Skip to comments.It's Not About Homosexuality--Not Really
Posted on 04/16/2009 8:42:17 PM PDT by lightman
It's Not About Homosexuality--Not Really by Paul R. Hinlicky April 14, 2009
It is not only, or perhaps even primarily, about homosexuality. My whimsical lament I Think I Want a Divorce got quite an echo in this church; apparently, the bone-deep disenchantment articulated in the piece has been building up among theologically serious Christians in the ELCA for many reasons for a long time. Slowly we are waking up to reality. The truth is that Luther is being overshadowed by Zwingli, so to say; plainly put, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the religious Left. This wedge works for several reasons...
It is not only, or perhaps even primarily, about homosexuality. My whimsical lament I Think I Want a Divorce got quite an echo in this church; apparently, the bone-deep disenchantment articulated in the piece has been building up among theologically serious Christians in the ELCA for many reasons for a long time. Slowly we are waking up to reality. The truth is that Luther is being overshadowed by Zwingli, so to say; plainly put, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the religious Left. This wedge works for several reasons.
First, homosexuals form a vulnerable sexual minority that has suffered from ignorance and the soft persecution of social stigmatization. If we have a shred of human decency, not to say Christian love, our hearts go out to these underdogs.
Second, pastors especially have learned in the confessional of the struggles, the loneliness, and the pain of homosexual persons, and their hearts ache for them.
Third, Christians who are gay or lesbian ask for the same rite of marriage as offered to heterosexuals, recognizing their attempt to live in a relation of lifelong mutual commitment, and holding them publicly accountable to it. What decent soul would refuse? Only ignorance, it seems, which thinks that this disorder is a matter of choice, or bigotry, which has not worked through a crude emotional revulsion at a sexual attraction opposite ones own, would say No.
So it seems. For just such reasons I freely confess how uncomfortable it makes me to have to take a stand here. I am being wedged right where it hurts.
And if you too, dear fellow pastor, think in this way I have just described, Ive got news for you. You are being bamboozled. This issue, constructed this way, has been forced upon us by the religious Left. They, not homosexual persons, are our opponents in this controversy. And what seems to be the case is not really the case. In fact, we are being asked by them to act in a profoundly divisive and unpastoral way on what is essentially a burning question of pastoral carethat is, on a matter that pastors ought to be deliberating and decidinghad not the ELCA at its formation abolished the ministerium and turned theology over to selectively appointed commissions, sure to do the bidding of those who appoint them.
Now the chickens come home to roost. If the ELCA does what the present recommendations suggest in August, it signals the theological end of this church and therewith the very possibility of meaningful pastoral practice and care, if by pastoral we mean applying the wisdom from the Bible to the life of sheep for whom the Shepherd died by those called to co-shepherd with and under Him as pastors.
Now lets take a closer look and see.
Chapters 2 and 3 of the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America contain its confession of faith and a further statement on the nature of the church. You can download the text from the ELCA website and read it for yourself. I quote from this text in italics and then compare and contrast, item by item.
2.01. This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the church in which I was ordained, in the church in which I will worship after August, this bold confession and public praise of the Triune God is the free, joyful, and unanimous act of those assembled by the gospel. But in this church, confessing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has already become an increasingly begrudged option. With the adoption of the new hymnala project that was never subjected to doctrinal reviewunconscionable and unjustified revisions in the language of the creeds, the Psalms, and hymn texts were made. You can bet that, given the ELCAs inclusiveness policies, that if the Social Statement, including Position Number Four, is adopted, it will be open season on the gospels name of God. Why?
The Fourth Position recognizes as legitimate the teaching that homosexuality is a good creation of God, that such relationships ought to be blessed with the blessing of God, and that persons in such relationships should be admitted to official ministries. If we permit that teaching and still read the Bible with a straight face, or claim to be trinitiarians in claiming that the Scriptures speak in this way of God, then we are also saying that anything in the Bible can be reread and rewritten to say whatever anyone wants it to sayand then solemnly pronounced a legitimate option. Chief among the things the religious Left wants to say is that we construct names for God out of our own experience. That enthusiasm is the deeper reason why the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions have to be robbed of their formative power in theology and neutralized in the life of this church. Homosexuality represents a perfect opportunity.
2.02.b. The proclamation of Gods message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The church which bears the name of Luther bears it truthfully when it teaches, as Luther taught, that the true people of God are those who bring to bear the judgment of the cross on themselves. One would never know from the Social Statement that the Bible contains a sharp word of judgment based upon Gods revealed Law protecting marriage and the family against any and all sins in the arena of sexuality, chiefly heterosexual sins like fornication, adultery, and divorce, but also homosexual relations. Far from pastoral care speaking Gods Word of judgment and mercy, the Social Statement offers nothing but a so-called ethics of responsibility in which consenting adults can do as they please so long as they dont hurt anyone else. Thats understandable, perhaps, as a very minimal standard in secular, liberal society, but it is a cataclysmic fall from New Testament exhortation, the preaching of the prophets and the law of Moses, which our Lord does not slacken but rather radicalizes. You can bet that the progression towards antinomianism in the ELCA will proceed apace with the adoption of this Social Statement, just as the religious Left wants a church in which the Ten Commandments, let alone Luthers exposition of them, disappears so that there is no ethical tension at all between being a good secular liberal and being a true Christian. Once again, homosexuality presents the perfect occasion for a much grander transformation.
2.02.c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by Gods Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce Gods revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them Gods Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
The Social Statement does not shrink from attacking canonical Scripture and Luthers belief that God speaks through the plain sense of the canonical text. It disowns this sola scriptura teaching, just as the religious Left regularly attacks as fundamentalism any position serious about the Bibles teaching as binding doctrine normative for the life of the church. But the new enthusiasts think that when the ELCA is gathered in assembly, Gods Spirit speaks to them to create and sustain a new Christianity that overrules the written Word of God.
2.03. This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
But the Social Statement does not take the notable texts of Genesis 1:26-28 and our Lords invocation of this text in Mark 10:2-12 as the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life in the arena of sex, marriage and family life; it rather ignores their weight and force entirely. The reason is obvious: homosexuality would not be able to serve as the pretext for a brand new Christianity, if we took up such weighty texts. I ask: as a matter of integrity, for heavens sake, what does the name Lutheran mean theologically if not that we want to belong to a church that is pleased and delighted to receive the Scriptures, for which theology is the work of making their teaching alive and instructive for us todaynot doing intellectual somersaults to avoid the plain sense meaning of Scripture and replace it with something manifestly the opposite of what it teaches? If this Social Statement is adopted as it stands, the next resolution I intend to submit is that the ELCA delete the words evangelical and Lutheran from its name.
2.05. This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
But the Social Statement utterly ignores the Reformation-era controversies regarding monastic vows and the theology of marriage that the Reformers developed out of the Holy Scriptures and professed in the Augsburg Confession in the light of the gospel. One of the most important social consequences of the Reformation gospel is therefore ignored as an embarrassment and left behind as an impediment to the sexual liberation intended for us by the religious Left. I am just waiting for some fool to argue that, as Luther insisted against monastic vows that sexual desire implanted by God cannot be denied, so also homosexual desire cannot be denied. I am just waiting, as I said, for some fool to try that silly piece of reasoning. It overlooks the central issue in contention in this controversy, whether God has created and blessed homosexual desire, or whether such desire is a deformation of Gods good creation. Well, lets be merciful. Cogent reasoning has never been the strength of the religious Left, which looks instead for emotional symbols to serve as pretexts to fool people.
3.01. All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this church are to be carried out under his rule and authority.
One looks in vain for this Spirit of Jesus Christ in these documents, let alone a procedure which would reflect the lordship of Christ in any meaningful way. On the contrary, the Social Statement never even thinks to say that the church (even this church) does not belong to me or to you or even to all of us together, but to Jesus Christ: with His own blood he bought her and for her life He died. Instead, the Social Statement and the processes informing it proceed as if the church belongs to us, so that we can turn it into whatever we want, as supposedly led by the Spirit apart from the external word and news of the gospel of Christs redeeming lordship as authoritatively witnessed to in Scripture. The rule of Christ and His authority in His church are thus mocked in action, reduced to nothing but pious window-dressing for moving this church in the way its elite in the religious Left want it to go, not according to the will of its one and only Lord, whom we are to hear and obey in life and in death.
3.02. The Church exists both as an inclusive fellowship and as local congregations gathered for worship and Christian service. Congregations find their fulfillment in the universal community of the Church, and the universal Church exists in and through congregations. This church, therefore, derives its character and powers both from the sanction and representation of its congregations and from its inherent nature as an expression of the broader fellowship of the faithful. In length, it acknowledges itself to be in the historic continuity of the communion of saints; in breadth, it expresses the fellowship of believers and congregations in our day.
But members of the commission who drafted the Social Statement were instructed not to represent their own congregations, nor to think their own theological thoughts, nor to argue for the truth that binds us together in love on the basis of canon, creed, and confession. All this was disallowed and instead they were instructed to seek institutional consensus. We have this on the express witness of task force member Marit Trelstad in her posted comments on this website in response to the statement of the three task force members behind Dissenting Position #1. Likewise, at the assembly in August, the delegates will be instructed that they are not representatives of their congregations and synods but constitute some unique and historic expression of Gods will for these sacred ten days in which they will be led by the Spirit to throw historic continuity with the church through the ages out the window. Never were the task force members asked, nor will the assembly delegates be asked, to preserve, protect, and defend the broader fellowship of the faithful.
What we have just seen, point by point, in reviewing the present proposals vis-à-vis the ELCAs own confession of faith and ecclesiology, is that what is at stake in this vote in August is not the pastoral treatment of homosexuality, but a theological coup detat by the religious Left. Homosexuality is just the catalyst of a profounder division that already runs through this church.
If anything, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the theological Left. Our problem in turn is not so much with a decent and Christian acceptance in the church of homosexual persons, like all the rest of us, with concrete issues, with brokenness, in penitence and humility. The real issue is the theological makeover of Lutheranism that is occurring in the process: the allergy to the divine name of the God of the gospel, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the liturgical life of this church; the open attack on the authority of the canonical Scripture as the source and norm of faith and life; the abandonment of the historical mission of the Lutheran confessional movement to advocate and advance the reform of the Western Church (i.e. Roman Catholicism) and to unify other Protestants in this cause; the shift towards enthusiasm in theology under the pretext of contextual exegesis; the snide vilification of the Great Tradition as well as of the Lutheran heritage; the abandonment of evangelical mission overseas to call to faith in Jesus Christ, as well as its minimizing at home
I could go on, sadly, for pages. You get the picture. Behind all of this must we not see the loss of confidence in Jesus Christ as given to us in the Holy Scripture in the Holy Church by the Holy Spirit as our identity and mission in the world? In its place, must we not see the rhetoric of Lutheranism being dishonestly employed to pursue a kind of Christianity, which honestly goes by the historical name of liberal Protestantism? I wish such revisionists of the theological Left would have the spiritual integrity and intellectual honesty to recognize their lineage in Zwingli rather than in Luther and move on, whether to the high-church Episcopal Church or the low-church UCC, both of them hemorrhaging members even faster than the ELCA. But they wont. They want the property and name of the ELCA, and dont seem to care what damage they do to the rest of us in the process.
We have just looked and seen. These proposals are a pretext for the systematic and massive dismantling of the ELCAs doctrinal commitments to Scripture, creed, and confession in order to advance the agenda of the religious Left. It wont stop with blessing homosexuality. To fail to see this is to stick ones head in the sand, in the deluded hope of saving the ELCA institutionally, while the heart and soul of this church in the Word of God and Luthers doctrine is being sacrificed on the pretext of compassion for homosexuals. In fact, homosexuals are being used by the religious Left, among other things in not being challenged by genuine pastoral care to acknowledge with the rest of us their own specific form of brokenness.
From the ruins that may follow after August, we should want to belong to a church in which those trained in Lutheran and ecumenical theology, and who have earned the pastoral trust of their congregations, will deliberate theological issues on the basis of canon, creed, and confession as the norms by which faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His gospel are discerned. What we desperately need in our church of the Reformation, without emperor or pope, is the re-establishment of a ministerium pledged to our binding confessions, since these persons bear the office and evangelical authority to judge questions of doctrine. We need as well the confirmation of the people of God, representing congregations that are the local form of the church, in a lay synod of people who know that they are not to heed the voice of a stranger but only that of the Good Shepherd.
Out of this crisis foisted upon us by the religious Left, we who are faithful to Gods Word and Luthers doctrine need to abolish the broken, manipulated, expensive, demoralizing governance which has brought the ELCA, half-a-million members less in its twenty brief years, to this brink of irreparable damage, and to replace it with a serious church of Lutheran conviction in but not of this society in service to the world and the ecumenical Church.
Paul R. Hinlicky is the Tice Professor in Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.
Pastor Hinlicky is correct that the arguments over homosexuality are but one symptom of a fatal disease.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
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I discerned (that is one thing Lutherans do, right—discern?) that if you hold the elca up to today’s culture, you cannot see the one behind the other. Their outlines essentially coincide.
I also discerned that I could make a bigger difference, and live a happier life outside the elca. Since then, one of my avocations has been to stand on the outside and quietly call for others to come out.
I still call.
I left an ELCA church within days of reading elca.org and figuring out that what was being preached in our church, was not the same as the association backing up that church, the ELCA. I was disturbed by the “dialogue” they were having about gay unions at that time, looked at the website and discovered the ELCA is not pro-life. Talked to the pastor, emailed the website, confirmed what I thought they both said, left the church. If a church is not pro-life, I can’t be part of it. It was astounding to hear my pastor say that abortion was a choice and we should not judge other people’s choice to have an abortion. It sickens me to this day. None of that was said in church. I had to investigate it on my own. The old people in that church, who don’t go on the internet, have no idea their offerings go partly to an organization that is liberal. I was there 2 years before I knew about the statements of policy on elca.org.
Our paths were similar, TCP. I was fortunate to be able to convince my congregation (I wish there was a way to say that without sounding like I am or was the pastor there.) to go with me. It took some years, some heart-ache, and a little parting of the ways, but ... thank God, it happened.
What a shame. I’ve often been unclear about Lutheran teaching on abortion.
I used to teach in a Catholic school, which was housed in a Lutheran church. Our principal had a bumper sticker on her car that said “You can’t be both pro-choice and Christian.” Upon my first meeting with the church’s pastor at a luncheon, he wanted to argue this point and continued to discuss it even after I tried to steer wide of the subject. He could find nothing else to discuss. Really, I think he just wanted to explain away his own guilt on his position. It didn’t strike me as being appropriate lunch time banter on my first meeting with the fellow. Aside from which, I already knew where I stood on the subject. I should have told him “Here I stand.”
I’m so glad that I’ve had many other more positive interactions with my Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ since that time ~ including pro-life marches in DC.
Today, my children go to an ELCA school. I’m putting an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears into the enterprise. I’m a little worried about who is going to get the keys to the building and what they will be teaching the children about the Bible ~ what parts may be accepted and what parts may be discarded ~ when I am done putting my time and treasure into the school.
So, if you are a pastor in an ELCA church you may be able to steer the congregation to another branch(?) or synod within the Lutheran Communion??
We have many beautiful old Lutheran churches with great traditions out my way. The pastor at my son’s school is at a church which is over 200 years old. in the secular realm, I would hate to see these buildings fall into the hands of those who do not share the Biblically-based traditions of the church founders.
LCMS is pro-life...
Do you know the particulars of whether ELCA membership, or charter, might be easily shepherded to the another synod?
As a Catholic, I’m something of an outsider, however the clergy and the staff at my school seem to be predominantly Bible based, conservative and devoutly Christian.
I admit that I have not wanted to take this issue up directly with the school. I’ve been trying to educate myself about Lutheran background and values through Lightman’s posts, as well as friends in the Lutheran Communion.
My wife and I don’t feel like sinking a whole lot of time and energy into a school that will easily be taken over by secular humanists.
I grew up in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I foolishly assumed that the lutheran church near where I moved to was, oh let’s say..Christian! No so. I was younger and not suspicious of things, never thought of investigating a church of course. Never again will I go trustingly to a new church. I drive by that place and think “false church”, and what a shame it is that the association that is behind that old brick church is anti-life. The church is over 100 years old, sits in the country, like a picture of what a country church should look like. It’s a shame that liberals have tainted that place. God knows the heart of that church. He knows my heart too. I can’t believe I know better than a pastor what is right and wrong in the eyes of The Lord. It’s so simple, as I told him, I cannot condone the murder of God’s children. He said only a small part of my offerings go to the ELCA. I said one penny is too much, it puts guilt upon my soul if even one cent goes to them. I left. He was very dry and professorial. I know now he is just a liberal, won’t change and does not think abortion is wrong. It’s mind boggling. A pastor, pro-death.
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Looks like a must read, thanks for the ping.
Any decent soul who recognizes that homosexual behavior (not tendency, but behavior) is anathema to christian living. Either the word of God is true, or it is not.
The desires of human sinners make no difference to the truth - whether gay or straight.
I know a pastor who took two of his three churches from the ELCA to the AFLC and kept their property, etc. I don’t know how it all worked and how it might work for a school, but you might want to visit the AFLC web site and see who might be able to answer your questions.
I need to have a heart to heart with our school’s pastor and the president of the board before moving forward.
I’m not certain when would be a good time to broach this subject. I was kind of hoping someone else ~ a member of the Lutheran denomination, for that matter ~ would throw the first spear.
We have many beautiful old Lutheran churches with great traditions out my way. The pastor at my sons school is at a church which is over 200 years old. in the secular realm, I would hate to see these buildings fall into the hands of those who do not share the Biblically-based traditions of the church founders.
Every congregation will take a different route. Personally, I think what you will see is more families and individuals leaving elca churches than churches leaving the elce. Yes, that will leave those beautiful old buildings in the hands of the increasingly less Christian who remain behind.
If you are ever involved in a ship wreck, and the captain tells all the survivors to take something into the water when you jump, something that help provide for the survival of everyone, be sure that you don't grab the anchor and jump with it in your arms.
There is a ship wreck coming in the elca. Some would say it has already begun. Maybe those beautiful old buildings represent ... anchors.
We left our ELCA church of 29 years last year. What we found, is no matter how traditional your church and current pastor might be, a new pastor can change everything. As long as the denomination is going in the direction that it is, and as long as the church remains in that denomination, the church is at risk of becoming an entirely different kind of place. I was shocked at how many long time members of my former church were ok with the change.
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