I have signed a statement titled "Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA" that has as its goal to encourage theological leaders in the ELCA to join publicly in affirming and supporting the four recommendations on Ministry Policies proposed by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. I didn't plan on writing in response to these recommendations, or writing about sexuality at all at the moment, as I've written a lot already on the topic (most of what I've written will be posted on my Luther Seminary faculty site, if you want to track it all down easily) and I have other writing responsibilities just now (including a fun book on pop music and theology). But for three reasons I've decided to write a few short provocative posts on the issues.
The reasons are:
1. I am bound by my Christian faith to love, encourage, and publicly support my neighbors who are, in this case, gay people. Many people come to mind whom I know and love personally. Some are Lutheran, some are not, but that is beside the point.
2. The recommendations of the ELCA are, in my view, pretty circumspect on some key issues I'd like to put out in the open. It is an exercise in logic to say clearly what my support for "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" and for those in such partnerships to "serve as rostered leaders of this church" implies. So, while the topic of this post is, I take it, fairly uncontroversial in our church (more on that below), I am planning to cover these topics: gay persons as part of a good creation, gay desire, gay marriage, and gay sex. Each will have its own post, will engage biblical and confessional/theological sources, and be quite traditional in nature because despite what my critics over the years have said, I an not an antinomian and I take with great seriousness the charge I accepted (in my ordination), namely to teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, and in addition this: "to care for God's people, bear their burdens, and do not betray their confidence. So discipline yourselves in life and teaching that you preserve the truth, giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope."
3. I and my fellow-signers of the statement "Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA" have been strongly challenged by Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky. To point out of few of the ways he describes signers of this statement, we are "misleading," "self-contradictory," "self-righteous," engaged in "subterfuge," teaching "material antinomianism," and he has felt called to "bear public witness that those who teach these things are not faithful to Scripture and Confession," and thus are not acting "in fidelity to vows made in confirmation and ordination." How could one not respond to that? The challenge, as I put it in my article "The Difficulty of Thinking Well Together: Notes on Writing about Homosexuality in the ELCA," is how to do this in such a way that I model the kind of humility and love I think ought to mark our conversations with one another. So here is my commitment for these posts, taken from the work of the
late British Dominican, Gareth Moore: "Bad arguments need to be avoided. These do not convince, and give the impression there are no good arguments. We sometimes have the tendency not to examine too closely arguments that support our own position. Bad arguments can be used to make us feel more comfortable in pre-conceived positions that may be false. We need to be on guard against ourselves, conscious that we want to be more comfortable, to have our positions reinforced. To safeguard against error, we need to accept that our own position is open to scrutiny, both from those sympathetic to us and from those opposed to us. We often learn most from our opponents."
Well, to conclude, I just want to make the point that Paul and I do agree that God loves gays. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life." Yes, we agree that God loves the whole world, gays included. We agree that gays, like any other persons, deserve equal protection under the law. God's love is not the issue; the issue is how to encourage gay people to live in light of God's word that comes as law and gospel, and there the divide between us becomes stark. The crux of the issue is, I believe, how one answers the question: are gay persons part of a good creation, God's intention for life, or do they represent a tragic result of sin and the disordering of creation that followed? That is for the next post.
Anon and peace,