in every relationship. As the church we are called to help individuals struggle through this reality, confronting brokenness when it appears, and seeking healthy reconciliation.


Becky Herhold said...

Thanks for writing this, Ben, and for all your hard work. I think that it does much to sum up our conversation last week. Let's see what we can do about making it "official".

caralynjayne said...

Ben! What amazing work you've done for our community. Thank you, and responses to the response, as you requested:

1) I was surprised at the idea of removing 950-990a. Really surprised, even as I agreed with all that had been said before this. And while many of the student body may find it not relevant to their experience, it is especially relevant to mine, so I can't get on board with this suggestion. I find the section advocating intentionality, rather than proscribing how trust should develop or the form of the relationship ultimately. The partners in a relationship should be aware of what they are doing with and to each other, emotionally and physically.

2) I partially agree with the second removal suggestion. I find this description of marriage quite accurate in both its hope and its admission of the reality. However, I don't think it is perfect! Personally, I would wish to only strike lines 1005-1007a, and 1072.

The sentence, "Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and a woman blessed by God and authorized in a legal arrangement required by the state," seems unnecessary to the document unless they want to say something like, "This church believes that marriage is..." which I would FULLY protest. Since this is not a definition of marriage which is explicitly the ELCA's, it is misleading to include it.

Likewise, I would personally strike the sentence "This church does not favor or give approval to cohabitation arrangements outside of marriage." Removing this line erases the pressure on single people to get married, as the student body of PLTS rightly observed and protests. Leaving the rest of the section as it stands communicates pastoral care for all relationships is (or ought to be) available. Especially after all the chatter in this section about the very legitimate reasons for cohabitation, to then deny the people in cohabiting relationships the care and compassion of the church seems an out and out hypocrisy.

You have done such an amazing job of leading our school through this. And I'm sure compiling opinions and phrasing a response was difficult - you sure didn't see me doing it!! That being said, I am not entirely comfortable with this response on the blog representing me. It's only because I don't find myself among the "large portion of the student body" who wanted 950-990a removed. If about a third of the student body participated in the discussions, even if most of them felt this way, it's not most of the student body, it's most of the participants in the discussions. Can you edit that language? Then I would fully support the response you've created, recognizing that my pieces above (1 and 2) are my individual opinion.

Seriously, kudos to you, Ben!

Erin Horne said...

Wow Ben, this is a great response! Thank you very much for all your hard work in organzing the event, getting out all the info, and compiling it. I can tell it was a lot of work and I really appreciate your dedication and passion. It is infectious! Thank you!