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The Church of Iceland on same sex unions

The Church of Iceland on same sex unions

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The Church of Iceland on same sex unions

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  1. The Church of Iceland on same sex unions Diversity enriches Tallinn Oct. 7-9, 2010 Einar Sigurbjörnsson

  2. Introductory remarks • The question of homosexuality has been widely discussed within the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland (ELCI). • A consensus was reached within the church on working for equal rights of homosexuals in society and in the church and the church approved of the legislation on civil partnership in 1996 and 2006.

  3. Introductory remarks • There has, however, been more controversy in the church on the issue if same sex relationships could be called marriage or not. • Some have also raised doubts on whether ministers of the church should be entitled to legalize same sex unions and wished that the right to legalize marriage should be taken away from ministers of the church.

  4. Introductory remarks • In 1996 civil partnership of same sex couples was legally established in Iceland and the ELCI supported this act. Civil partnership could only be performed by the magistrate. • A committee was formed within the church on the issue of homosexuality and the church and a study process was initiated. The committee submitted an extensive position paper which was discussed at the General Synod in 1996 and 1997 and the pastoral synod of 1996, 1997 and 1998.

  5. Introductory remarks • In 1999 the Bishop of Iceland drafted a form for a prayer and blessing of civil partnerships and gave it to ministers who wished to have such a form.

  6. Introductory remarks • The Doctrinal commission of the ELCI worked on the issue of homosexuality in 2005-2006 and agreed on a position paper on civil partnership which was approved by the General synod in 2006 having been discussed and approved at the Pastoral Synod.

  7. Introductory remarks • In the spring of 2006, the Icelandic Parliament, the Althing, passed an Act ensuring full legal equality between same sex relations and marriage without, however, changing the definition of marriage. Ministers of the church and other denominations were entitled to legalize such unions if their conscience allowed and the General Synod of the ELCI approved rituals for use at such occasions.

  8. Introductory remarks • Finally in the spring of this year, 2010, the Althing passed an Act where the definition of marriage was changed from being a legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman to being a legally sanctioned relationship between two individuals, Act nr.65 of 2010.

  9. Introductory remarks • When the new marriage act was under debate representatives from both the ELCI and other religious bodies were called before the respective parliamentary commission. • The ELCI stated that ministers of the church would obey the law of the country but emphasized that in the matter of legalizing marriages ministers should be allowed to follow their conscience and not be legally obligated and this is respected by the state.

  10. The position of the Doctrinal Commission of ELCI • The position paper on Civil partnership approached the question from the following areas: • Interpretation of Scripture • Ethical questions • The Church’s diaconal mission. • Ecclesiology.

  11. The Interpretation of Scripture • In the Bible several verses refer to homosexual intercourse in a negative manner. The doctrinal committee does not regard the verses as pertinent to salvation and, hence, different interpretations of these are not church dividing. • These verses do not condemn homosexuality as such, nor individuals who live in a caring relationship of love and commitment.

  12. The Interpretation of Scripture • This is based on the Lutheran view of Scripture which emphasizes that Scripture has to be Christologically interpreted. • The key to interpreting Scripture is the saving act of Jesus Christ (Solus Christus), given by God to humans by grace alone (Sola gratia) and to be received in faith (Sola fide).

  13. The Interpretation of Scripture • It is the task of Theology and the Church to distinguish between matters of faith and salvation and issues of temporal order.

  14. Ethical questions • The foundation of the church´s position on human rights is the Christian confession of God as the Creator of all human beings. • As created by God all humans have the same beginning and belong to the same family in this world. • Therefore, the church considers all people equal and advocates justice and human rights.

  15. Ethical questions • Since the church confesses the one Creator, it considers all people called by God to a morally responsible life, including those who do not share a belief in God.

  16. Ethical questions • The commandment to love God and their neighbour and the Golden Rule should form the basis of Christian moral reflections and decisions also when there are disagreements on moral issues such as the issue of homosexuality.

  17. Ethical questions • The Church’s definition of marriage has always been based on the fact that God created man and woman and blessed them. • The Lutheran tradition does not regard marriage as a sacrament and maintains that legislation pertaining to marriage is not a matter of the church but of the civil authorities.

  18. Ethical questions • Yet, marriage has always been held in high regard within Lutheran churches and in the Nordic countries the marriage ceremony has been set within a liturgical context. • In addition to marriage the ELCI acknowledges other forms of relationships.

  19. The Church´s diaconal mission • The mission of the church is to serve and bear witness to Christ in the world. With its pastoral and diaconal service the Church wants to be hospitable and open and in that way bear witness to God’s love and grace that cares for all, homosexual and heterosexual alike.

  20. The church´s diaconal mission • Homosexuals and their families have often faced hostility and prejudice. Therefore, they are especially in need of the care and support of the Christian community, to regain and maintain a positive self-image, as God’s children and part of God´s good Creation.

  21. The church´s diaconal mission • It is important for the Christian community to practice respect and care, patience and tolerance. • Faithfulness, responsibility, moderation and respect are the same basic duties of all, regardless of sexual orientation.

  22. Ecclesiology • The 7th article of the Augsburg Confession states that for a true unity of the church “it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.” It also states that it is not “necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.”

  23. Ecclesiology • The ELCI encompasses many different voices and opinions on ethical issues. • No single institution or office of the church can be the undisputed voice of the church or decide on matters on individual conscience.

  24. Ecclesiology • The church wants to encourage an open dialogue on different platforms of church and society, in order to reach as wide an agreement as possible on the principal issues at stake. • This includes ethical questions, interpretation of Scripture, church liturgy and practice.

  25. Conclusions • The ELCI calls people to follow Christ and in mission and practice points to His message of love, human dignity and shared responsibility. In accordance with Christ’s indiscriminative love the ELCI considers all equal regardless of family status. • The ELCI advocates Biblical and Christian values, supporting life in abundance, promoting justice and safeguarding the wellbeing of all – especially those who are marginalized.

  26. Conclusions • The ELCI acknowledges different sexual orientation and stresses that homosexuals are a part of the Church of Christ and receivers of his Gospel. • The ELCI wants to support all Christians in their effort to have a responsible lifestyle and encourages everyone, heterosexual and homosexual alike, to heed the call of Christ to love their neighbour. This should also apply to responsibility regarding sex, committed relationships and family life.

  27. Conclusions • In 2006: The ELCI supports marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, based on Christian love. The ELCI also supports other forms of relationships based on the same premise. The ELCI supports those individuals of the same sex who commit themselves to a faithful and loving relationship of shared obligations. • In 2010, when the new marriage act was debated, a survey was conducted among church people. A majority accepted the new act and the Doctrinal Commission approved of a new ritual for marriage.

  28. Concluding remarks • The church of Iceland wants to maintain an open mind and be in dialogue with the contemporary world on ethical issues emphasizing that the church has a message for humans of today. The basis of the church´s message is that the world is a work of a loving creator whose commandment of love is the foundation of all human relationships.

  29. Concluding remarks • Therefore, the church does support life in abundance and does promote justice and wellbeing of all – especially those who are marginalized. • Homosexuals are among those and have often been despised and have endured hardships from their surroundings.

  30. Concluding remarks • The ELCI urges its members to show tolerance and wants to support all its members in their effort to have a responsible lifestyle and encourages everyone, heterosexual and homosexual alike, to heed the call of Christ to love their neighbour. This should also apply to responsibility regarding sex, committed relationships and family life. • Thank you.