Blessings for people living in same-sex relationships triggered heated debate at a meeting of the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation in the southern Swedish city of Lund, this week.
The LWF, which first met in Lund 60 years ago with a Europe in ruins and recovering from the devastation of the Second World War, on 22 March found divisions rearing that have torn apart the Anglican Communion and created discord in other Christian denominations.
The disagreements hinge mainly on attitudes to homosexuality within the Church. In the Lutheran grouping, churches in the North tend to be more accepting of homosexuals in partnerships, with most of the opposition coming from the global South, including African countries, as is the case in the Anglican Communion.
Leaders of Lutheran churches from around the world, and members of the LWF council, the group’s main governing body, heard some church representatives, especially from Africa, speak out strongly about the dangers of giving blessings to people in same-sex relationships.
"If God had wanted people from the same sex to have relationships he would have created Adam and Adam, not Adam and Eve," said Satou Marthe, a woman delegate from Cameroon.
Still, while African speakers warned that there should be open debate on the issues, they refrained from using the word homosexuality.
In order not to focus on the issues of human sexuality alone, the council of the LWF appointed a task force in September 2004 to review research from member churches, and "to propose guidelines and processes for dialogue by which respectful discussion can be pursued" on "marriage, family and human sexuality".
Archbishop Janis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, however, noted, "Our church does not see it as helpful when homosexuality is discussed with family and marriage." He said that in his church homosexuality was considered a sin, and the church believed that people should repent of their sins and seek forgiveness, just as Martin Luther had said they should do.
African participants congratulated the Latvian archbishop after his speech for his forthrightness, and as a lone European voice on the issue.
The day before the debate, the Church of Sweden announced at a media conference that matrimony should be reserved for heterosexual couples, but that the church would give blessings to same sex couples in committed, faithful relationships.
The church thereby went against a recommendation by a Swedish government commission that proposed changing the law in order to accept both same-sex and heterosexual relationships within the legal framework of marriage.
Bishop Munib Younan, the leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, hinted that life could be made difficult for Christian leaders in the Middle East, a region with different norms on partnerships, through decisions such as the one by the Swedish church on same-sex blessings.
"We need to have more debate on what we mean by the family," said Younan. He said the issue could cause an ecumenical crisis.
LWF general secretary, the Rev Ishmael Noko, said the federation does not have a stand on the issue yet, and he urged members to listen to one another in tolerance.
A lack of time, however, meant that the proposed guidelines for discussing the issue of human sexuality did not succeed in getting full acceptance. LWF president, US Bishop Mark Hanson, who chaired the debate, said the report would be raised later during the 20 to 27 March council meeting, and discussed in regional meetings.
(c) Ecumenical News International
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