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This is Lutheran CORE’s response, dated April 2017, to the “Naked and Unashamed” movement, which has come out of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  CORE is doubly concerned because it is unaware of any response from the administration and faculty of the seminary, the ELCA Council of Bishops, and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton rejecting or distancing the ELCA from this movement.




In 2009 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly rejected as normative the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage as it approved changes to policy and practice which allowed for the endorsing of and ordaining persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.”  There is now a movement within the ELCA which would 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 has been reaching out to other pastors, leaders, and seminary students in the ELCA who share their beliefs and values.  Their purpose and agenda are clearly revealed on their website,, which contains such statements as the following in regard to current ELCA policy and practice –

  • “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 who have recently been ordained, 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 those who hold to the traditional, Biblical view of marriage as a life-long, committed relationship between one man and one woman, and even those who hold to what was approved in August 2009, which allowed for the ordaining of persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships,” now expect?  Based upon experience of what happened before, we can only expect that those who wish to reject marriage altogether are going to pursue their agenda relentlessly until they achieve their goals, and once they do so, then all conversation is to stop and anyone who still advocates for the traditional view, and even the approved-in-2009 view, will be criticized for being disruptive, divisive, schismatic, and trouble-making.  That is what happened during the time leading up to and since the August 2009 decisions.  Why should we expect it to be any different this time?

Never is there any Biblical basis given for this group’s thinking.  And why would we expect that there would be?  Just as the documents that were 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 is arguing for their desired changes on the basis of such vague reasons as “the common good,” the fact that they are “healthy” and “life giving,” “the plethora of stories we hear,” and “our values and lived experience.”  

Even in their use of the phrase, “Naked and Unashamed,” this group is turning its back on the Bible’s description of God’s judgment and mercy.  Adam and Eve were described as “naked and unashamed” before their distrust of God’s word and their disobedience.  Their transgression caused them to be ashamed, to hide, to clothe themselves in fig leaves.  Their self-justification was their primary clothing.  When God sent them out of Eden, He gave them something better.  He did not send them into the world “naked and unashamed” to make a “fresh start” of things.  Rather He clothed them even more fully – with 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 Lutheran understanding of the Bible, God gives us a “fresh start” in baptism.  Spiritually we go into the water naked.  Our old, sinful, deathly self is drowned in Jesus’ own death for our sake.  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.”  Standards of monogamy, commitment, and chastity are deemed oppressive and demeaning.  Ideals of faithfulness and purity are rejected.  Biblical norms of “life together” are dismissed as the invention of elite, wealthy, and white Europeans.  This group asserts that other cultures have different understandings of sexual good.  In so doing, they are not only ignoring the very staunch standards for sexuality of our African fellow Lutherans, they are also ignoring the stringent sexual ethics of the Old and New Testaments, which certainly are neither elite, wealthy, white, nor European.  

Those who thought and hoped that the decisions of August 2009 to accept same gender relationships if they are publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous would be enough, would satisfy those who were pressing for changes, and would be as far as this issue would go, should be alarmed to read on this group’s website that they reject those decisions because of the way in which those standards define what is a “decent and acceptable marriage in the ELCA.”  They reject the 2009 decisions because they say that “acceptable same-gender relationships must look the same as acceptable heterosexual relationships.”  

The documents of this group even give a place for advocating 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 exists in the ELCA multiple positions on (several different relational patterns are listed, including polyamory).  We lift this multiplicity up and demand that its full diversity be recognized within the Christian lifestyle in our church.”

There is no sense of marriage as based upon our creation as male and female, and as given its most perfect expression in the model of God’s faithful and permanent love for His people and Jesus the bridegroom’s love for the Church, His bride.  Rather this group says that “understanding and practices of marriage, relationality, and sexuality also change over time, and must be understood as contextual.”  There are “many possible forms of ‘Christian’ relationality, just as we see diverse forms of Christian worship.”  To see different expressions of sexuality as no more significant than the difference between traditional and contemporary worship would be absurd if it were not so alarming.

This group makes absolutely no mention of the long-standing and profound Biblical linkage between sexual sin and idolatry.  At the risk of being gross and 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?  This is idolatry, making a god out of part of my own body.  This is 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.”

Any faithful member of the ELCA should be absolutely alarmed to see this kind of thinking coming out of one of the ELCA seminaries.  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 is focusing especially on sexual ethics for pastoral candidates, are they saying that if a pastor or pastoral candidate has sex with a prostitute, it is okay, as long as s/he is respected as a sex worker?  Are they implying that if a congregation is not able to pay within guidelines, then a pastor or pastoral candidate is free to sell sexual favors to supplement income – again, as long as it is done in a healthy, life-giving, 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 to not 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?

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

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