Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Lutherans, wisely, hedge.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently had its national meeting in Orlando, Florida. Meetings of this sort are held every other year and are presided over by the ELCA's bishop. The current bishop of the ELCA is Mark Hanson. You can read one of his letters here. There are between 10 and 13 million Lutherans in the United States, making it the 4th largest church in the country, after Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, in that order.

At the meeting the delegates voted 503-490 against lifting a ban on the ordination of same-sex clergy. This measure (it needed a 2/3 majority to pass) would have allowed bishops and church districts (which are called synods) "to seek an exception for a particular candidate if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions." The delegates also voted 851-127 "to keep the church unified despite serious differences over homosexuality."

Keep in mind that the ELCA is the more liberal of the large Lutheran churches in the country. The Missouri synod, with almost 3 million members, would certainly not even consider such a measure.

I followed the meeting with interest and I'm happy that these votes turned out the way they did. I don't know all the answers to the questions about the role of homosexuals in the church, but I do know that it's not to have some policy stuffed down the throats of congregants. Solutions need to come from the bottom up.

Now, does this mean that individual churches should be able to vote on whether to call homosexuals to ordination? I don't know. Church policy on homosexuality is, for me, one of the trickiest areas of culture right now.

What should we do?


At 7:11 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I think churchs should keep a consistent message throughought the denomination if the issue is one on which most congregations agree is very central to their image and belief systems. I believe homosexuality fits that cirterion.

I also think the bans should stay in place. More scrutiny ought be given to heterosexual pastors involved in illicit sexual relationships and I absolutely agree that homosexuality isn't a litmus test for if you'd make a bad shepard, but I still think it's a destructive lifestyle openly and literally not approved of by Biblical standards. I think homosexuals need to be treated with the same dignity and respect due to every human being and I'm absolutely against the church's confrontationalist rejection of them as a people group, but that doesn't imply that they should be elligible for ordination as pastors.

At 2:44 AM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

Homosexuality is clearly labeled as a sin in the Bible, and should be treated accordingly. If there was a member of the church who was a porn addict, or involved in an illicit heterosexual relationship they would be a welcome member of the church still. They would not be considered for pastorship, though. I think that homosexuality should be treated just like any other sin. However, the tendancy towards a sin is not the same as a sin. Personally I have a tendancy towards many sins and if I acted on them often or as a lifestyle I should not be a candidate for a pastor. However, as long as I do not act on my temptations I am not guilty of the sin. So its important to differentiate between someone who is 'homosexual' in that they are attracted to the same sex and someone who is 'homosexual' in that they are involved in romantic/sexual relationships with people of the same sex.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

Okay, so we seem to be in agreement about homosexual pastors--but what happens if an individual church calls a homosexual pastor? Should the ELCA kick that church out?

At 3:30 AM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

Personally, I am the opposite of a big fan of the ELCA. But that is beside the point. I think that they should behave in accordance with their rules. If a church called an openly promiscuous pastor what would happen? If a church knowingly called a clyptomaniac pastor what would happen? The response should be the same in every instance.

If I were to make that rule then I would say that the church indeed should be cut off from the denomination. If the pastor is not committed to following the doctrines of the denomination then there is no expectation that those are the doctrines of that church any longer, and therefore they should not be said to be a part of the denomination.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Charles, I want to respond to your comment, but I am hesitant, because I don’t really want to start a long, protracted theological or ecclesiological debate that might get us way off topic. Nonetheless, here is a quick quote followed by a quick(ish) response:

“I don't know all the answers to the questions about the role of homosexuals in the church, but I do know that it's not to have some policy stuffed down the throats of congregants. Solutions need to come from the bottom up.”

I could be wrong, but isn’t bottom-up thinking completely foreign – even antipodean – to a Christian mindset? It seems to me that the roots of Christianity – Judaic and Helenistic thought and culture – have no place for that line of reasoning. Not surprisingly, Christian documents of that time – most notably the testaments that we call The Bible – are similarly constructed. And then, there is two thousand years of Christian history, theology, and polity that make your statement problematic.

Here is my take on an episcopacy (and, not surprising to many, Christian polity in general) – all Christians are equal in standing, but not necesarily in purpose. I don’t see why this decision has anything to do with congregants; it isn’t their place to have an opinion on this issue apart from that of the Church, let alone be responsible for that very position. Christian teaching and practice is not democratic and it is certainly not based on what we want. By recognizing the implications of our standing as part of “the communion of saints;” namely, that the teachings and practices of the Church are not ours only, but that of all the faithful, past, present, and future; the debate becomes moot and the beliefs of congregants becomes reletively unimportant.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

What I meant was something more like...

Because homosexuality is such a politically charged and potentially divisive topic, solutions TO THIS ISSUE need to come from the bottom up.

That's not to say that ecclesiastical solutions in general should come from the bottom up.

I do have a problem with this statement, though:

"It isn’t [congregants]' place to have an opinion on this issue apart from that of the Church."

No, we don't vote on doctrine and policy, and we shouldn't, but we don't go around telling congregants to either get in line or get out, either.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

You're a Catholic, aren't you, j. morgan! I'm on to you!


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