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  • May 1, 2017 - 7:41 pm
  • lutherancore


In 2009 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly rejected as normative the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage by allowing for the endorsement and ordination of persons in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.”  Now this spirit of revision has crafted a new movement that hopes to reject any definition of marriage as normative for sexual relationships.

Known as “Naked and Unashamed,” this movement was started by seminarians at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and since then it has reached out to other pastors, leaders, and seminary students in the ELCA who share its beliefs and values.  Its revisionist agenda is clearly revealed on the website,, which contains such statements as the following:

*“The limited and hierarchical focus on marriage and family life over alternative forms of relationality is oppressive, preferential, manipulative, and culturally irrelevant to the variety of healthy sexual, emotional, contractual, and/or romantic expressions that could be part of an appropriate Christian lifestyle.”

*“Life and liberty are being oppressed in the pressure for church leaders to be in marital relationships, or otherwise abstain from all sexual intimacy.”

*“Marriage is not the only healthy relationship model within which sexuality can be safely enjoyed.”

As seminarians and pastors of the ELCA, they are objecting to “overt policies and direct questioning during the ELCA candidacy process that disallow sexual intimacy, cohabitation, and committed relationality outside of civil marriage.”

What can we now expect?  Based on previous experience, it is likely that those who wish to destroy the divine gift of marriage will pursue their agenda until they achieve their goals. When they do, they will seek to silence the faithful.  Those who still hold to a traditional Biblical understanding of marriage, and even those who approved the 2009 document’s “publicly-accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender” terminology, will be declared disruptive, divisive, schismatic, and intolerant.  Traditional believers suffered this kind of oppressive opposition during the time before and since the August 2009 decisions.  Why should we expect anything better this time?

There is no Biblical basis for this group’s arguments.  Just as the documents approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009 were based not upon the Bible, but upon psychology, sociology, and the dynamics that build trust between and among people, so this group argues on the basis of such vague reasons as “the common good,” “the plethora of stories we hear,” “our values and lived experience,” and the idea that such unmoored sexual behaviors are “healthy” and “life giving.”  

Even in their use of the phrase, “Naked and Unashamed,” this group forsakes the Bible’s vision of God’s judgment and mercy.  Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed” before their distrust of God’s word and their disobedience.  That transgression caused them to experience shame, hide, and finally, clothe themselves in fig leaves.  Self-justification was their primary clothing.  When God banished them from Eden, He gave them something better.  Rather than sending them into the world “naked and unashamed” to make a “fresh start” of things, He clothed them even more fully!  He gave them the skins of animals who died in their place as a forerunner of Jesus who would die in our place and whose blood would be shed to cover our sins.

According to the Bible, God now gives us the true “fresh start” in baptism.  Spiritually we go into the water naked.  Our old, sinful, deathly self is drowned in Jesus’ own death, and when we rise in the power of His resurrection, we are immediately clothed in white robes that signify that we are more fully clothed in the righteousness, purity, and holiness of Jesus Himself.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 4, in our redemption in Christ we are not unclothed—we are more fully clothed!

This group’s website claims that the ELCA’s teaching, expectations, and documents surrounding sexuality are “heteronormative, white-centric, economically oppressive, and non-Lutheran.”  This group asserts that other cultures have different understandings of sexual good, and Biblical norms of “life together” are dismissed as the invention of elite, wealthy, and white Europeans.  In so doing, they not only ignore the very staunch standards for sexuality of our African fellow Lutherans, but they also ignore the sexual ethics of the Old and New Testaments, which are neither elite, wealthy, white, nor European.  

Many people had supposed that the decisions made in August 2009 to accept same gender relationships if they are publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous would satisfy revisionists.  Now we see the truth, and the “slippery slope” prophecy has proven true: this group is rejecting the 2009 decisions because they do not want anyone – heterosexual, homosexual, or a member of any sexual minority – to be held to the standard of monogamy and faithfulness.  

The documents of this group even advocate for polyamory (multiple partners), as evidenced in these statements.  

*“This is what we are pushing back on:  the idea that one person in your life must be the one whom you trust the most, and with whom you simultaneously work together financially, domestically, sexually, emotionally, and parentally.”

*“There exist in the ELCA multiple positions on [here follow several different relational patterns, including polyamory].  We lift this multiplicity up and demand that its full diversity be recognized within the Christian lifestyle in our church.”

Absent is any sense of marriage based upon our creation as male and female. Gone is the Biblical conviction that marriage finds its most perfect expression in God’s faithful and permanent love for His Israel.  Forgotten is Jesus the Bridegroom’s love for the Church, His bride.  

Indeed, this group appears ignorant of the long-standing and profound Biblical linkage between sexual sin and idolatry.  At the risk of being offensive, I would refer you to an article entitled, “My clitoris keeps my faith alive,” posted on the “Stories” page of the “Naked and Unashamed” website.  A seminary Ph. D. student writes, “My clitoris became a gateway to the mystery of God’s presence. . . . My clitoris became more than an organ of pleasure, but a piece of heaven within me.”  How is this different from the pagan sexuality and fertility cults of the Canaanites, which the Bible clearly condemns?  At least the pagan fertility cults saw value in procreative sex.  This group takes every opportunity to disparage it.

Here again we see what the apostle Paul described in Romans 1: 25 as he talked about those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”  That such idolatry should come out of an ELCA seminary should alarm any faithful member of the ELCA.  Our concern for the future should be in overdrive, as we realize that our future pastors are being exposed to this kind of thinking during their seminary training.

Since this group focuses especially on sexual ethics for pastoral candidates, it is instructive to reiterate one of their central claims: “The limited and hierarchical focus on marriage and family life over alternative forms of relationality is oppressive, preferential, manipulative, and culturally irrelevant to the variety of healthy sexual, emotional, contractual, and/or romantic expressions that could be part of an appropriate Christian lifestyle.” (emphasis added).

Clearly, the law has long acknowledged the contractual nature of marriage.  But now imagine a “contractual expression” of sex unmoored from marriage.  If a candidate for ordination contracts for sex with a prostitute, is it now okay, since that person is respected as a “sex worker”?  Or if a congregation is not able to pay within synodical guidelines, does this group think it is permissible for a pastor to supplement income by selling sexual favors, if it is done in a healthy, affirming, respectful and mutually beneficial fashion?

This past February we were all reading and hearing with great alarm about the Oroville Dam in northern California.  Because of unusually heavy rains, the dam’s main and emergency spillways were significantly damaged, prompting the evacuation of more than 180, 000 people living downstream.  Those who oversee the Oroville Dam would be grossly irresponsible if they were not to take any and all necessary measures to repair the damage and ensure the future integrity of the dam.  Will the leadership of the ELCA – the Presiding Bishop, the Church Council, the Council of Bishops, those who oversee the ELCA’s seminaries – say, “Enough is enough; this has gone too far; this is not what was voted on and approved at the Churchwide Assembly in 2009”?  Or will they allow the damage and the erosion of Biblical values to continue – at probably an ever increasing rate?

When the prodigal son came to his senses, repented, and returned home, his father embraced him and immediately ordered that the lad be dressed in a festal robe and adorned with the father’s signet ring.  Such a gracious welcome awaits all who turn from the folly of their sin and return to the Lord with all their heart.  It is our hope and prayer that the signatories to “We Are Naked and Unashamed” will do this, so that they may be embraced by their heavenly Father’s forgiveness, clothed once again in the robes of Jesus’ holy righteousness, adorned with the signet ring of salvation, and seated at the feast of all who have been redeemed.

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE


  1. Jeff Cottingham

    May 1, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

    thank you for responding to this, as even though we are no longer ELCA, this is still gaining attention and headlines and causing consternation amongst many non ELCA Lutherans

  2. jim dotson

    May 2, 2017 @ 8:03 am

    Good morning Dennis, just as we discussed last week, Once again, I thank you for sharing your thoughts on this mess, I’ve just about finished all the sources you recommended me reading and have already shared a number of comments with my friends, this too I will forward…..Blessings, Jim Dotson, St Matthews Lutheran,

  3. Kay weaver

    May 2, 2017 @ 3:50 pm

    There is no perfect church and the world is a messed up place. The church is supposed to be a light in all this darkness. We don’t have to be like others to love them but we do have to tell them when something does not seem right. The Spirit will lead.

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