Blessing of hetero or homosexual people in different forms of committed relationships. Document of position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy
Approved by the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy on 14th May 2011 with resolution 2011/7, translated from the Italian by Janet Lisa Dubbini
The CELI (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy) adopts a position on the blessing of hetero and homosexual committed relationships. Listening to the Word of God and observing the social changes, it performs its duty of accompanying Christians along their paths of life.
1. A variety of committed relationships, which people have chosen responsibly and with self determination, can be observed in the marriage, family and sexuality fields.
2. Committed relationships lived responsibly are based on voluntariness, continuity, trust and lack of violence.
3. Homosexuality is one of the expressions of sexuality in general; homosexuals do not invent their orientation, they find it.
4. From this derive the demands of equality to the point of equalizing of those homosexual committed relationships that meet the above mentioned characteristics of a relationship lived responsibly.
5. God’s blessing makes us intensely perceive how lovingly He reaches out toward everybody.
1. Introduction: Definition of the position
Many Churches today find themselves reflecting upon how people perceive the social developments and needs in marriage, family and sexuality that require to be reconsidered in the ecclesiastical reality. With its resolution 2010/24, the Synod of the CELI has begun a process of reflection that aims at elaborating a programmatic document on the blessing of various forms of committed relationship. Such “committed relationships” concern all those people living in a hetero or homosexual binding relationship.
The juridical and ecclesiastical foundations of hetero and homosexual couples have reached a level of perception and discussion which is considerably different in various countries. As a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the CELI is included in the consultation process of the Lutheran Churches that begun in 2007 with the Lund report on “Marriage, family and sexuality” and that will end in 2012. The following document of position is the result of the reflection made within the CELI.
2. Lived sexuality
A relationship lived in a responsible way is based on voluntariness, continuity, trust and lack of violence. It is up to each person to live it responsibly regardless of his sexual orientation. However the following considerations are useful.
2.1. Homosexuality in human science
Sociological and psychological researches, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), have definitely kept their distance from considering homosexuality as a sick form of sexuality. When scientifically dealing with the question whether homosexuality is to be considered a unhealthy form of sexuality, for a long time it was believed that one of its causes could be found in biographical circumstances and peculiarities of the subjects involved.
For instance in a disturbance in the search for one’s own sexual identity during growth, or in contacts with homosexuality before a definite sexual identity is developed.
From this derived the approach according to which homosexuality could be influenced and treated with spiritual assistance and an appropriate remedy and that it could therefore be “cured”. However this theory could not be scientifically proven, since a sexual identity develops and consolidates in a much more complex way.
Also the genetic cause, therefore biological determination, has played a part in the debate on the origin of homosexuality. The enthusiasm for the knowledge acquired in genetic research has led to suppose that homosexuality has genetically defined reasons. This hypothesis has never been scientifically proven. Currently monocausal reasons like a “responsible gene” are considered scientifically out-of-date for such a complex question. Research has been also carried out on alleged hormone imbalances in homosexuals, but with no serious contribution to the matter.
According to biomedical research, it is demonstrated that homosexuality is one of the expressions of sexuality and it therefore is a natural condition. For these reasons moral condemnation of homosexuality can no way be justified.
2. How society tackles the topic of homosexuality
Homosexuality is still not accepted by everybody in society; an uncritical interpretation of the Bible also contributes to this. Referring to biblical perspectives when tackling current ethical matters is not only to literally repeat the past, but also to confront with the context of the past. Furthermore respect for the autonomy of the individual in a pluralistic society demands tolerance and respect for the different forms of conduct of life.
However different levels can be identified behind the concept of “tolerance”, going from mere endurance to indifference, to the point of respect for the other’s diversity. Nevertheless recognition is on a higher level with respect to this classification. Recognition is treating the other person as an equal. From this derive demands of equality to the point of equalizing homosexuality in all vital matters.
It is interesting and enlightening for each individual and for the Church to ask themselves what is their level of acceptance or refusal when tackling this topic.
2.3. The legal framework of the matters concerning homosexuality in the EU, in Germany and in Italy
Homosexuality exists within living memory. It was already described in Imperial China, in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome. According to WHO, exclusively homosexual people represent 4% of males and 2% of females. Culture scholars and sociologists believe that these percentages have remained relatively constant throughout the different ages. However penal legislation has always been against homosexuality:
• it was only in 1963 that the European Court of Human Rights established that the prohibition of consenting homosexuality among adults breaks the European Convention on Human Rights;
• in 1994 the European Parliament passed a resolution on the equalizing of gays and lesbians within the EU;
• in 2001 a very important step was taken in Germany towards the equalizing of homosexuals’ civil and public rights with the law on Registered Cohabitation.
The law allows the registration of same sex couples, conferring a legal position on the partners that in some important aspects is comparable to that of a married couple (the right to inherit, right to tenancy succession, the right to choose one’s surname, the right to alimony, the right not to testify, the right to visit in hospital), although decidedly different from marriage;
• Italy is hesitant to put into effect the resolutions of the European Parliament, so that compared to other European countries there is a great need for recovery. Taking all things in consideration, it is still possible to suppose that, although with a delay, the regulations experimented within the other European countries will be adopted also in Italy.
The CELI supports the implementation of legal regulations of committed relationships.
3. Christian Perspectives
3.1 How we read the Bible – a hermeneutic clarification
When Christians open the Bible they do so trusting that today it is possible to perceive God’s Word and instructions through the varied testimony of the sacred Scriptures. At the same time it is evident that biblical testimonies are set in a specific historical context. The search for God’s Word and will in a given period produces concrete instructions that cannot claim unlimited validity in time.
The Bible itself, in its varied and often even contradictory form, is an example for this endless search for God’s instructions in the here and now. Therefore single biblical statements cannot be considered separately as Word of God for the present.
It is not by chance that Paul wrote: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Therefore a criterion must be found to sensibly and correctly understand the biblical statements, a parameter according to which the single biblical statements can be considered and set.
Martin Luther indicated “what promotes Christ’s cause” as the centre and the parameter for each Christian preaching (Martin Luther, Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 1522), in other words all that expresses God’s unlimited love for His creation and His creatures can be considered as the centre of the sacred Scriptures.
Particularly the Old Testament laws on worship and purity have lost their practical function for the Christian faith. In 1525 Martin Luther acutely wrote that Moses no longer concerns us.
3.2. “Homosexuality” in the testimony of the sacred Scriptures
Considering the context previously described, it is not sufficient to cite single parts of the Bible concerning “homosexuality” to give an ethical valuation of the topic. First of all it is true that homosexual practices are decidedly condemned in the Bible. Concerning this we cite: Lev. 18:22, 20:13; Rom. 1:24ff; 1. Cor. 6:9ff. However it is important not to confuse these practices, where usually the partners involved do not have the same rights, with what we mean by homosexuality today. In particular we must consider that: the judgments on homosexual practices in the Book of Leviticus must be seen within the context of the Jewish laws on worship and purity that are no longer relevant to Christian life.
Those who continue to consider single laws relevant and valid in accordance with the conception of these texts should consider all these laws equally valid. But what relevance does the following commandment have today for example: “you shall not wear a garment of different sorts” (Lev. 19:19c)? When Jesus was asked to indicate the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40), He answered with two quotations from the Torah.
The second quotation is taken from the Book of Leviticus. In Jesus’ opinion it summarizes “the Law and the prophets”, therefore the whole Torah, better than all the single prohibitions and laws: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
Therefore it is not the single law of the Torah on worship and purity that is important, but the global direction of the action. The “homosexuality” condemned by Paul in Romans 1:24ff must be read in the context of his argumentation. Everyone of us, with no exceptions, in our guilty frailty, may not correspond to God’s will and need His justification.
In this case Paul wasn’t actually thinking about the topic of homosexuality, he was referring to homosexual practices as an example of deviation from God’s worship. Paul’s statements can be understood only in the context of pagan cult prostitution as an example of idolatry.
The sexual practices referred to by Paul were not between partners with the same rights, and they were not the expression of a responsible sexuality. Outside this pagan cult context Paul’s judgment on homosexuality is insubstantial.
3.3. Marriage, family and sexuality
According to the Bible, human life is realized as life beyond Eden. After “the expulsion”, men and women live in a condition characterized by affliction and guilt. Also sexuality no longer takes place in the Garden of Eden. The history of original sin tells how God describes life waiting for Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree of knowledge. Work and life will be characterized by struggle and sweat, thorns and thistles. The whole reflection on love, the couple and marriage relates to this “beyond Eden”.
The many different ways of life and the many forms of relationships we know today are a consequence of our fragile existence. Men and women are continually looking for stable and sustainable relationships. Among them marriage represents the central form. However, besides marriage, there are other ways of living a responsible relationship. The duty of the Church is to accompany people through all of these ways of living.
3.4. About blessing and the practice of blessing
The origin of blessing is always God, every blessing comes from Him. Through God’s blessing people experience His lovingly and unconditionally reaching out toward them. God blesses people in their respective stories and gives them a way to look at their lives with gratitude. Through blessing people can feel they are loved and accepted regardless of other people’s judgment.
Blessing can only be received: an individual cannot give himself God’s blessing, it must be received from somebody else. The ecclesiastical concept of blessing must be distinguished from the familiar use of the word. It is not about blessing human behaviours and relationships. Blessing is to encourage and strengthen people along their paths of life so that they perceive their lives with gratitude.
In ecclesiastical tradition people with the most diverse biographical situations are not only assisted spiritually, they are also blessed. The practice of blessing life transitions does not concern only couples, but also sick people or people going through a difficult time, and also partings and new beginnings. People going through transitions or difficult times in their lives must be able to rely on God’s closeness through His blessing.
Therefore blessing of a couple is part of a culture of blessing that addresses many different periods of transition during human life. Blessing expresses God’s reaching out lovingly towards us and accompanying us, therefore it also applies to committed relationships that are lived in a continuative and responsible way, whether they are hetero or homosexual.
Blessing at the beginning of a common path must give these couples the strength and spirit to live their relationship in an ethical and responsible way and with God’s support. Looking at it in this way, blessing is a treasure we are entrusted with as a Church. This treasure cannot be denied to anybody that asks for it. The fundamental message of the Bible, that God’s action and blessing are stronger than fear and death, unconditionally applies to everyone, regardless of their way of living.
By blessing people in their respective life situations, the Church expresses its full acceptance of what it is blessing. This unconditionally applies also to ecclesiastical collaborators, as well as to female and male priests.
3.5. The rite of blessing of people in particular committed relationships
Blessings take place as public rites or within public rites. They have a liturgical form that decidedly distinguishes itself from that of marriage. A blessing can be given when:
• at least one partner is a member of the CELI or of a Church with which the CELI is in full ecclesial communion;
• the Council of the community interested has given its specific consent;
• the holder of the pastoral see responsible for giving blessing gives his/ her consent.
Christiane Groeben (President)
Italian translation: La Chiesa Evangelica Luterana in Italia e la Benedizione di persone etero o omosessuali in varie forme di comunione di vita