A NEWS RELEASE
From Lutheran World Information
LUND, Sweden/GENEVA, 24 March 2007(LWI) - Participants in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council meeting and Church Leadership Consultation taking place in Lund, Sweden, discussed in plenary session a report on proposed guidelines and processes for respectful dialogue on marriage, family and human sexuality.
Prof. Jan-Olav Henriksen, Church of Norway, a member of the LWF Task Force on Family, Marriage and Human Sexuality presented the report on behalf of the team established in 2004 to guide the discussion. He said the aim of the guidelines was not to give a common position on the subject matter, but rather to enable member churches to discuss the changing realities in relation to family, gender and sexuality in today's world.
Henriksen said the mandate of the task force was to reflect on biblical, historical and ethical practices and attitudes identified in order to give specific attention to whether and how different hermeneutical approaches to Scripture, and different ethical attitudes, practices and policies affecting the unity of the Church could be dealt with.
He said the issues discussed by the task force were raised by the LWF member churches as their input to the dialogue. The 16-page report was discussed by the Executive Committee at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in November 2006.
The guidelines, among other things, invite the member churches to read Scripture in light of its central message of salvation in Jesus Christ and justification by faith alone, and to address the issues and potential disagreements in question from that perspective.
The document urges the member churches to consider that within the subject under discussion there could be incompatibilities, differences and disagreements because issues related to family, marriage and human sexuality are perceived in different ways in different contexts.
Bishop Dr Eero Huovinen, vice president for the LWF Nordic region, and bishop of Helsinki diocese, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, noted that the question of sexuality was not a light question. He said he was expecting a much deeper reflection on the theological understanding about marriage, adding it was about the underlying biblical background.
"We need not have the same opinion on marriage, family and sexuality, but should, nevertheless, respect each other," noted Rev. Hedwig Partaj, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria.
Bishop Dr Steven Munga, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, said he appreciated the report as "good and fair," but pointed out that the issues being considered were not just about biblical interpretation but also about cultural traditions. Discussion must be conducted in mutual respect, and involve the congregations.
Ms Abigail Zang Hoffman a youth Council member, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, expressed appreciation that the document had been produced. However, given the different levels at which members were engaged on the subject, there was need for "dialogue to see how the dialogue" should be conducted effectively.
Ms Satou Marte Hamadou, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon, said God created a woman for a purpose otherwise God could have created a world where women and men lead separate lives. They were created together so that a woman could bear children, she noted, saying she opposed the idea of having the discussion on marriage, family and sexuality.
Bishop Joseph P. Bvumbwe from Malawi said the issue was about a "potentially church-dividing issue. Certain churches have already taken a decision on the matter. Why have the dialogue then?" he asked.
Archbishop Janis Vanags, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, said his churcording to him, the guidelines came too late as some of the member churches had already decided on the issue. "In my church, homosexuality is regarded as a sin. When some churches have a different opinion, then it means division,” he said.
Rev. Susan Johnson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, said the issues in the guidelines were not the only set of challenges before the LWF communion but pointed out that the guidelines could be used to address other issues. "They show a way of talking with each other with respect," she said.
Bishop Harlen Simangunsong, chairperson of the LWF National Committee in Indonesia, said the discussion might trigger a division in his church. He said in his country it is taboo and impossible to discuss human sexuality. He however welcomed the process as a learning experience.
Rev. Iteffa Gobena, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, said the document was one-sided with respect to theological arguments, and that its development should not have been based only on the position of the debate in the member churches. He pleaded for orientation about the guidelines.
The LWF vice president for the Asia region, Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan reminded the LWF member churches that they belonged to a wider community, and urged them to consider their ecumenical context in their discussion about marriage, family and human sexuality.
Delegates continued deliberations on the guidelines in their respective regional meetings on 23 March. On 24 March, the Council received the report of the task force including responses from the regional discussions, which will now be sent to the member churches for further discussion. (865 words)
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An estimated 500 people including over 100 church leaders are attending this year’s Council meeting, church leadership consultation and the LWF 60th anniversary celebrations. Also attending are officials from LWF partner organizations, invited guests, stewards, interpreters and translators, LWF staff and co-opted staff, accredited media, and participants in the three-year LWF international training program for young communicators.
The Council is the governing body meeting between Assemblies held every six years. The current Council was appointed at the July 2003 Tenth Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada. It comprises the President, Treasurer and 48 persons elected by the Assembly. Other members include advisors, lay and ordained persons, representing the different LWF regions.
During the Council Meeting, the LWF Office for Communication Services can be reached at mobile tel no. +46/76-276 1311.
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The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world representing nearly 66.7 million Christians. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work.
Lutheran World Information (LWI) is the LWF's information service. Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units.
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