Friday, January 14, 2005

A Response to the ELCA Task Force Report on Sexuality

For several years now, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has had a task force on sexuality looking at two different issues:
the possible ordination of practicing homosexuals

the possible acceptance of homosexual unions in relationships at least analogous to marriage
With the task force's recommendations scheduled to be brought for a vote at this August's Churchwide Assembly, I've long had a basic assumption about what it would recommend. My assumption has been that the group would attempt to split the difference between those who favor and those who oppose the above steps.

I believe that there are sound reasons for upholding the Biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. While it may be politically correct to hold otherwise, our freedom in Christ doesn't give us the license to change God's Word or bend it in order to make ourselves more accepted by the prevailing culture. (For a balanced, Biblically-sensitive discussion of these issues, I recommend The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon. You can also visit Dr. Gagnon's web site.)

The task force has now forwarded its recommendations to the Church. In fact, the group has attempted to split the difference between conflicting views in our denominational body, although not in the way I expected.

The task force has made three basic recommendations:
  1. That, because of divergent views, members of the ELCA should try to find ways to "live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."
  2. That the ELCA not break from the "pastoral guidance" given by our Conference of Bishops back in 1993, which said that only heterosexual unions would be recognized as marriage by the Church.
  3. That the ELCA continued to expect that its clergy would not engage in the practice of homosexuality.
Interlaced among these recommendations is a fourth undilineated one that the Church, while continuing to uphold prevailing teaching, should accept dissenting views on these matters even to the extent of not disciplining pastors or congregations who flout the clear teachings of the Church.

I had thought that ultimately, the task force would recommend what has come to be termed the local option. That is, that they would recommend leaving it up to each individual congregation and pastor to decide what they would do in these matters. They did not do so overtly. But it seems to me that the recommendations made have the same effect and so, leave the ELCA in a muddle.

Predictably, the recommendations have left a number of people unhappy.

Chris Tessone, a member of the ELCA, who advocates acceptance of both homosexual marriage and pastors who are practicing homosexuals, has written on his web site:
I have not decided whether this is it for me and the Lutheran church. Certainly I am a hard-core Lutheran in many, many ways, but I do not feel comfortable in an institution that sells out both conservatives and liberals in an effort to appease both sides.
And in a statement that came out yesterday afternoon, the WordAlone reform movement, which I support, has said:
Leaders of the WordAlone Network in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said today that a task force majority report on ordaining people in same-sex relationships or blessing such relationships is an attempt to hoodwink “the people in the pews” into believing its recommendations won’t bring change to ELCA practices.
A press release from the organization goes on to say:
“While the ELCA Sexuality Task Force may say it isn’t suggesting change in the ELCA standards for ordination, the recommendations in its report will bring about de facto change because they suggest that the standards not be enforced,” said Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland, WordAlone president, Spokane, Wash.
I share the rather gloomy assessments of both Tessone and the folks from Word Alone.

So, where exactly does this leave us? In a muddle, I think.

No one of us is sinless. But the Church should not be asked to change God's clear teachings in order to accommodate the preferences of anyone. I stew about what churches and pastors who, under the tacit approval of the task force's recommendations, defy the teachings of the Bible and the Church, and thereby possibly tar the good name and reputations of the rest of the ELCA.

What should we do next, establish a task force on gluttony and declare that because there are those in our midst who think that gluttony is an acceptable behavior, we'll allow for dissenting views on the matter? As a recovering glutton--who sometimes loses my battle with this sin, I would like nothing better than to have the Church tell me that my gluttony is okay.

Instead, it seems to me, our call is to invite all sinners to repent and to join the fellowship of recovering sinners that is the Church.

As a recovering sinner who "falls off the wagon," I'm grateful that the Church isn't the fellowship of the perfectly smug.

I'm also grateful that it's also not a place where the sins that can drive an eternal wedge between God and me are enabled or encouraged.

So, what about the future? I intend to continue to be supportive of efforts to reform the ELCA, movements like Word Alone, which seek to call the Church to once more recognize the authority of God's Word. I will be a Lutheran until the day I die. I continue to hope and fervently (and daily) pray that the same will be true of our ELCA.


Deborah White said...

Seems to me that "splitting the difference" in this manner is simply avoidance of making a decision for fear of offending one party or another. To my mind, church leaders are called to interpret God's Word, make a policy & procedural decision and let the proverbial chips fall where they may, without regard to political correctness or financial pressures.

SkyDaddy said...

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

It's not written in Proverbs AFAIK, but it makes an awful lot of sense.

Dream Keeper said...

I certainly agree that a non-decision is a wimpy way out of this. At the same time, I can sympathize with the ELCA. To me also, it is not so black and white. The question that causes me to squirm is this - if a homosexual cannot be ordained because of his or her sin...why that sin and not others? If the imaginary task force on gluttony came back and said instead, no one who practices gluttony can become a Lutheran pastor, what sort of loss would that be to the rest of us? I know that sounds ridiculuous and it is, but I'm struggling to understand where the line should be drawn, how the standards are set... We're all sinners, and I've always understood there is no such thing as a "big sin" or a "little sin". So what criteria do we use to determine which sinners can be leaders of our spirtiual lives and which cannot?

Mark Daniels said...

I read your comments on my response to the ELCA Task Force with interest.

You're right that we're all sinners, including me. When Jesus defended the woman caught in adultery, He didn't condemn her, but just said, "Go and sin no more." A man once asked me if I thought that woman led a perfectly sinless life from that time forward. I'd never thought of that question before. In light of what Jesus said, it's a logical question. It's equally logical to infer that of course, being human, the woman sinned again. But unless it's our intention not to sin when we've received God's forgiveness, we show contempt for God and His forgiveness.

It isn't a matter of one sin being worse than another, as I see it. You're right that gluttony is as wrong as taking God's Name in vain or the practice of homosexuality.

We ask our pastors (and all believers, for that matter) to live in "daily repentance and renewal," seeking to do daily battle with their sin. The problem is that the Church is being asked to say that in one area of sin, our pastors may be unrepentant and show contempt for God and for God's forgiveness. That's what I object to.

Does this make sense?

Alex said...

It was my understanding that homosexuality was the result of the wrong genes getting into the the wrong body. In some ways it is similar to alcoholism which is the result of alcohol becoming an essential component in the chemical operation of one's body. To extend the analogy lots of people are disabled at birth through no fault of their own. If the alcoholic and the disabled can be acceptable to the generic church than why not the homosexual??