Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior, A Social Statement of the American Lutheran Church, a predecessor church body of the ELCA: Rejoicing in Our Sexuality

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1. God created human beings male and female. Both are created in his image as persons of unique worth and dignity. Whether male or female, all persons share some physical attributes of the other sex. Qualities such as gentleness, compassion, helpfulness, and artistic appreciation often are regarded as feminine. Qualities such as assertiveness, initiative, vigor, and strength often are regarded as masculine. Yet, all are human qualities found in greater or lesser measure in all human beings, female and male. Differences in the sexuality of individual males and of individual females cover a wide range.

2. Whether one is male or female is far more complex to determine than most persons realize. Scientists tell us that one’s gender is determined by one’s chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, gender assigned at birth, gender identity accepted by the person, and gender of person chosen as sexual partner. Any defects in biological development or miscues in interpretation can confuse one’s identity as male or female. Both nature and nurture combine to shape us as male or female, masculine or feminine. How this happens, how our sexuality both separates us and draws us together, remains a mystery. We gladly accept and celebrate as one of God’s gifts this mystery of our sexuality.

3. Once we are known as male or female our families and our communities suggest how we are expected to speak and to behave in conformity with our gender. Nurturing calls for preparing us to live as members of the family, of the community, and of the Body of Christ. Part of this nurturing process equips us to understand and to accept, modify, or reject the gender roles taught us. Our learned gender roles predispose us throughout our lives toward conforming our sexual behavior to that which is expected of persons because they are identified as male or female.

4. Much of sexual behavior is learned, limited by the endowments the body provides and the freedom the mind permits. Satisfying the sexual drive, however, is of a different order from eating to still one’s hunger pangs or drinking to slake one’s thirst. Hunger and thirst deplete the body. One must have food and drink in order to survive physically. One need not engage in sexual intercourse either to survive physically or to enjoy physical and mental health. Celibacy is neither abnormal nor a denial of personhood. Sexual drives are so basic, however, that enough persons will be led into procreative behavior as to assure the survival of the human race.

5. All persons, nonetheless, need opportunities to relate wholesomely with persons both of their own and of the other sex. Human beings are created for fellowship, for sociability, for caring, and for the sharing of fears, hopes, and dreams. All persons, single or married, need avenues for the exchange of affectional, friendly, self-giving love. Such wholesome exchanges of caring between and among persons are an integral part of that community known as the Body of Christ.

6. Sexual behavior stimulated to the point of sexual arousal and release takes a variety of directions including: (a) masturbation; (b) heterosexual, with a person of the other gender; (c) homosexual, with a person of one’s own gender; (d) bisexual, satisfied by both male and female; (e) with animals. Why persons express their sexuality so differently is in dispute. Some argue biological, others psychological, others cultural, others social explanations. Though the truth is not evident, reason would suggest that explanations be sought in the interplay between the person’s genetic endowment and environmental influences. Understanding, however, does not condone sinful behavior. Heterosexual behavior even within marriage can be sinful when it becomes hurtful or exploitive.

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