Several have asked me what the reaction has been to my post on the recent recommendation of the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to allow congregations to call practicing homosexuals. I am very critical of the recommendation and see it as being inconsistent with the Bible's teachings on this subject. (Please read the entire post of April 12 before you have a cow!)
Interestingly, there has been almost no reaction. A liberal Christian from outside of my denomination has written several emails of encouragement and support of my position. A moderate within the denomination has also indicated support.
At a meeting with a few colleagues on Thursday morning, I detected great uneasiness, irrespective of their opinions on the recommendation.
At a meeting with Lutheran lay leaders from several area congregations on Thursday evening, only one person made comments about the entire subject, seeming to endorse the Council's position.
Most people who have any awareness of the recommended resolution seem to be either indifferent or holding their breaths while praying. I must hasten to add though, that I feel that most ELCA members are barely aware of this entire discussion.
Frankly, as an historian, I feel that a non-ecclesiastical historical circumstance analogous to this one is that which prevailed in the period immediately before the firing on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War. There have been a thousand opportunities to prevent a rupture of the ELCA. But some people, like the Church Council, which voted 32 to 2 in favor of this irresponsible resolution, seem intent on tearing the Church apart.
By way of my colleague, Pastor Bob Forsberg, I've received this extended statement on the subject from Roy Harrisville of Solid Rock Lutherans:
Unlimited Exceptions and Double-standards
A Response to the recent ELCA Church Council Action
If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and
take up his cross, and follow me. Mark 8:34
I have been crucified with Christ.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God
who loved me and gave himself up for me. Galatians 2:19-20
On April 11, 2005 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Council approved a resolution to forward to the Churchwide Assembly, which meets in Orlando, FL in August. The Council voted 32-2 to forward to the Churchwide Assembly a resolution that allows for exceptional ordinations of homosexuals in “…committed, same-sex relationships…” The process by which exceptions would be made is when a congregation wishes to call a homosexual who is in a life-long, committed, faithful, same-sex relationship and the bishop approves. The bishop would then ask the approval of the synod council. Upon the synod council’s approval the bishop would next ask the Conference of Bishops for final approval. The candidate would then be ordained.
The Church Council has, by virtue of this action, redefined Christian identity, rejected traditional marriage, created a double standard, and provided for unlimited exceptions across the ELCA. It has proven that it is out of touch with the Church.
The proposal provides for an unlimited number of exceptions across the ELCA and changes the current policies significantly. Should the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopt this proposal every synod across the Church would be authorized to ordain practicing homosexuals who are in life-long, committed, faithful, same-sex relationships. This is not “local option” as some have called it, but a pan-ELCA policy change. There is nothing in the proposal about a trial period or ordination to place. Each pastor ordained in this manner would be placed on the same clergy roster as any other and would have the same opportunity for mobility from Church to Church and from synod to synod as any other.
In order for this proposal to go forward a significant policy change in the By-Laws of the ELCA, Vision and Expectations, and Definitions and Guidelines would have to be made. (Those documents outline proper conduct for those on the clergy roster). All the lines dealing with homosexual behavior would have to be removed.
A Double Standard
A double standard is created in this proposal. If homosexuals in “committed relationships” are allowed to be candidates for the ordained ministry, what of those heterosexuals in common law relationships who also wish to be ordained? Are they to be given the same considerations as their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? But there is no mention of any reciprocity for heterosexuals in this proposal. There was no discussion of this at the Church Council meeting. There is no mention in the proposal of altering those sections in Vision and Expectations (V&E) and Definitions and Guidelines (D&G) that insist on the sanctity of marriage and living a chaste life. It would seem that heterosexuals are to be held to a different standard from homosexuals since the guidelines for heterosexuals remain in place.
Rejection of Marriage
Both V&E and D&G prescribe chaste lives for ordained ministers. There is a heavy emphasis on the biblical and traditional understanding of marriage. But the proposal put forward by the Church Council necessarily negates such sentiments and places marriage on the shelf. Marriage is no longer a concern when considering a candidate for ordination! The Church Council apparently agrees with a minority in American society that marriage is of little or no value.
Of course, it will be somewhat of a difficulty for homosexuals to provide evidence of their intent to live in life-long, committed, faithful, relationships, as the proposal demands, since the marriage of homosexuals is not sanctioned by the Church and is illegal in most states. No clear provision was made in the Council proposal for blessing same-sex unions, although it seems that something approximating them is demanded by the proposal. The Church Council has not thought this proposal through at all.
Redefining the Christian
Who is a Christian? Is it someone whose life has been transformed by God’s Word and who now worships and follows Jesus Christ? Or is it someone who has deep desires, impulses, or passions for something or someone? Is a Christian’s identity determined by Christ, or by the self? Is our desire to be conformed to Christ, or is he to be conformed to our desire? Is our identity established at baptism, or in our sexual urges and practices?
Such questions strike at the heart of the gospel for they address the central question of who Christ is and who we are in Christ. If we believe in Christ then we belong to him as a slave belongs to the master. He then becomes our external moral authority in life and what Christ says and does determines that life. If faith is not merely intellectual assent to a set of propositions but a vibrant, living and active transformative force in our lives, then our true self is not defined by biological urges or even by our own conscience, but by the self-sacrificing redemption of God’s Son who did not give in to his own feelings in the Garden of Gethsemane but rather followed the will of his Father. He denied himself, just as he commanded us to do. That is the supreme example of true Christian identity graciously bestowed upon us at baptism.
This is in contrast to what the Church Council accepted when it openly affirmed homosexual behavior, as it has done this past weekend. In order for the Council to approve this proposal it had to accept, consciously or unconsciously, the self-definition that homosexuals have for long maintained: that their “sexuality” defines them. That is, that their identity is constructed from within themselves and they do not need to deny themselves or their feelings.
What this means is that the Church Council, wittingly or unwittingly, has decided that the Christian is not defined by self-denial but by embracing the self and its impulses. To be sure, the Council did mention that gays and lesbians are baptized children of God as are all Christians, but it rejected any necessity for the reformation of one’s sexual life. In effect, the Church Council has established that homosexuals need not repent for their practices and behavior since their identity is constituted by their homoerotic impulses and they must be left to act upon them. If the Churchwide Assembly adopts this concept it will adopt a new definition of Christianity in which we are each able to define ourselves regardless of scripture, Church tradition, the wider Church, or the influence of the One who denied himself for our sake.
Out of Touch
The leadership of the ELCA has demonstrated that it is out of touch with the people in the pew. It has taken a minority view and elevated it to the status of policy, regardless of the responses given to Journey Together Faithfully: Part Two, which indicated a majority is in favor of the current policies and practices. It is as if the Church Council is deaf to the voice of the Church.
Rev. Roy A. Harrisville III, Ph.D.
Solid Rock Lutherans