Discussing Human Sexuality: Issue Editor’s Introduction

[1] This month’s issue focuses on human sexuality. Forty-five Lutheran ethicists, pastors, presenters, and others assembled for the 14th Annual Gathering of Lutheran Ethicists at the Catholic Conference and Formation Center in Dallas on January 3-5 to discuss this topic. They gathered with a self-conscious eye to the ELCA’s process to develop a social statement on human sexuality for possible adoption by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. About a half-dozen invited members and advisory staff of the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality were present to take part in these conversations, which were designed to help inform the task force as it does its work.

[2] Five of the six presentations at the gathering are published in this issue of JLE. This initial installment includes discussion papers by Martha Stortz, Wanda Deifelt, Kate Ott, and Laurie Jungling.

[3] Stortz discusses the “The Top Five Things I Miss When Lutherans Talk about Sex” in the hope that a new conversation might be crafted by Lutherans in which these things would be addressed: distinctively theological discourse that addresses Christian identity, orientation to the body of Christ, the practice of baptism, and the lifestyle of discipleship; a serious discussion of Second Article concerns; explicit discussion of embodiment both in human flesh and in the body of Christ; attention to the kind and quality of relationships we have as sexual human beings who are also members of Christ’s body; and the virtues that are enabled by Christian discipleship in relation to sex.

[4] Deifelt’s article, “For God is Also the God of Bodies,” retrieves for us how Luther’s theology treated embodiment and sexuality, revolutionizing the church’s understanding of sexuality and sexual expression as an intrinsic part of God’s creation and treated bodies and embodied sexuality in a positive manner. This set the stage for Luther’s rethinking of Christian sexual ethics.

[5] Kate Ott’s article, “Rethinking Adolescent Sexual Ethics,” makes a case for rethinking how the church deals with sexuality and sexual ethics for adolescents. She argues that the church’s common “just don’t do it” approach to sex with adolescents is less than helpful in dealing with the positive meanings of sexuality, the characteristics of healthy relationships, or the pleasure derived from sexual relationships. An approach to a morally responsible sexuality would help, in her view, to develop a more mature adolescent moral agency about sexual behavior in developmentally sound ways.

[6] Laurie Jungling’s article, “Called to Serve Life: A ‘New’ Vision of Marriage as Vocation for the Lutheran Tradition,” argues that an approach to sexual ethics and roles based on considerations of biological forms as determinate of relationships is inadequate. Such an ethic should be succeeded, she maintains, by a well-developed understanding of marriage as a calling from God grounded in relational, rather than biological, forms. We are called to serve one another in life-giving relationships, she argues, regardless of the form of the relationship or its participants. Those relationships should manifest “right relationship,” shalom, and justice. Marriage is a particular calling involving three inter-connected kinds of relationality-interpersonal contextual relationality, socio-communal relationality, and erotic relationality-in and through which marital partners serve one another and others in the world.

[7] Later this month, we will post a paper by Don S. Browning, “Contemporary Family Law and Christian Ethics: A Critique of Critical Familism” with the kind permission of Emory University for whom the paper was written. Browning made this paper available to the gathering’s participants as background reading, but also gave an oral presentation about his assessment of Lutheran engagement over the years with matters related to human sexuality. We will also post an account later this month of the threads of the conversation about these discussion papers at the Dallas gathering.

Ronald W. Duty

Ronald W. Duty is the former Assistant Director for Studies in Church in Society at the ELCA, and is now a private scholar.