Monday, September 28, 2009


For traditionalists to remain within the ELCA we must be clear of what exactly it is we are opposed to, why we are opposed to it, and why it hinders or breaks our full unity within this church. The problem with formulating such a precise unified response is that the argument for changing the church catholic's position has itself not been unified. From what I can glean from reading the social statement and the thoughts of those who are in favor of this there are three basic arguments. The first argument I will call, simply for the sake of having a name of reference, the "Not Applicable" argument. The second argument for change, again for the sake of having a quick handle, the "Love" argument. The third argument, again, I will call "Comparison." If there are others which do not fall under these categories, please forgive my ignorance.

Not Applicable (NA):
This position can be simplified down to one coherent statement, "the prohibitions of same-sex behavior and activity in the Holy Scriptures, do not apply to today." This seems to be the bound conscience position of those who support and affirm changes according to the Social Statement. The statement reads, "On the basis of bound conscience belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today (HSGT, 11)." Because the Scriptural witness does not apply to the context of homosexual behavior then the question of homosexual sex as sin does not apply as well, especially within the confines of a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationship. It may be a sin if done outside the protection of a "marriage-like" relationship and in that way no different then biblical prohibitions against fornication.

This position is a little bit harder to pin down into a nice simple argument. It is like most of American definitions of love amorphous. Sometimes it can take form as, "hey we're all Christians we're supposed to love everybody what's the big deal?" Sometimes it argues, "we're all sinners and God loves us, why is this any different?" It can also be argued from the position of creation, "God created people this way, how can God not accept as good what God created as good?" Again these are my feeble attempts to put into words what I keep hearing from those who are in favor of changes in ministry policy.

This position, if not completely believing that the Scriptural prohibitions apply, at least partially acknowledges that they do and will concede that homosexual behavior is sin. However, it is usually always compared to the sin of divorce, which the church throughout the recent years has become to declassify it as sin or at least treat it in a minimal way. Here the argument holds that the response to sin is not avoidance or repentance of the act, but rather to find a way in which the church can live with it and support it in a faithful and pastoral way. Thus it is no different than having divorced clergy, or people who've divorced 2 or 3 times and the church has re-married them 3 or 4 times.

Obviously this is a simple summary of arguments for change. They are not completely exhaustive and certainly there are nuances which general groupings cannot maintain. Unfortunately there is not one specific argument to which we are opposed. However imprecise the arguments for change are, we must be painfully precise in our language and opposition. While theological imprecision seems to be the biggest shortcoming of the ELCA, we who stand opposed must not reply in like manner. For those who profess the, "Spirit is doing a new thing" without actually arguing how the Spirit is doing this and in what theological framework the Spirit can do this, is no different than declaring "the ELCA is in error" or "the ELCA is heretical" without actually arguing how it is in error or going through the process of a heresy trial (for lack of a better term to describe a process by which the whole church can discern whether or not there is a case of heresy).

We owe our brothers and sisters we believe to be in error more than throwing churchly grenades at one another. Saying, "we've got the Spirit" or "you're a heretical church" will not suffice. That is playground behavior at its worst. As St. Paul says, "owe no one anything, except to love each other." This must be our guiding principle as we stand in opposition. We must, however it can be accomplished, follow Matthew 18 as much as possible. This is a necessity for living faithfully with those with whom we clearly disagree. It is the calling of the cross.


  1. I think the fundamental problem is that the foundational mission of the Church (note capital 'C') is broken. While sexual ethics is important enough to constitute a dividing issue, the real problem lies in the brokeness of the Office of the Keys through which God's grace is administered to the repentant.

    How in the world is a pastor to forgive (in the name of our LORD) a man repenting of sin "xyz" in the morning and then be called to bless the act of 'xyz' later than evening?

    Repentance is prior to the Gospel, but if the Church is unable or unwilling to confess, teach, and preach the Law, how is one to repent?

  2. Another line of argument is to set up any text in the Bible that seems opposed to whatever stance alongside another text that is obviously irrelevant - the implication is always that both texts are outdated and irrelevant. Recently the president of Gettysburg attacked the idea that there is any presumed creational order by quoting a bizarre passage in the OT that said a man wearing his hair long was against nature. This is rather infantile logic, but I guess it's what goes for serious theological reflection in our seminaries (and I say this as a semi-seminarian).

  3. Michael,

    I think you are spot on. This has been my argument as well. I actually have an article being published this Wednesday at Lutheran Forum Online entitled, "Broken Keys." How can one half of the church bind a sin and the other half ordain a person committing the same acts and there still be unity within the church or among the roster? The bound conscience doctrine of the social statement holds these together as perfectly valid, equal, and correct interpretations of scripture. As you say the problem created by the social statement and the ministry policy recommendations is that the office of the keys is broken.