Supposedly we've been studying whether to offer blessings to same-sex couples and whether to ordain people in committed relationships. But the study materials haven't really focused on those questions. They've mired us in a different question: Is homosexuality — either in orientation or expression — sinful?
This has never been the right question. The church has only ever blessed heterosexual marriages between sinners. The church has only ever ordained pastors who are sinners. We bless marriages between people willfully devoted to conspicuous consumption. We don't hesitate to ordain people who smoke, even while wearing their collar, even around children. The "sin" question misses the point.
Even the questions about blessing and ordination are misguided. The real question is: How should we as a church respond when people come to us seeking full participation in our church — as they are, without becoming like us? How, especially when the Bible has seemed to suggest they have no part among God's people? That's the situation we face. And that's the situation faced by the early church when the Gentiles sought full participation without first becoming Jewish in diet and circumcision.
Texts in Acts 10, 11 and 15 tell us how the early church responded to that situation, but the task force chose not to put those texts before us in study materials. They chose not to offer us the one biblical model for constructively engaging our situation. In contrast, the early church did not rush back to the Torah to see whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised to join the church. If they had, they would've gotten mired in the same dilemma we are.
After fierce squabbling, the church ultimately decided to listen to the lives of the Gentiles who wanted to join them. Rather than challenging them with biblical texts, the early church listened to the stories of God's activity in their lives, then asked: "Is it possible God's Spirit is active in the lives of these people in ways we would never have guessed? Is it possible that God is surprising us? These are the questions that we must ask today.
"And for everything I learn there are two I don't understand. That's why I'm still on a search through the weather-strewn church. I'm doing the best I can and it's alright" (Emily Saliers, "It's Alright" on the Indigo Girl's CD Shaming of the Sun).
The deeper question is hospitality. The recommendations allow us to fully welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They also leave room for us to turn away these Christian men and women — from our congregations and the ministry — unless they conform to certain behaviors.
As Lutherans, we believe we are welcomed into the community of faith through baptism. This is God's action toward us. Nothing we do — or do not do — jeopardizes this fundamental embrace.
We welcome each other despite our brokenness, our differences.
The recommendations suggest Christian communities of sameness. In accepting these statements, we put aside the work Jesus have called us to: the ministry of welcoming others. I want to be part of a church that reflects Jesus' welcome of all people.
What divides our church in the present study process are two distinct ways of interpreting Scripture, two different readings of scientific data about homosexuality, two contrasting appeals to Christian tradition, and two alternative understandings of experience with gay and lesbian people: two seemingly irreconcilable paradigms.
It is imperative, if we are to heed the task force's advice, that we each acknowledge that those who hold views diametrically opposed to our own, especially regarding Scripture, are doing so out of deep Christian conscience and conviction. These are honest, legitimate differences among brothers and sisters in Christ.
One crucial test of any community, particularly the church of Jesus Christ, is how it deals with minority views. Statistics gathered by the task force show that those favoring a change in ELCA policy about blessings and rostering are a significant minority.
The task force's second and third recommendations counsel pastoral concern and exercise of conscience in relationship to this minority. This is an issue where a pastoral approach is urgently necessary — for us all.
The most important part of this recommendation is our challenge to commit to "finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements." With the spirit of the first recommendation guiding us, we can use the second and third as the verbal framework to begin to reconcile our differences.
But a passing vote on this language alone won't ameliorate the hard feelings felt throughout our church. We must all make a conscious effort to maintain the tenuous balance that this compromise suggests, with love for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ and respect for their deeply held convictions. Unfortunately this is no easy task.
I'm optimistic that if we ... work earnestly to live together faithfully, these proposals will be transformed into the life of a church that lives out its mission as one in the body of Christ.
I am amazed that the recommendations don't provide adequate leadership for the church but leave us in a state of confusion.
"Amazed" that they recommend the church keep its policies and also recommend that we establish a mechanism to violate its [the church's] own policy. That lacks ecclesiastical and pastoral integrity and perpetuates an unjust situation that is contrary to the gospel of God's grace and love: Some gay and lesbian people will be invited to come to "the big house" (a la slavery) while others won't.
There doesn't seem to be a sense of the pain that continues to be felt by gay and lesbian people in our congregations and by those who either are serving (perhaps closeted) or want to serve this church as ordained pastors, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry or deaconesses.
What does this report mean to us? Certainly it is disappointing, if not downright hateful.... Gay and Lutheran from birth we have shared the last 26 years of our lives. They are years of integrity, morality and faithfulness. We are tired of being studied. Tired of having focus groups discuss our value and worth to this church. Are we to glean from this study the tiny bread crumb of hope that, in some instances, a "pastoral response" will save us and other gay/lesbian Lutherans from being cast out into the darkness?
Perhaps the Churchwide Assembly will affirm and strengthen the report's minority viewpoint and we will be able to continue living as gay Lutherans until a more inclusive future arrives. Maybe — however the time has finally come to seek a spiritual home elsewhere. Millions have already left this denomination and others. There are many reasons — but hypocrisy, irrelevance and discrimination rank at the top of the list. Is that to be the legacy of the ELCA? We are saddened to continually read the angry words that other ELCA members direct our way. If only they realized that there is far more that unites us than that which divides us.
This church body is spread out over 10,000 congregations, and I thought the task force did a great job of listening to the members who were interested in giving input to this issue. They did a fantastic job of leaving this hot issue alone.... I'm conservative, and I didn't want the rules changed. I don't want the synod "telling me" what to do. I want control returned to the congregations.... Yes, it was a total waste of $1 million and this issue shouldn't be studied again until 2014.
One of the issues that bothered me was 17 percent didn't have an opinion and the majority of the responses were from people over 40 years old. Not a good sign for the next generation of Lutherans.
I have heard that when one member of the body of Christ is hurting, the entire body of Christ is hurting. I have a feeling if the hurting member is the gay and lesbian (and I might add bisexual and transgender) segment of the body, a large portion of the body does not, in fact, hurt with it. Which means we don't have the integrity to act as we speak.
I also have heard that when we look at someone, we should see the face of Jesus in the other. I have strong suspicion that when some in the church look at my face (and here I must note, I am a gay man who has felt called to ordained ministry), they do not in fact see Jesus, but rather, see Satan incarnate.
What does this mean? Simply, we have spent years (and quite a few dollars) to not have the courage to openly welcome my gifts and relationships. Once again, I feel slapped in the face and betrayed by my brothers/sisters.... I am disheartened by this lack of courage and sad for this church.
I'm against changing the ELCA constitution to allow practicing gay bishops and clergy to serve in the ELCA. It is contrary to biblical Christianity.... Paul recommended discipline within the fellowship having to do with openly practiced immorality (1 Corinthians 5). He spoke of homosexual behavior as being unacceptable to God (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). He went on to say, "If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed" (1 Corinthians 4:6). Paul gives council to bishops and deacons and enjoins them to live lives worthy of their high calling (1 Timothy 3).
The Christian church and we as individuals need to minister to those with homosexual orientation. We are called to hate the sin but love the sinner. We are all sinners in need of life changing grace through Jesus Christ.
The task force .... has worked out a solution where no changes would be made to existing ELCA rules on these matters, but none of the rules would be enforced, and there would be no penalties. We are urged to tolerate and encourage [homosexual] unions and rosterings. Unity is of utmost importance. God's word is apparently secondary. Here is another view — let's split. This way neither group would have to give up its fundamental view of what it thinks is right or wrong. Each group could go its own way with the happy feeling that they are doing God's will as they see it. There are thousands of denominations in the United States. One or two more won't make any difference.
I was glad to see that the task force was not recommending changes in the policy. But I was disturbed that they were making recommendations to seek to create space for "partnered" gay and lesbian ministers to serve in some situations, that by not changing the policy the recommendation could be adopted by a simple majority at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. This is a way of sneaking this policy in the back door....
I strongly disapprove of homosexual pastors being a part of the ELCA. We should minister to them with love but also with the truth that they are sinning and they should go and sin no more. I believe those who determine the policies of our church at the Churchwide Assembly should listen to the voice of the whole church and not just to the vocal minority.
It is almost certain that the acceptance of homosexual pastors being allowed to serve in any way will drive a wedge into our ELCA, creating a new reformation movement with a profound split in the ELCA. I surely hope this doesn't happen.
What the church and society does not understand is that, homosexuality is not a choice. One is either homosexual or one is not. It is that simple. You have brown eyes or you have blue, green, hazel or grey eyes. The matter of sexuality is just the same. This is one great truth that is constantly ignored. Who in their right mind would choose to belong to a group that is persecuted the world over? However, there is no choice, either you are or are not homosexual. Organized religion is fond of perpetrating the lie that homosexuality is a choice.
We are all part of God's family and should be accepted as such with the same rights and also the same responsibilities. A homosexual can also receive the call from the Lord to be a minister of the church just as anyone else can.
Even if I never have homosexual relations, I am still a homosexual and always have been. I cannot believe that God would punish or condemn me for being who He created me to be, with my own unique gifts and frailties and I cannot believe He would condemn anyone else in this position either.
The most important aspect of the report is the desire to remain on good terms with each other. This effort to listen to everyone and please everyone is to be applauded. The most critical aspect is the possibility that both "sides" will be alienated by not making a stand. My concern is that in a couple of decades, people will look back and be amazed that this issue was an issue.
We spent millions of dollars on this? We wasted time, talent, energy on a report that will cause a division because they are recommending change by getting rid of the penalties. We have gone from ‘Here We Stand' to ‘Here We Waffle.' I am disgusted that they couldn't even take a stand one way or the other. Let's remember what Jesus said in Revelations 3:16 to the Church in Laodicea: So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers