As some of you no doubt know, the ECLA has just voted to allow committed practicing homosexuals into ministry. They join a growing list of mainline Protestant churches who have done the same, including my own, the Episcopal Church. I believe the Quakers beat us all by decades, much to their credit.
The ECLA is now, or will soon begin to learn of the cost it incurs by this move. An interesting article in the Chicago Tribune acknowledges that the decision is being met with quite different responses, church by church within the Lutheran community.
We in TEC have been through this recently ourselves, as I alluded to. In reality, we didn’t craft a new provision, but simply returned to the original rule that places no impediment on anyone seeking ministry discernment. Each parish and diocese has handled the “discussion” as it sees fit.
One of the points made in the Tribune piece, is that perhaps God will more judge us not on the correctness of our decisions in this matter, but rather how we deal with the opposition without our congregations. And I think that may be key here. Church, representing Christian principles and what we hope are moral precepts, can and should stand as a banner as to how to remain in unity even when we are theologically divided.
So far we haven’t done a particularly good job of that. Many people within TEC have left, forming splinter churches who then try to align with Anglican churches in Africa, which have been missionaried in a more conservative mode from the beginning.
We, at my church, have been discussing the issue through a forum on the convention over several weeks. Same-sex issues were reviewed along with the church’s legislative work on health care, war, evangelizing, women’s issues, and a whole host of concerns. We too expressed our desire to approach those who think differently with care and gentleness.
We like to think of ourselves as a big tent, and indeed so do most mainline Protestant groups. We like to think we can accommodate different voices within our congregations while still adhering to the basic principles of Christian teaching. So far, we don’t seem to be doing so well.
Some see this as a general realignment of “progressive” forces and “conservative” forces, and that perhaps the future holds in store a loose agreement across denominational lines. I think that a distinct possibility.
We, in talking, referred to some of the things that we have heard about our church since the Convention. I of course could go on at length at all the really nasty remarks sent my way by ultra conservative Catholics who are ex-Episcopalians. I’ve been called evil, and blasphemous, a heretic, and well, you get the picture. One person said our church was referred to as the “gay church.” She shot back, “And you think yours is straight?”
The level of rancor is admittedly high, and that is most sad. What is more sad, to me at least, is that all is said in the name of “Jesus.” The conservatives argue that we, by our stance, prove we have no love or allegiance to Jesus or the Gospel. We of course believe with all our hearts that we do.
This points up an equally sad thing. While reading and studying the bible is a fine thing, and to be encouraged, it is sufficiently broad and obtuse overall, that virtually any position can be vindicated by some verse or another. Worse, it of course has been. The bible has been used to justify slavery, polygamy, suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes, subjugation of women, war, the death penalty,and the list goes on and on.
All this and more can be justified or not in the hands of skillful manipulators or just by the innocent but untrained reader. There was and is something to be said for the reluctance, historically, of the Roman Catholic Church in giving the average person access to so powerful and dangerous a book.
But, as I said, I’m not here to claim that the bible shouldn’t be read. But I am here to proclaim that serious attention must be paid to experts in the field, those who are linguistic experts, who have studied the anthropological, archaeological, and historical records in defining and determining what the texts actually mean, who did or didn’t write them, and so forth.
The ECLA claims they spent eight years of study in making the recommendation that same-sex restrictions be lifted. No doubt a good part of that was a thorough study of scripture. There are dozens of excellently done books on the subject, done by scholars who spend a lifetime acquiring the skills to do proper, unbiased exegetical work.
Those of us who have read this material, in quantity, find that the majority are in agreement that there is no barrier biblically to same-sex inclusion in our various religious practices, any more than there is a biblical barrier to womens’ inclusion.
Our recognition that those who continue to tout the “literalist” interpretation of “it says what it means and it means what it says,” do so for reasons other than strict reason and rationality, will enable us to reach out to such people with loving gentleness and wisdom. We must help them to dismantle the emotional wall they have erected to protect themselves against a Gospel that is more inclusive and loving than they are prepared for. We must seek to uncover the needs and satisfy them in ways that no longer do violence to the teaching of Christ. Barring that, we must honor their right to think differently, bless them, and continue on our way, hopefully in unity.