Here are the posts in this series so far, if you've missed them.
God Loves Gays: On Lutheran Debates, part one
God Loves Gays Gay: On Lutheran Debates, part two
God Loves Gay Desire: On Lutheran Debates, part three
Photo above: Oby Ballinger and Javen Swanson, Marriage in Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School, May 22, 2009 Photo by Johanna Johnson
I've just returned from the Montana Synod Assembly where (as might be expected) resolutions were brought forward to memorialize the Churchwide Assembly in August to adopt policy changes that would 1) recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships and 2) to find a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church. The resolution passed by a vote of 168-130 or something like that. One of the most thoughtful speeches was by a man who recounted the fact that we already as a church welcome gays, call them to ministry, ordain them and yet, when they fall in love and seek to give themselves to another in marriage, we say, "no." He noted that as we began the synod assembly we sang the lovely Marty Haugen hymn All Are Welcome, and he noted that for now that welcome has an asterisk on it, one that he hopes we can erase. That trajectory, despite our sometimes self-congratulatory proclamations about our welcoming all, is in fact based on a root claim that God did not create Gays good, that their desire is fundamentally disordered, and their love a result of sin. So in fact we currently welcome, call and ordain gays in a qualified way, with the (usually) covert conviction that they are defective and must, for the sake of our 'Vision and Expectations" for ordained ministers in the ELCA, remain celibate.
While I've written quite a bit on this issue, including my book Married in the Sight of God, here I want to highlight a strand of argument from my article last summer responding to the draft social statement on human sexuality wondering out loud what it might say were it to more robustly argue for the possibility of gay marriage. Here's what I said:
"It is an act of grace that so many queer Christians have remained with the ELCA for so long despite our inability as a church to say a full, rather than qualified, yes to them.
What if the statement went on to offer a way to think about what could move us to that place of a full yes? (Note: I’m not calling for an unqualified yes—we all come as sinners in the fundamental sense, as beggars to receive the undeserved gift of a yes from God). To offer such a way, even tentatively, would require us to face squarely what I noted above as the core issue: whether we understand queer identities as 1) variation in or 2) disordering of God’s creative work. The Church needs more substantial work and discussion on this core issue, drawing on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as well as the experiences of people’s lives and the findings of science.
To take a couple of steps in addressing this core issue of queer identities as part of God’s good creation, I want to point to one incisive argument from Scripture: the 1994 article “A New Word on Homosexuality? Isaiah 56:1-8 as Case Study” by Fred Gaiser. In his article, Gaiser begins by raising the tension between our need to speak in a world about which the authors of Scripture knew nothing, while honoring the Scriptures as the source and norm of our life together. But as he reviews the question of homosexuality in contemporary debates, he posits, “We will probably not resolve the present dilemma by creative exegesis.” The texts, whatever they say, do not give us a clear positive word on homoerotic relationships. So, he asks, “Is it then impossible for the church to speak a new word on this difficult issue?”
Here, Gaiser argues, Scripture helps. He examines the exclusion of eunuchs from the assembly of the Lord (Lev. 21:16-23, Deut. 23:1) and the reversal of this exclusion in Is. 56. This radical inclusion ends with the phrase Jesus himself repeats: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7). Gaiser points to other examples in Scripture where such abrogation of the law is found: Matt 5, Acts 10, Gal 3. In thinking about the possibility of a new word in our day, Gaiser thinks the Lutheran approach to Scripture helps: we confess Christ as a living Word, not a dead letter. He finds in Luther “the possibility of speaking an entirely new word, even against Scripture, in the spirit of Christ.”
Gaiser then tackles the hard question of what such a new word would look like. His four points offer helpful guideposts for debate about how the draft study might go here. First, Gaiser argues, the new word would speak from an eschatological perspective and not from cultural mores or arguments from creation.
Second, the eschatological welcome into “a house of prayer for all peoples” comes as gift, and not as a right. Of course rights apply to civil order but in this case, access to the assembly and to reconciliation with God comes by an open hand, not a raised fist.
Third, such a new word would need to speak of the contours of the “new life in Christ.” Here, the DS already has gone quite far in part because of its theology of trust in divine and human relationships. It is specious to say that this leads to baptizing a sinful lifestyle or could lead to all manner of immorality. Rather, this lifts up covenantal fidelity between humanity and God as the model for human relationships, and especially for marriage, the life-long commitment of fidelity between two consenting adults, for better or worse, in sickness and health.
Lastly, Gaiser argues, the new word would welcome queer Christians to a community of outcasts God has gathered through Christ for the sake of the world. Neither liberals nor conservatives win in this case; God wins, drawing us all into the foolish life modeled on the cross of Christ, a life of self-emptying for the neighbor in need. Such a mission is shared by conservatives/traditionalists and liberal/progressives alike.
We could ask, with Gaiser, whether such a new word should be spoken. He argues that the process of hearing the new word about eunuchs took time and had to be tested, lived into. Similarly the new word regarding the Gentiles reported in Acts took time to be heard in the early church. The draft study could reasonably state that we are in such a time. A new word has been spoken, heard, and is being lived. The church is called to test it prayerfully, to discern together whether we do or do not find ourselves addressed by a Word of the Lord in this matter. In laying out such a pattern before the Church, the theological frame of the draft study could breathe a new spirit into this contentious topic rather than awkwardly assert wooden traditional claims."
The hymn All Are Welcome that I mention above has in it this line (vs. 5): "Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word" and it reminded me of Isaiah 56:
4 For this is what the LORD says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.
May it be so with us.
Anon and peace,