Sexuality: Some Common Convictions
by the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on
November 9, 1996.
Messages of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, adopted
by the Church Council, are intended to focus attention and action on
timely, pressing matters of concern to this church and society. They do
not establish new policy for this church, but build upon previously
adopted policy positions, especially from social statements. 
wider context for this message is the continuing ferment in our society
regarding sexuality and sexual behavior. The more specific context is the
considerable amount of discussion and debate that has occurred throughout
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America during the past few years in
response to three study documents on sexuality.  Differences and
disagreements were at times sharp, especially regarding homosexuality.
Plans to present a social statement on sexuality to the 1995 Churchwide
Assembly were postponed. However, these discussions also indicated that on
many aspects of sexuality there are widely-shared convictions. In 1995, a
report to the Churchwide Assembly and an action of the Church Council
called for the development of a message on sexuality addressing "those
areas for which there appears to be consensus within this church."
message builds upon predecessor church statements,  as well as actions
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It presents some
convictions regarding sexuality on which there generally seems to be
theologically-based agreement within this church. It is not a social
statement, nor should it be seen as moving toward new policy positions.
Its purpose is to provide guidance for members of our church, and as a
public witness in the wider society.
Creation and New Creation
is the source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life as a church.
In Scripture we read that God created humankind male and female and " ...
behold it was very good" (Gen. 1:27, 31). Sexuality is a mysterious,
life-long aspect of human relationships. Through sexuality, human beings
can experience profound joy, purpose, and unity, as well as deep pain,
frustration, and division.
sexuality was created good for the purposes of expressing love and
generating life, for mutual companionship and pleasure. Yet it has been
marred by sin, which alienates us from God and others. This results in
expressions of sexuality that harm persons and communities.
human sexuality is a powerful, primal force in personal and communal life,
both church and society seek to order sexual expectations and expression.
God's Law serves this purpose by providing guidance and exposing
sinfulness. For example, the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17) have
implications for sexuality:
* sexuality is placed in
perspective (First Commandment);
* family relationships
are to be honored and nurtured (Fourth Commandment);
destructive abuses of power that harm others are prohibited (Fifth
* marriage is upheld and supported as a
sacred union and social institution (Sixth Commandment);
* truth-telling is essential in all relationships
* sexual desire that lures one
away from spouse or family is condemned (Tenth Commandment).
death and resurrection inaugurated God's new creation. Christians enter
into this new creation and "die" to sin through baptism. As Christ was
raised, so we walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4). As sexual beings, we
are called to a life of responsible freedom in God's new creation, while
still struggling with how our sexuality is captive to sin. We live in the
tension between the old age of sin, bondage, and death, and the new age of
the Gospel's grace, promise, and freedom.
Christians, the human body is a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor.
6:19-20). Living in the power of the Spirit, we are called to avoid
behaviors that harm or devalue ourselves and others, such as immoral
sexual behavior (1 Cor. 5:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21). Through words and actions,
Christians seek to build up one another and the whole Christian community.
The law of love -- "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom.
13:8-10; Gal. 5:14) -- binds Christians together in anticipation of the
fullness of God's reign.
baptism, we have been received into the body of Christ and welcomed into
the Lord's family.  God's gracious embrace through
Christ is at the heart of the Church's welcome to all to participate
together in its life. Mindful of the sin to which all succumb, Christians
are called to:
* respect the integrity and
dignity of all persons, whatever their age, gender, sexual orientation, or
* discern and provide guidance
for what it means to live responsibly as sexual beings;
* support through prayer and counsel those
facing questions about their sexuality;
those who have been abused or violated, or whose relationships are broken.
We live in
various relationships, all of which are affected by the physiological,
psychological, and social aspects of our sexual identity. People of all
ages need information and experience to understand and responsibly live
out their sexual identity in the varied relationships of their lives -- as
child or parent, sister or brother, spouse, friend, co-worker, neighbor,
or stranger. This church affirms the importance of ordering society and
educating youth and adults so that all might live in these relationships
with mutual respect and responsibility.
adults vary widely in age and life circumstances. Some persons
intentionally choose to remain single, which St. Paul commended as a
Christian vocation (1 Cor. 7:8, 32-35). Others yearn to be married. For
many adults, singleness is a temporary period prior to marriage. Still
others become single again after having been married.
is to be a loving, supportive community for single persons. Language and
practices that demean or exclude them are to be avoided. This church seeks
to be a place where, as sexual beings, single adults can find guidance for
their particular spiritual, ethical, psychological, and social issues.
Knowing that they are loved by God can help single persons to be accepting
of themselves and others. As a community of encouragement and healing, the
church's acceptance and support of single persons is important as they
experience growth, change, and disappointments in their relationships.
is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman. In
marriage, two persons become "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6; Mk.
10:6-9; Eph. 5:31), a personal and sexual union that embodies God's loving
purpose to create and enrich life. By the gift of marriage God "founded
human community in a joy that begins now and is brought to perfection in
the life to come." 
provides a structure of security and stability within which spouses may
fully enjoy and risk sexual expression. The binding legal contract of
marriage reinforces its "staying power" when it is threatened by sin.
Within marriage, spouses can learn to exercise mutual, faithful love.
yearn for marriages that are loving and life-giving. In the intimacy of
marriage, spouses can learn to share feelings and fears, to listen deeply,
and to respect the differences of the other. Being loved and accepted by
God helps them to love and accept one another. Rather than one dominating
the other, each spouse seeks to empower and encourage the other.
marriages fall short of intentions. Some marriages are not safe spaces,
but places where spouses or children are abused. Intimacy and sexual
pleasure often are absent. A marriage grows and changes over time through
experiences of humor and playfulness, brokenness and healing, failure and
accomplishment, forgiveness and renewal.
growth, changes, and disappointments of a marriage, the counsel and
support of the Church is important. Premarital instruction can help a
couple to prepare for the covenant they are entering. During the first few
years of a marriage, the guidance and support of the Christian community
can help a couple to adjust and set healthy patterns for their
relationship. Those more recently married can learn much from those whose
marriages have grown and been tested through the years. Throughout a
marriage, the ministry of the Church should assist the couple to discern
and address their shortcomings, and to seek forgiveness, reconciliation,
and new life.
purpose of marriage goes beyond the intimacy and companionship it provides
the couple. The wider community is symbolically present when a couple
publicly exchanges vows. Witnesses pledge to support the marriage, and
those exchanging vows are reminded that their marriage will affect the
wider community. They are to extend themselves for the sake of others.
procreation and parenting
Conceiving, bearing, adopting, and rearing children
can be wondrous and challenging ways through which a couple participates
in God's creation and new creation. Sexual intercourse between a woman and
a man can bring into being the mystery of a new human life. New
reproductive technologies have opened further possibilities for conceiving
and bearing children. Yet, such technologies also pose complex ethical
questions.  This church seeks to be a community that
provides spiritual support and assists persons in their deliberations on
woman and man join their bodies sexually, both should be prepared to
provide for a child, should conception occur. When that is not their
intention, the responsible use of safe, effective contraceptives is
expected of the male and the female.  Respect and
sensitivity should also be shown toward couples who do not feel called to
conceive and/or rear children, or who are unable to do so.
children and youth grow in their baptismal identity, it is important that
they learn to love and respect one another and the power of their
sexuality. Youth need the support and guidance of the church to resist
cultural and peer pressures that encourage sexual intercourse prior to
marriage. Open and honest discussion of sexual questions is to be
encouraged, in ways that communicate God's guidance, forgiveness, and
ongoing care. As a church, we affirm the importance of education about
sexuality that emphasizes respect, mutuality, responsibility, and
abstinence outside of marriage. Such education should begin in the home,
and continue in congregations, schools, and other community settings.
children requires a stable, secure environment of emotional, social,
spiritual, and material support and nurture. Good child rearing can occur
in different parenting arrangements; it is most likely to occur in the
context of an enduring, loving marriage with the support of extended
family, congregation, and community. If a marriage ends, both parents
carry continuing responsibility for the well-being of their children.
The ending of
Regrettably, some marriages end in divorce. Divorce
is tragic, a consequence of human sinfulness. It is a serious breach in
the community God intends for marriage (Mk. 10:9). In some situations,
however, divorce may be the better option. Continuing some marriages may
be destructive and abusive to those involved. In such cases, those
involved should examine their responsibilities for the breakdown of the
marriage. Confession and God's forgiveness bring healing and new life to
persons who divorce.
is called to proclaim God's intention for the permanence of marriage and
to minister compassionately to those who suffer as a result of divorce.
The church should be a community of care and hope for those who divorce,
rather than blaming, ostracizing, or being indifferent to their needs. The
Gospel promises healing through the Holy Spirit's presence in the Church's
ministry of Word and Sacraments.
can be an opportunity to use wisdom gained from the past to create a new
relationship of loving commitment and joy. Those considering remarriage
should seek counsel from pastors and other professionals that enables them
to assess their previous marriage and prepare for the unique challenges
facing a new marriage and family.
Misuses of Sexuality
violates what God intends for sexuality. It harms and demeans persons and
relationships. This church opposes ...
Adultery: In adultery, one abandons the sacred
commitment made to a spouse and becomes sexually intimate with another
person. Adultery is sinful because it breaks the trust between two people,
disrupts their bond of marriage, and violates the partner. When it is
secretive, it also can involve deceitfulness, lying, and hypocrisy. Only
repentance, honest work, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the power of the
Holy Spirit can heal such wounds.
Abuse: Abuse can be physical, verbal,
psychological, or emotional. Sexual abuse is the sinful use of power to
dominate or control another person sexually. Victims of abuse are
vulnerable because of their age, status, and emotional or physical
condition. All forms of abuse are sinful -- whether heterosexual or
homosexual, whether by a spouse, family member, person in authority, date,
acquaintance, or stranger.
* Rape and other forms of
non-consensual sexual activity are sinful -- whether this occurs in the
home, on a date, at work, on the street, or in prison. Coercion, threats,
intimidation, and manipulation are inappropriate responses to "no."
* Trust and confidence are betrayed when a person of
greater age or status manipulates one who is younger or more vulnerable to
engage in sexual acts. Such acts are not mutual because of the power
differences involved. This includes the sexual abuse of children and the
sexual exploitation of clients by professionals or parishioners by clergy.
Those who engage in such conduct sin against God and against the persons
who are their victims.
* Sexual harassment is another
way sexuality is used to hurt or control. Harassing words or behavior
interfere with wholesome interaction and create an offensive, hostile, or
intimidating environment in which to work, learn, live, or worship. All
forms of verbal or physical harassment are sinful and must be confronted.
Promiscuity: Having casual sexual relations is
sinful because this does not proceed from or contribute to respect,
intimacy, and care of the other. Promiscuity is inconsistent with our
identity as Christians (1 Cor. 6:12-20). Being sexually active in order to
be popular or only to gratify sexual desire is morally wrong.
Prostitution: Prostitution is sinful because
it involves the casual buying and selling of "sex," often in demeaning and
exploitative ways. Prostitutes and their patrons endanger their own health
and that of others. Prostitution usually arises from and contributes to a
cycle of personal, economic, and social difficulties. This church abhors
the dramatic global rise in "sex traffic" of young girls and boys, who are
exploited sexually for the sake of economic gain.
Practices that spread sexually-transmitted
diseases: Irresponsible, unprotected sexual contact can expose sexual
partners to incurable and fatal sexually-transmitted diseases. Sexual
practices that result in physical harm to another are sinful and must be
countered. Education about sexuality should emphasize monogamy,
abstinence, and responsible sexual behavior, as well as practices intended
to prevent the transmission of disease during sexual intercourse. This
church supports efforts to prevent, cure, and care for those afflicted
with such diseases. 
Pornography: Pornography is sinful because it
depicts sexuality in ways that are violent and/or demeaning. It asserts
that sexual pleasure comes from humiliating, exploiting, or breaking down
a person's resistance. Human beings are treated as objects of lust. Those
who pose for such material, those who view it, and the general public
become the victims of pornography.  Positive depictions
of human sexuality, acceptance of one's own sexuality, and the cultivation
of healthy sexual attitudes help to resist the lures of pornography.
Sexuality in media and advertising: Much of
the media today contains explicit sexual references and behavior
emphasizing sexual gratification apart from marriage. Damaging stereotypes
of male and female sexuality also are perpetuated. Advertisers use the
allure of sexuality to sell products. Sexuality becomes captive to the
interests of money, power, and social status. Such manipulation of
sexuality is sinful and opposed by this church. This church encourages the
media to communicate expressions of sexuality that honor marriage and
promote mutual respect, responsibility, and commitment to one another.
this church vigorously opposes the abuse of sexuality, not everything
considered sinful should necessarily be made a civil offense.
 This church supports policies and laws that foster
justice, mercy, equality of opportunity, and the protection of basic human
Sustaining Power of God's Grace
Lutheran Christians, we seek God's will for sexual expression while also
keeping the grace of God at the heart of our common life. This means
undertaking all of our commitments to each other -- including sexual
relationships -- with a sense of our life as a gift, with God's help to
keep our promises, and with a deep sense of the sin that persists. The
mercies of God continually sustain and undercut any simple division of the
righteous from the unrighteous (Rom. 1:18 - 3:20).
matters of sexuality, there are strong and continuing differences among
us. As we discuss areas where we differ, the power of the Holy Spirit can
guide and unite us. Trust in the Gospel brings together people whose
differences over sexuality ought not be a basis for division. We pray for
the grace to avoid unfair judgment of those with whom we differ, the
patience to listen to those with whom we disagree, and the love to reach
out to those from whom we may be divided.
To a world
obsessed with sexual self-fulfillment, divided by differences over
sexuality, and weary of how sexuality is abused, the message of the grace
of God lightens our burdens, lifts our spirits, renews our commitments,
and reminds us of the deepest basis for mutual respect -- the love of God
we have in Jesus Christ.
1. From "Messages on Social Issues,"
as adopted by the ELCA Church Council in 1989.
"Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith" [a study] (ELCA
Division for Church in Society, 1991); "The Church and Human Sexuality: A
Lutheran Perspective" [first draft of a social statement] (ELCA Division
for Church in Society, 1993); "Human Sexuality: Working Draft" [a possible
social statement] (ELCA Division for Church in Society, 1994). See also,
"A Collection of Responses from ELCA Academicians and Synodical Bishops to
'The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective'" (ELCA Division
for Church in Society, 1994). None of the above documents has been adopted
by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
"Sex, Marriage, and Family" (Lutheran Church in America, 1970);
"Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior" (The American Lutheran Church,
1980); "Teachings and Practice on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage" (The
American Lutheran Church, 1982).
4. "Holy Baptism," Lutheran Book of
Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg; Philadelphia: Board of Publication, 1978),
5. "Marriage," Lutheran Book of
6. In separate pamphlets of the
Procreation Ethics Series (1986), individual authors raise some
considerations related to artificial insemination, prenatal diagnosis, in
vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood. (Copies are available from
the Department for Studies of the ELCA Division for Church in Society.)
7. "Abortion," a social statement of
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (1991).
8. See the ELCA Message, "AIDS and
the Church's Ministry of Caring" (1989).
"Pornography," a social statement of The American Lutheran Church
10. This distinction has been made
in many Lutheran documents, such as, "Abortion" (1991).
11. "Human Sexuality and Sexual