CHICAGO (ELCA) — In an open letter to the 65 synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Lutheran seminarians expressed their support for a recommendation that would allow Lutherans in committed same-gender relationships to be included on professional church rosters.

On Feb. 19 the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality released a report and recommendation for a process to consider changes to ministry policies that could make it possible for Lutherans who are in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships” to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers and ordained ministers.

The task force also released that day a proposed social statement for the church — “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.” The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly — the highest legislative authority of the 4.7 million-member church — will consider both documents Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

To date more than 160 members of the ELCA studying at Lutheran and non-Lutheran seminaries have signed on to “An Open Letter from Lutheran Seminarians to the Bishops of the ELCA.” Four members of the ELCA attending Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, wrote the letter.

“We applaud the ELCA’s commitment to the dialogue on sexuality and its affirmation of sexuality as a gift and trust from God,” the letter stated. “After careful consideration of the issue at hand and its influence on the life of the church, we stand in solidarity, affirming the recommendation for structured flexibility within the rostering requirements of the ELCA.”

In the letter seminarians asked synod bishops to “represent our voice faithfully in your involvement in the deliberation process leading” to the churchwide assembly. “Joining with you as people invested in the life, health and ministry of the ELCA, we appeal to your commitment to the gospel and the mission of the church.”

In preparation for ministry, “we both see and experience the harm of the current policy and its denial of the gifts present in the whole Body of Christ. Because of the current policy, gay and lesbian persons ignore calls to ministry, candidates feel compelled to lie about their sexuality, mentors are forced out of the church, and candidates leave the ELCA for more inclusive denominations. The tragedy of these events is weakening the integrity of the church,” the letter stated.

The Lutheran seminarians said it is in the “best interest” of the ELCA to affirm the recommendation of the task force at the assembly. “The life of the church depends upon the full recognition and inclusion of ministerial gifts engendered by the Spirit.”