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I think I want a Divorce
Lutheran Forum ^ | 12 March AD 2009 | Paul R. Hinlicky

Posted on 03/31/2009 7:14:24 PM PDT by lightman

I think I want a Divorce

by Paul R. Hinlicky — March 12, 2009

Not from my wife of 35 years, but from my denomination. The grounds of my desire are biblical: infidelity. The covenant we had made was binding: to govern our life together by the Word of God as attested in Holy Scripture as understood by the Lutheran Confessions for mission and ministry in America and throughout the world. It’s partly my fault, I admit. I have long wondered whether my denomination has had some other love at heart, but I looked the other way, busy with my own concerns, not wanting trouble. True, in the controversy at hand, I intervened to argue for a theologically faithful way, which would offer recognition to Christians who have special crosses to bear in the arena of sex, marriage, and the family, yet sustaining the normative teaching of the Word of God. But I have evidently failed to persuade. Now my denomination has come up with a different plan for a new future. Inevitably it changes our relationship; indeed it puts our covenant itself to a vote in August. Now I have to wonder out loud whether it’s all over between us.

My denomination still gives lip-service to the article of faithful confession which had bound us together in conscience to the Word of God. In the new Draft Social Statement on Sexuality there is a clear historical description of it.

This church understands marriage as a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God. The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10:6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.) [Lines 502-508]

Every word is true. But they appear in this document as “memories—of the way we used to be,” like in Barbra Streisand’s melancholy song. They are acknowledged historically, not normatively as what the ecumenical Church, and therein the Lutheran Confession, has wanted to say on this perpetually difficult matter of Christian teaching. They are not acknowledged as the clear and decisive text of Holy Scripture which is therefore to inform all our thinking, also today. Cast as mere history, these words of Scripture have the form of godliness, but deny its power.

At stake here is Luther’s foundational claim for the plain sense clarity of Scripture as Word of God for the confessing Church in the world, and whether this principle is now to be abandoned to the shifting whim of votes at assemblies without authority or competence to decide matters of binding church doctrine. A non-papal Church that abandons the clear teaching of Holy Scripture in the form of a binding confession that has stood the test of time has no ground to stand on any more. It becomes whatever it can be conned it into being by those who get to frame the question, as in the present Draft Social Statement.

What would that be? In the present case, what my denomination wants to say is announced several paragraphs later.

It must be noted that some, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships. They believe that such accountable relationships also provide the necessary foundation that supports trust and familial and community thriving. Other contractual agreements such as civil unions also seek to provide some of these protections and to hold those involved in such relationships accountable to one another and to society. [Lines 588-594, emphasis added]

This is a misleading half-truth, beginning with the haughty words, “this church.” In fact, the Church, including member Churches of the Lutheran World Federation, especially the younger Churches of Africa and Asia, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestant evangelicalism, overwhelmingly dispute this unscriptural revision of the doctrine of marriage, as also many do in the declining and dying liberal Protestant churches of North America. The real voice of the people of God across the world and through the ages seems to matter not at all in this Draft, any more than Holy Scripture as parsed by the Lutheran Confessions. Surely, “this church’s” congregations, if given an honest and secret ballot, would overwhelmingly reject the manipulation of language and meaning involved in calling “marriage” anything other than that relation in Scripture and Confession described above.

But this deafness, if not deceptiveness, seems true to form in the present proposal, which goes on to recommend not only a revisionist understanding of marriage, but a local option ordination, reflecting the polity of a federation of congregations, replacing the union at pulpit and altar to which I once conscientiously pledged myself in a binding confession. “This church” is acting like a sect and predictably is about to turn into a dysfunctional federation of sects. Our union, you could say, is turning into a polygamy. I won’t go along with that.

A child could see that the revisionist view of the sectarian “some” is being promoted in this Draft—in ways subtle (citing Scripture and Confession as history, not as Word of God) and in ways obvious (as the above paragraph gratuitously added, and so privileging this view of the “some,” without adding the opinions of the multitude of “others” who would take exception to it, let alone argue against it). No theological argument expressing reservations about homosexuality even appears in the Draft—so much for respecting the consciences of “others.”

In a document that so rightly and eloquently commends trust as the healthy basis of life together, this kind manipulation (even if unconscious) is doubly disillusioning. I am tired of it. Sweet talk, smooth talk, slick talk, it’s abusive all the same. I see that clearly now, and it is the chief reason why I am thinking that I want a divorce.

Christian teaching on sex, marriage and the family is not a matter of personal ethics (personal behavior is the matter of personal ethics), but it is a matter of binding Church doctrine. We would still be sending our sons and daughters to monasteries and convents, and hoping by their merits to cover for the sinfulness of our marital relations which produced them, were it not so, as anyone knows who has any memory of what Lutheranism once taught on this matter. Of course our conditions today are different, but no one with intellectual, not to say spiritual integrity can, as this Draft Social Statement shamelessly argues, dualistically separate the Gospel of salvation from definite social forms in God’s beloved creation on the way to redemption.

We just don’t see things the same way anymore, it seems. As I see it, in this ugly and violent culture of sexual license today, where the divinely blessed institution of lifelong marriage of man and woman is under economic, political, and ideological assault from every side, a genuinely Lutheran Church would bravely take up its inherited doctrine as something binding on the conscience contra mundum (against the whole world), if need be. It would also on this basis call for appropriate civil protections, not only for gay and lesbians persons, but for all the broken forms of family life struggling against internally dehumanizing economic ideals and now also external deprivations (after the burst of the financial bubble) that rip apart the fabric of human community. A true Lutheran Church would dare to teach the Word of God concretely, knowing with Luther that “if you take away assertions, you take away Christianity.” A genuinely Lutheran church would not disingenuously refrain from teaching—even in face of sincerely confused consciences holding contradictory opinions—I say, disingenuously, because the imaginary restraint of this Draft Social Statement is hard to understand except as a ploy to keep those “others” from bolting when the local option for irregular ordination is finally authorized.

In short, putting the very matter of Christian teaching up for a vote by falsely representing the matter at stake as so many ethical options of sincere people gives away the store. It is no longer a Church which acts like this. It has mutated into something else. And that, I fear, is why I am going to be talking with my lawyer.

Luther’s conscience was bound to the Word of God, not to other consciences, no matter how many, no matter how high and mighty, and certainly no matter how erring. Let there be no mistake about this whatsoever. A polity which puts up church doctrine for a vote at a biennial assembly is itself and as such the problem. This Draft Social Statement’s proposal merely exposes what an empty bottle “this church” has become.

In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern God’s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,” will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world. [Lines 629-636, emphasis added]

It is certainly true that in a democratic, pluralist society, good people will sincerely come to different conclusions about all sorts of things and as a result will have to struggle to live together respectfully. It is also true that in a democratic, pluralist society, decisions will be made, policy will be determined, some will win and others will lose. Thus it is also true that in a democratic, pluralist society, freedoms of conscience, of religion, of speech and of association allows losers to opt out in varying ways, especially when the decision touches on conscience.

Why should we stay together? What is the point? We are like four people in an auto, each wanting to drive in a different direction. Be assured, someone will control the wheel! The Draft does not assert Christian teaching on marriage as something binding for the holy society (not the modern, democratic, pluralist State) but the Church of Christ (within it). In it, the Lord says, “but not of it.” Instead we are treated to a description of the range of opinion in the ELCA on the neuralgic question of same-sex relations, concluding with a dishonest and manipulative plea that we stay together no matter what. In thinking along these lines, the Draft Social Statement betrays how utterly secularized its thinking process is, yet grasping sentimentally after Christian unity, when its basis in the true confession of the Word of God has been discarded.

No! The cost of staying together is being and so also acting as Church. If we stay together on the basis which the Draft Social Statement proposes, we cease to be Church. And that is why, whether I want it or not, no matter how it turns out, the proposed vote itself is a prescription for divorce. None of us need “this church” to enjoy the rights and privileges of free citizens. But I with many others took vows at Confirmation, and special vows at Ordination, of fidelity to the Word of God as understood in the Lutheran Confessions, so that I could live and work as a servant of the Holy Community in union with all other pastors at the altar and in the pulpit.

My denomination apparently no longer shares this understanding of what it means to be Church. You might say we have just “grown apart.” You might say our union has become a hollow shell in which the love has died. The extended analogy with divorce finally breaks down. To the extent that it holds, I will officially stick with my Gomer: separation, not legal divorce, hoping against hope that she returns to the ties of binding confession of God’s Word that really unite the struggling, suffering Church on earth in battle against powers and principalities on behalf of sinning and suffering creatures. To the extent that the analogy does not hold, however, I am not leaving until they throw me out and show the world just how little the supposed baptismal unity really means to them. But in staying I will protest, bear witness against, summon others do likewise, and in every way defy this devious attempt to snare conscience and bind in chains the Word of God.

Paul R. Hinlicky is the Tice Professor in Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.

TOPICS: Current Events; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach; Moral Issues
KEYWORDS: elca; homosexualagenda; lutheran; mainlineprotestant
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Yesterday the Church Council of the ELCA figuratively filed the papers against every traditionalist pastor and congregation.
1 posted on 03/31/2009 7:14:24 PM PDT by lightman
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To: aberaussie; Aeronaut; aliquando; AlternateViewpoint; AnalogReigns; Archie Bunker on steroids; ...

Lutheran (ELCA) Ping!

Keep a Good Lent!

Be sure also to read:

Statement by Three Dissenting Members of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality

“Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”: A Critique by Carl E. Braaten

When There Are No Biblical or Theological Grounds to Change, Don’t

WordAlone Network responds to ELCA human sexuality proposals

Lutheran CORE leaders urge rejection of ELCA task force recommendations

Pastoral Guidance Concerning Same-Sex Unions

2 posted on 03/31/2009 7:14:59 PM PDT by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini.)
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To: lightman

When divorce isn’t an option, it’s time for

3 posted on 03/31/2009 7:15:35 PM PDT by exist
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To: lightman

Any orthodox Christians still left in the ELCA should flee for the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church pronto.

4 posted on 03/31/2009 7:22:56 PM PDT by utahagen
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To: lightman

The LCMS must be loving this.

5 posted on 03/31/2009 7:24:17 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (In honor of my late father-Gysgt/Comm. Chief, USMC WWII, Korea 1925-2002)
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To: All
From the comments on the Lutheran Forum page, at the very bottom, there comes this sage advice from Pastor Hinlicky:

My counsel to pastors is this: wait and see what actually happens in August; in the meantime, take action to protect yourself and your congregation, such as amending your congregation's constitution to require pastor's subscription to Visions and Expectations; do not forward any more money to Higgins Road, but invest your mission giving in worthy causes; begin to look for other forms of wider church fellowship; insist that in regard to the foregoing you are acting in conscience and loyally to your ordination vows and will not be bullied or intimadated about the foregoing; bear witness against at every possible opportunity against the bullies, even if you must suffer for it. If in August, the proposals pass, then look to the formation of a non-geographical coalition with a good conscience, in that the ELCA by passing that local ordination option has de facto ceased to exist as a church.

My advice to congregations is: don't give your money to anything you don't believe in, don't participate in the stacked deck of ELCA assemblies according to their rules any longer; don't continue in the state of sloth but demand that your pastors teach you the Scripture, the Confessions and trustworthy Lutheran and ecumenical theology. And if all that fails, then wipe the dust off your feet. Or, wait like me until they kick you out.

6 posted on 03/31/2009 7:30:57 PM PDT by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini.)
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To: lightman

This cave-in to homosexuality (my pastor flat out said it wasn’t a sin) was the last straw. I’m no longer ELCA.

7 posted on 03/31/2009 7:32:38 PM PDT by Trod Upon (Obama: Making the Carter malaise look good. Misery Index in 3...2...1)
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To: lightman

I divorced the ELCA years ago.

8 posted on 03/31/2009 7:34:54 PM PDT by huskerjim
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To: lightman
Lightman, I've been watching your battle for a long time through your posts on FR. I've always thought that it would be a losing battle, but there was always the chance the ELCA Synod would change its liberal stance.....or you would leave it because it WOULDN'T change its stance. In my own mind, I always knew it would be the latter.

I never said it to you directly because the issue was a matter between you, your church and God.

Now, since you are rather half-heartedly "separating" from the synod, and you posted it for us to read, I feel comfortable in saying..."why are you hanging around like a scorned lover or an abused spouse?"

I say....put your considerable talents, energy, faith and savvy to work in a synod that isn't rotting to the core from the machinations of leftists and apostates.

Any conservative Lutheran synod/congregation very probably is desperate for men and women of true biblical faith with leadership abilities and expertise.

You won't be abandoning your fellow ELCA members in your own church.....God gave us all free will to choose our paths. Set the example, communicate with them and pray they will follow you in the age-old path of biblical righteousness you are thinking about trodding again in your work.

I'll pray for you and wish you Godspeed in whatever the future holds for you.

I definitely see a more perfect "marriage" ahead of you with golden opportunities to do the Lords's work unencumbered by constant "marital" battles with the dark side in your synod.

(Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod)

9 posted on 03/31/2009 7:46:11 PM PDT by MinuteGal (FR Regional Convention (southeastern states) 4/25 Orlando....Y'all Invited. Freepmail Me for Info)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
The LCMS must be loving this.

I am Lutheran, though neither elca not LCMC. There are as many as 21 different flavors of Lutherans, just in America. (See below.) I can't believe that any responsible Christian of any sort would be 'loving this.'

1. American Association of Lutheran Churches
2. Apostolic Lutheran Church of America
3. Association of Free Lutheran Congregations
4. Augustana Orthodox and Evangelical Lutheran Synod
5. Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America
6. Church of the Lutheran Confession
7. Concordia Lutheran Conference
8. Conservative Lutheran Association
9. Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad
10. Evangelical Lutheran Synod
11. Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations
12. International Lutheran Fellowship
13. Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
14. Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Diaspora
15. Lutheran Churches of the Reformation
16. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
17. The Lutheran Confessional Synod
18. Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ
19. Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA
20. The Protes’tant (sic) Conference
21. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

10 posted on 03/31/2009 8:01:43 PM PDT by RobinOfKingston (Democrats, the party of evil. Republicans, the party of stupid.)
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To: exist

Wow. I had no idea.

11 posted on 03/31/2009 8:01:44 PM PDT by Lee N. Field (Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.)
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To: lightman
As I have told my Pastor; this is a case of the Church leaving me, not me leaving the Church. Locally, I have the option of Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, or the Catholic Church. Any thoughts on this?
12 posted on 03/31/2009 8:34:43 PM PDT by aliquando (A Scout is T, L, H, F, C, K, O, C, T, B, C, and R.)
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To: aliquando
Strange as a reform movement within a reform movement may sound, there is a pan-Lutheran (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) oratory of biblically conservative, liturgically steeped clergy that has gathered for mutual support and to resist the tide of modernity.

I encourage you to check out the website of the Society of the Holy Trinity Read the page on "The Rule", paying particular attention to the section entitled "Parish Practices".Members of the Society are deeply committed to the weekly Eucharist, Private Confession and Absolution, and the public recitation of the Daily Office

Then look at the membership directory to see if there are any STS members serving a congregation within a reasonable driving distance. Although not every parish is practicing every aspect of the Rule at this time, most subscriber clergy are committed to working toward those goals and have a deliberate plan to achieve them incrementally. These clergy would be delighted to receive visitors and/or new members who share those commitments.

Like you, they are somewhat embattled within their own denominations. They would welcome your support and you would benefit from their ministry.

13 posted on 03/31/2009 8:56:21 PM PDT by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini.)
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To: lightman

Thanks for the input. It angers me beyond belief that they are taking the Church of my fathers from me.

14 posted on 03/31/2009 9:49:28 PM PDT by aliquando (A Scout is T, L, H, F, C, K, O, C, T, B, C, and R.)
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To: aliquando

We would welcome you. RCIA would update you on the differences between the Lutheran and Catholic beliefs. Since you post here, however, you are probably already aware of them. So the class would be a fomrality for many.

Let me be the first to say “Welcome Home!”

15 posted on 03/31/2009 10:13:29 PM PDT by Salvation ( †With God all things are possible.†)
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To: lightman

A few years back my daughter married a man from Sweden. We learned that Sweden pretty much have a state religion,Lutheran. When my daughter went to Sweden to meet his parents they were wonderful people but very liberal. At least the cultural is there. Most couples are expected to live together instead of getting married but Nick’s parents didn’t exactly agree with that. His family did not go to church but he declared himself Lutheran. Now we are Catholic,conservative Catholic and when she visited Sweden she went to a small Catholic church and Nick and his parents went also. But as we got to know Nick there were many things he believed as a Lutheran I found that surprised me. Going to church was no big deal,he didn’t believe in hell,communion was symbolic. Well I started calling different Lutheran churches here and was surprised that each church said something different. Now I know different people from different faiths may have some differences but these were all Lutherans and they all believe differently. For some reason as a Catholic I found that odd. But now we as Christians can see many of our priests and Pastors are really not Christians but truly wolves in sheep’s clothing. It pains the heart to see so much apostasy in the world today. May God have mercy on us all.

16 posted on 03/31/2009 10:19:18 PM PDT by red irish (Gods Children in the womb are to be loved too!)
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To: red irish

Catholicism is not the only faith to be afflicted with “cafeteria-ism”.

As the rainbow flag of diversity extends its compromising banners over more and more communities the variety of praxis is truly staggering.

Two decades ago I had hoped that pastors pledging to preach and teach in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions would prove a sufficient wall against the barbarian horde. Alas, the wall has crumbled. Most have become as the Queen of Hearts “words mean what I want them to mean”.

17 posted on 04/01/2009 4:34:50 AM PDT by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini.)
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To: aliquando; lightman
As I have told my Pastor; this is a case of the Church leaving me, not me leaving the Church. Locally, I have the option of Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, or the Catholic Church. Any thoughts on this?

I live in a community in central Texas, and we have several former ECLA members that have come to the LCMS. They have been very pleased with the teachings of our synod and have said it is much more like the "old ECLA" teaching. We also have former Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbiterians, several Catholics and even one Hindu lady (who is now basically an outcast from her family) in our congregation.

18 posted on 04/01/2009 4:56:36 AM PDT by Arrowhead1952 (It took almost 250 years to make the USA great and 30 days for "The Failure" BO to tear it down.)
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To: aliquando

Is the Lutheran church so close to the Catholic church that a person can just flip over like that???

19 posted on 04/01/2009 5:33:52 AM PDT by Iscool (I don't understand all that I know...)
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To: Salvation
We would welcome you. RCIA would update you on the differences between the Lutheran and Catholic beliefs. Since you post here, however, you are probably already aware of them. So the class would be a fomrality for many. Let me be the first to say “Welcome Home!”

What a kind and generous outreach. We need more of that on the FR religion forum. In that spirit, Salvation, let me assure you that my conservative Protestant denomination (PCA) would likewise welcome you. If you need updates on the differences between Catholic and PCA teachings, we also have classes that would help. I think, however, that you are probably aware of them. Let me be the first to say to you, "Welcome Home!"
20 posted on 04/01/2009 5:51:46 AM PDT by armydoc
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