Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior A Social Statement of the American Lutheran Church, a predecessor church body of the ELCA (1980): Ministering as a Church

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1. Caring
1.1. The church’s first concern is for people. The body of Christ is a caring community. It cares that each person be in right relationship with God, with neighbor, with nature, with social systems, and with self. It is a caring shared among all the members. It is a mark of Christian love and discipleship. It reaches out to those most in need—the widowed and the orphaned, the weak and the lowly, the despised and the rejected, the hurting and the confused, the lonely and the solitary.

1.2. In a couples- or family-oriented society single persons often feel themselves excluded. Caring congregations will make sure to involve single persons in the fellowship of the entire congregation. Single parent families also have special needs that require sensitive recognition by the congregation. So do those persons who feel themselves actually to be, or who prefer to be, members of the other sex. Other persons often overlooked are the handicapped, e.g., the mobility impaired, those suffering hearing or visual impairment, and the mentally retarded, as well as the institutionalized and the elderly. All need to feel the care of the congregation.

1.3. Teen and even pre-teen youth encounter a variety of pressures to become active in genital sexuality. They need education, encouragement, and support to rise above and to resist such temptations. Their situation calls for greater understanding and for careful and enlightened counseling when:

(a) their activity leads to unexpected pregnancy, often at a very early age;

(b) they become entrapped in pornography, prostitution, or drugs;

(c) they incur venereal diseases;

(d) they are seduced into sexual activity by a trusted authority or parental-type person;

(e) a member of their own family involves them in sexual intercourse;

(f) they realize their sexual behavior is more than they can handle emotionally but they see no way to stop;

(g) masturbation becomes a compulsive obsession.

1.4. Adults, whether single or married, likewise face sexual temptations. Libido knows no age limits. Christians, too, succumb to temptations and deviate from acceptable sexual behavior. They may turn to the pastor or other trusted person for counsel. At such times they need empathetic understanding. They also need the word that one remains subject to God’s law not only for one’s personal good but for the good of the entire body of Christ. A caring community cannot sanction or condone a situation where each member does what appears good, right, and self-satisfying simply in that member’s own eyes. No one can be a law solely to self; each lives in relationship with others.

1.5. Our Lord teaches the ideal for Christian living, as in the “Sermon on the Mount.” Yet, he knew that being perfect is an unrealistic expectation in a sinful world. His mission was to seek out, to save, and to empower sinners for a better life. So it is today with the church as a vehicle for God’s grace. The congregation is called to deal in healing ways that build sinners into, not cut them off from, the fellowship.

1.6. Pastors have a strategic role in the caring community. They must have come to terms with their own sexuality. Pastors must understand that there are many ways in which persons express their sexuality. Pastors are expected to uphold in their preaching and teaching the standards of Christian moral behavior, including sexual behavior. In their private counseling ministry they must deal in healing ways with persons who know they have fallen short of these standards. Many congregation members are inclined to see sexual sins as the worst sins. Pastors need to remind their congregations that sin takes many forms, most of them in realms other than the sexual. The beginning of sin is to forget the introduction to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord thy God.”

2. Teaching and Learning
2.1. The church s entire educational program needs to incorporate the “whole person” motif. Its curricula should recognize that all persons are sexual beings, whose words and deeds express their ideas of appropriate sexual behavior. The church seeks to place sexuality in the perspective of a person’s wholeness, embodiment, self-acceptance, and participation in the entire range of human relationships. These relationships, it stresses, begin for a Christian with one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. So large an assignment requires the leadership of competent, well-trained persons emotionally and intellectually capable of carrying out the responsibility.

2.2. The confirmation program presents a superb opportunity to bring to the youth of the church formal instruction on such matters as sex and sexuality, dating, selecting a mate, and standards of Christian conduct. By incorporating these matters normally into the broad sweep of confirmation instruction their relevance to the whole of Christian faith and life is underscored.

2.3. Ordinarily pastors and congregations should request that couples seeking marriage with the blessing of the church receive premarital counseling. This effort to prepare the prospective partners for the joys and perils of marriage we heartily endorse. Even more important is to offer early-marital counseling. This may be on an individual couple basis. Perhaps preferably it would involve groups of couples in similar stages of marriage building. The participants can learn from and help one another in realizing the possibilities of marriage and overcoming its problems. Skilled leadership, with expertise in human dynamics and in the processes of human relationships building, is required. Where pastors have such competence they well may be the leaders. Many times, however, pastors and congregations would be wise to involve specialized lay or clergy persons in these marital counseling programs.

2.4. In its effort to improve the quality of its address to issues of human sexuality and sexual behavior the church needs to be a learning community. With diligence, but also with humility, the church wisely will:

(a) seek an understanding of God’s underlying purpose and design in creating human beings male and female;

(b) place sexual behavior in its total context of relationships to God, to neighbor, to nature, to social systems, and to self;

(c) exalt the values inherent in such concepts as virginity, chastity, fidelity, commitment, trust, respect, and reverence;

(d) evaluate the probable effects upon persons and upon the community as a whole were particular behavior to become the typical, generally expected behavior;

(e) persevere in improving the ways it uses to teach parents, children, and others about human sexuality;

(f) clarify the many meanings of love, not only the erotic, but also the affectionate, the friendly, and the self-giving love which persons can express without entering into sexual intercourse;

(g) distinguish between attitudes and behavior to which the world may conform and those which redeemed disciples of the Lord, empowered by the Holy Spirit, honor as befitting their adoption through baptism into the heavenly Father’s family.

3. Serving
3.1. A caring congregation provides a serving ministry. This serving ministry seeks to assure that social services are available to minister helpfully to persons in situations of critical need.

3.2. Specialized services often needed in this day include: (a) clinics dealing with victims of rape; (b) family planning centers; (c) marital and family counseling agencies; (d) genetic counseling centers; (e) child- and spouse-abuse shelters; (f) clinics treating chemically dependent persons; (g) programs for single parents; (h) assistance to the handicapped in meeting their particular needs; (i) sex therapy clinics for those who are sexually dysfunctional; (j) hospice services to help those nearing death live their remaining days meaningfully; and (k) employment and economic assistance programs so as to ease the economic tensions that so often affect sexual behavior.

3.3. No congregation alone can provide such an array of possible services. Specialized agencies are needed. Perhaps they will be organized through an association of congregations, Lutheran and/or ecumenical. More likely they will be organized on a community base. Any or all merit the understanding, encouragement, personal involvement, and financial support of members of congregations of The American Lutheran Church where local circumstances indicate the need. Competent and dedicated personnel are imperative for the effective functioning of such services. It is imperative, too, that the agencies be under continuing review to insure that the services are of high quality, consistent with what the agency sets out to do.

3.4. Social education and social action programs in the areas of human sexuality and sexual behavior are needed in the churches. Research is constantly going on, expanding the horizons of knowledge. Awareness is growing of the effects of social structures upon human beings in their sexual behavior. Attitudes toward matters sexual need reassessment. Members of ALC congregations need opportunity to discuss together their attitudes and expectations toward sexuality and sexual behavior. They may discover issues on which they should work together toward correcting unwholesome and advancing wholesome attitudes, behavior, and community standards.

3.5. Issues particularly urgent because developments are emerging so rapidly include:

(a) controls human beings are exerting over the reproductive processes;

(b) behavior manipulation, personality reshaping, and “mind control”;

(c) definitions of the roles and behavior expected of males and of females;

(d) invasions of personal privacy and denials of responsible freedom for choice;

(e) rejection of the “image of God” understanding of the nature of human beings.

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