Friday, October 02, 2009

Responding to the Recent ELCA Decisions (Part 1)

It's been several weeks now since the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly approved allowing congregations to ordain gays and lesbians in committed relationships and to bless such relationships among the laity. I composed and shared my reactions to this decision in the September newsletter of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.*

I knew that my response--born, in part, of deep grief and despair for my Church, would likely evoke many responses. I cannot support the actions my denomination. I believe that they are contrary to the Word and the will of God.

Some people want to hear more on the subject. Others have their points of view. Most, perhaps, would rather not think or talk about it at all.

The reactions of congregational members that bring me the most discomfort are those that seem visceral, whether they view my response favorably or negatively. The issues raised by the ELCA decisions are too important for us to simply react to them from the gut. Knee-jerk responses based on old fears of homosexuality won't due. Neither will sentimentally about the nice people we've all known who are gay. We are to love all our neighbors no matter what we may feel about their life styles and, as Christians, we don't believe that niceness and righteousness are the same things.

So, as I launch into this series explaining my reactions to the ELCA decisions, there are several points I want to make.

First: I have had a somewhat schizophrenic past when it comes to my reactions to homosexuality.

In 1975, I was a congressional district coordinator for the fledgling presidential campaign of an obscure former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter. One day, I was speaking with one of our state coordinators, a revered academic, and, mindful of the things I'd seen of the activities of the Gay Activists Alliance on campus, I confessed, "I don't think that I've been as sensitive to the concerns of gays and lesbians as I should have been." He dismissed my confession, saying that no one needed to be sensitive to gays and lesbians. I pressed the point because I had seen how unfairly and dismissively gays had been treated.

Through the years, I've realized that homosexuals face not only derision and insults, hard as those are to take, but worse. Sometimes much worse: discrimination, violence, intimidation.

These things are wrong and every person who confesses the Name of Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord should oppose such hatefulness.

I always have.

But, in my teens, early twenties, and probably later into my life, I was also guilty of ridiculing and stereotyping of gays and lesbians that is dehumanizing and unfair.

Here and now, if my heart hasn't been clear from what I've said in the past, I want to publicly and emphatically repent for my past dehumanizing thoughts and words about gays and lesbians. I repudiate them and have asked God's forgiveness for them.

Second: I'm conscious of the fact that the Christian Church has often contributed to the dehumanization of gays and lesbians.

This has often been done in subtle ways, like indifference or shunning.

At other times, in holding up the orthodox, Biblical model for human sexuality, the Church has used harsh language that has destroyed any openness to dialog or repentance and renewal in Jesus' Name.

And some segments of the whole Church have been guilty of outright hatred toward homosexuals, surely inconsistent with the will and character of Jesus.

I also repent for and renounce all of the ways in which my Christian family--the whole Church, has helped dehumanize or marginalize gays and lesbians.

Third: The Church, for the sake of sharing Jesus Christ and making disciples, which is what Jesus has called us to do, must find a way to reach out to gays and lesbians.

We must find ways to welcome all people to join with us in the Church in wrestling with the reality of our sins and of God's actions on behalf of all humanity in Jesus. I've often said that the Church is God's support group for recovering sinners. We need to find ways to invite gays and lesbians into recovery from their sins along with the rest of us.

This will require not only love and faith, but courage. Several years ago, my brother moved into a new house and shortly thereafter, struck up a conversation with his neighbor. They'd been talking for about a half-hour when the man revealed that he was gay and had been "out of the closet" for about twenty years. But, without knowing that my brother was a Christian, the man went on to explain that he was living a celibate life style. From his study of Scripture, which he held to be God's Word, that man had concluded that sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin. Later, he revealed that he volunteered many hours a week for gay activist group's AIDs hotline. He was trying to share with many in the gay community as he could that Christ could forgive them and Christ could help them.

That man has been one of my heroes ever since my brother told me about him. He found ways to reach out with the Good News of new life through Jesus Christ to his fellow gays and lesbians.

Fourth: Of course, welcome of sinners doesn't denote approval of sins.

That's why in our Lutheran tradition, the confession of sins is a part of almost every worship service.

The words of Scripture we share each week and the sermons that pastors give based on the Scripture lessons won't always be welcomed by those who engage in homosexual behavior, any more than it will always be welcomed by the rest of the human family.

God wants to set us free to be His people and He offers that life to us for free. All we need to do is put our dukes down, drop our defensiveness, self-justification, and self-aggrandizement, confess that we are guilty in our lives of those things that God calls sins, and trust what Christ has done for us on the cross and from the empty tomb. Those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ can savor the truth to which the New Testament repeatedly points:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God...**

For we hold that a person is justified by faith [in Jesus Christ]...***
I believe that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to the will of God, that it is a sin. I'll be delving into that more in coming posts. But as we begin this series, four points:
  • I confess to past sinful and unloving attitudes toward homosexuals
  • I confess that the Church has, at times, been unfaithful to God in its attitudes toward homosexuals
  • In faitfhulness to Jesus, the Church must find a way to welcome homosexuals to wrestle with sin and grace alongside our fellowship of recovering sinners
  • In faithfulness to Jesus, the Church must tell homosexuals--and all people--unpleasant truths about ourselves; that's the way to healing, wholeness and eternity with God.
More soon, I hope.

*Here's part of what I wrote:
During the call process here at Saint Matthew, the call committee gave me some written questions following my first interview. Among them was at least one question regarding my views on homosexuality, the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and church blessings of homosexual unions. I made clear my beliefs that:

(1) God loves ALL people and calls ALL people to repent and believe in Jesus Christ in order to receive new, everlasting life with God (Mark 1:15, John 3:16-18);

(2) No sin is worse than any other sin. All violations of the Ten Commandments are rebellion against God. Those who vilify homosexuality as a worse violation of God’s will for humanity than others do not have the Word of God behind them;

(3) I favor—and regularly pray for—civil rights for ALL people, no exceptions;

(4) All sins are forgivable and will be forgiven if sinners repent in the Name of Jesus Christ;

(5) The Church has been entrusted by Jesus Christ with the Office of the Keys (Matthew 16:19), meaning that we must proclaim the truth about the Law and the Gospel and declare forgiveness to the repentant and declare condemnation to the willfully impenitent. Failure to do so constitutes a failure to be the Church AND a failure to love our neighbor. When the Church fails to keep faith with Christ by not familiarizing people with God’s will, it imperils the Church even more than it does the lives of those from whom it has concealed the truth;

(6) Sex outside of heterosexual marriage is contrary to the will of God. Please read Exodus 20:14; Romans 1:26-28; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

(7) More than simply prohibiting sexual intimacy outside of marriage though, God has given sexual intimacy as a special gift to men and women committed to one another for their lifetimes. Please read Genesis 2:21-25. You might also read Song of Solomon, a book of the Old Testament which celebrates the love of husband and wife, including sexual intimacy.

(8) Of course, because Jesus says that when we look at others who aren’t our spouses lustfully we sin, rare is the adult who hasn’t violated God’s will in this area. But that reality doesn’t “un-sin” any sin. It, like other sins, is one for which our Lord calls us to repentance. The call committee seemed to find my answers satisfactory and consistent with the beliefs of the people of Saint Matthew. That pleased me.
**Ephesians 2:8

*** Romans 3:21-28


StPaulScribe said...

Whoa - As a straight 66 year old - I say we do not "choose" our life style - whether gay or straight. Committed gay relationships are not a sin!! For any one outside of a commmitted relationship - that's when intimate relationships are a sin! All committed relationsionships are right with God - Gay or straight.

If you look at who Jesus chose to be part of his disciples - it was the out-cast - today, many gays would be part of that team -

Please open your eyes to those you are hurting my your words!!

powermadrecluse said...

I tell you what, St. Paul Scribe, show me where the Bible, God's revealed Word, OKs committed homosexual relationships.

As difficult and countercultural as it is for us, we must accept that "committed gay relationships" are, in fact, sin.

And I invite you to by all means look at Jesus. Consider the woman caught in adultery. After challenging those who were going to render ultimate judgment upon her, telling those without sin to cast the first stone, he turned to the woman and ultimately told her, "Go and sin no more." He did not say that her sexual sin was OK.

From Genesis 1 through Jesus' use of it in discussing the marital covenant, it's clear that God's plan for marriage is one man and one woman.

Paul had something to say about it all in Romans 1 at all, calling homosexuality a demonstration of the depth of human fallenness.

I'm sure that what I say hurts and angers gays and their friends and family. But it would be wrong for the Church not to tell them the truth in love: They need to repent and turn to Christ, just as all other sinners, whatever our sins, must do.

God bless you.


Mark Daniels said...

I made the above comment from my son's computer.

One other thing: I agree that we cannot choose our orientations. (And we are all oriented to sin generically and, I believe, to certain sins specifically.) But we can choose what we do with those orientations. By the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' Name, we can resist temptations of all sorts. In the power of God, we can in fact choose our life styles. That requires living in what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal."

Thanks again for dropping by. God bless you.