The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Sexuality votes keep focus on 2009
'Space' made for clergy in same-gender relationships as social statement study continues

as social statement study continues

ELCA policy was not changed with the assembly’s vote (538-431) urging synods and bishops to “refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining” pastors in same-gender relationships or the congregations that call them.

( Download “Bishop Landahl’s substitution” from the ELCA Assembly Web site.)

David P. Gleason (left) speaks to his
David P. Gleason (left) speaks to his motion of having synod bishops discuss their accountability for following the practices and procedures of the church. Paul Landahl, bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, listens on.

But something did change, said Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson following the action on the last morning, which came after more than three hours of discussion and debate over four days. “I sense a desire that in the midst of deep disagreements on matters of sexuality within this church that we find some space and a place for how we might live together for the sake of the gospel.”

Hanson said he takes the action as “words of counsel, not words that change standards of the church.” He also said he will convene conversations with other church leaders on how to interpret the text, which was introduced by Paul Landahl, bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, as a substitute resolution to the recommendation to refer calls for such restraint submitted by 14 synods to the Conference of Bishops.

Earlier in the session, the assembly defeated (581-450) a directive to make a change in clergy expectation standards, removing the requirement that homosexual people “abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.”

Based on resolutions to the assembly, called memorials, from 21 synods, it, too, was offered as a substitute by Craig E. Johnson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod. The memorials committee recommendation was to refer the synod requests to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, which is preparing a social statement on human sexuality for action by the 2009 assembly. Amended to direct the task force to recommend changes to any policies that preclude gay and lesbian people in committed relationships from ELCA rosters, the vote to refer passed (819-171).

Voters also referred to the task force a memorial on the blessing of same-sex relationships (733-278).

Short-circuiting? Keeping trust?

Lines remained long at all 12 microphones during discussion periods in four plenary sessions, as dozens of voting members told of their experiences, frustrations and fears on these issues. But much of the debate focused on whether any varying from the decisions of past assemblies—from 2001 on, when the development of the social statement was authorized—would short-circuit the ongoing study process and break trust within the church.

Jon V. Anderson, bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, said: “I’ve learned that process really matters. I know people who believe we’re going too fast and others who think we’re going too slow. You can get into a ditch both ways. Whatever we decide together will be best built on theological and biblical grounds from the social statement.”

“Finish the process,” urged Timothy A. Whiteman, Northwestern Washington Synod. “I’m concerned that a church that claims to be a Bible church and then selectively ignores passages destroys evangelical integrity. To do an end-run would end our integrity.”

Others felt the church already has discussed these issues too long. “It’s been 18 years—how much longer?” asked Sharon Bost, Southeastern Synod. “My son is loyal to his Lutheran tradition, but he will have to choose between a calling to serve the church and a possible love of a lifelong partner. Why should he have to leave the ELCA to be allowed to serve out his calling to pastoral ministry?”

Explaining her support for rostering pastors in same-sex relationships, Nadine R. Anderson, Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, said: “We can disagree and still live together faithfully. Remember, the American Lutheran Church passed the ordination of women by only 86 votes.”

Ester A. Johansson-Lebron, New Jersey Synod, served on the memorials committee. “I voted against the referrals then, and I will now,” she said. “I have two pastors for parents. I love how the church is an advocate for social change. ... If the church doesn’t advance justice, fairness and love, who will?”

Larry M. Cantu, West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, voiced an opposite opinion. “This is not a justice issue,” he said, adding that as the son of a Mexican immigrant he has worked for justice all his life. “It’s still a biblical issue, and I can’t find a blessing from God for relationships of same-sex people.”

“Some people say that if the church becomes radically inclusive, we will alienate people of color,” said Allison Guttu, Metropolitan New York Synod. “But there is not a uniform African American position or West African position. ... If anything, people of color are alienated when we see exclusion, not inclusion.”

And after the decisions

“Our synod has been Reconciled in Christ [welcoming of gay and lesbians] since the beginning of this church. It was one who brought these memorials to the assembly. But I want us to think about the two questions that are before us: The first is the decision we’ll make here. But the second is how to make it so a reception of it will have the best chance of success. If we abort the process, then people will not trust us,” said Theodore Schneider, bishop of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod.

For some voting members, however, the issue of trust focused already on synodical bishops who led challenges to the memorials committee’s recommendations. In the closing minutes of the assembly, David P. Gleason, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, said: “It seems to me that those who represent the church and its striving for unity should, in fact, follow those adopted practices and procedures. I think that it would simply help to clarify for all of us in the church where the lines of accountability lie for our bishops.”

His motion that the synod bishops discuss their accountability and that a statement be brought to the 2009 assembly passed (318-309).

“To those disappointed we didn’t make changes and to those who fear we’re on the way ... talk to each other,” Hanson said.


Tim Fisher

Tim Fisher

Posted at 1:00 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2007

>>Based on resolutions to the assembly, called memorials, from 21 synods, it, too, was offered as a substitute by Craig E. Johnson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod.>>

No, this is not accurate. It was Bishop Stumme-Diers of the Greater Milwaukee Synod who offered the substitution for full pollicy change, not Bishop Johnson. Bishop Johnson offered a different substitute, which was for what is often called "local option."

Rocky Prosser

Rocky Prosser

Posted at 2:00 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2007

With so much going on in the world, wars, famine, poverty, disasters, family breakdowns, and the list can and does go on, why all the focus on same sex relationships? Why not on issues that the gospel clearly articulates as being necessary for followers of Christ to focus on. We have become Christians that do not follow the gospel as it has been given to us. We want an easy softer way of dealing with issues. We want to include everyone, regardless of what they have done, want to do, or beleive. As far as standards are concerned, we have none. We go with the flow..............where ever the world leads us. What ever happened to "live in the world but not be of the world"? Why have we taken the "word" and twisted it to suit our own positions? We have muddied the waters of grace and love to the point that no one knows what the meaning of love really is. We have confused many out of our faith and in the world. No one knows where we stand anymore on the family, even those of us of this faith. This focus on same sex relationships has got to stop. We must be decisive, stand up for the "Word" as it is written! Not as we wish it would have been written. We are wandering in the desert, we are like reeds blowing in the wind, beleiving doctrines of men and not of God. When will we as a people recognize the justice side of God's plan of redemption?

Pastor Duncan Hunter

Pastor Duncan Hunter

Posted at 2:09 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2007

The ELCA needs to heed Scripture, the confessions of the Church and the tradition of the Church. In none of these do we find support for same sex relationships let alone having them live in the parsonage!

We (ELCA) have become another liberal protestant group.

Robert A. Watson

Robert A. Watson

Posted at 5:09 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2007

The issue of homosexual marriage and/or ordination is only one symptom.  There are many other areas where the ELCA is deviating from the clear dictates of Holy Scripture.  If God is omnipotent (AND HE IS) then His Holy Bible says exactly what He wants it to say.  No 'modernization' or interpretation is necessary.  Martin Luther was absolutely adamant that the Holy Scripture is paramount.  Bishop Hanson and his 36 sycophants have allowed the ELCA to drift so far from Scripture that I wonder how we can continue to call ourselves LUTHERAN.

Nancy Solomonson

Nancy Solomonson

Posted at 8:51 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2007

Of course we want to include everyone, "For God so loved the world!" We have standards that are difficult to fulfill: to love all creation and to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. As Christians, we want to be like Jesus: to share God's love with all people. God has given each one of us gifts - to be used for God's purposes, and none of us needs to be judging those who are sharing God's love in Christ Jesus. We all sin and fall short of the grace of God; as a human I have sinned greatly in my life, but the church has called me to be a pastor - by the grace of God - and by God's grace I am heterosexual. Could we all grow in God's grace so that we might accept the gifts of all God's people - even those who are gifted as gay?

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 8:01 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/29/2007

"...gifted as gay"??  I can't believe this is from a "pastor".  Read your Bible.  Nowhere does it call homosexuality a "gift".  It calls it an "abomination" and "depraved".

No one is born a homosexual, anymore than anyone is a born fornicator.  Those are free will choices made to indulge sinful lusts.

If God created homosexuals in the womb and blessed "gay"ness as a "gift", the Bible would say so.  It doesn't.

Yes, we are ALL sinners, but we are called to repent, to turn from sinful behavior, and repentance is REQUIRED for anyone in a leadership / ministerial position in the church.

People who are sexually immoral should NOT be turned away from the church; they need it as much as the rest of us.  BUT, if they are unrepetant, they should NOT be in ministry.

Let's quit trying to be politically correct.  Jesus isn't.  Instead of calling it "gifted as gay", call it what it is.  SIN.

Royce Wilson

Royce Wilson

Posted at 9:09 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/29/2007

This is a cancer that is spreading throughout our synods and will destroy the church if the REAL christians do not  take a stand.

This new gospel is spreading througout this church like a bouncing rabbit. St.Paul warned against this in scriptures .

My forefathers once worked very hard to justify a SIN called slavery. They even had the blessings of the church to include the Lutheran church in the south at that time.  They used the same tactics as are being used now. Just pick and choose what portion of the scriptures you want to use and justify what you want without taking in account the context of the whole gospel.   Adolph Hitler did the same thing In the early part of  WW11 when he gained the support of the Lutheran Church.

I am not going to waste time quoting scriptures against homosexually because it just is not necessary.

I will add for the folks that say Jesus said nothing on the issue of homosexuality that they need to remember Jesus said "My Father and I are the same" so does that mean that Jesus is also GOD and that Jesus was present when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorah.

Christ's written word never changes. My dissapointment  is with the clergy of our synods and not the scripture illeriate.

This church could have better used the money spent so far on Bible study clases and programs to help the homosexual to free themselves from sin.

Any sex outside a marriage between a man and a woman is a sin. This includes a man laying with another man and same with women.

Helen Renqvist

Helen Renqvist

Posted at 8:33 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/30/2007

Well. seems to me ALL sex is sinful. especially to church folk - END of message.  Also, human sexuality is not just for procreation, as it happens to be for animals.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 3:25 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/4/2007

Helen, ALL sex is not sinful.  God created it to give pleasure to married couples and for procreation.  But He knows that outside of marriage it is bad for us and leads to all kinds of pain.  Same with same sex fornication.

God DESTROYED Sodom & Gomorrah because all the people were caught up in homosexuality and fornication ("gifted as gay").

If we truly love others as ourselves, then we are doing a HUGE disservice to people who are practicing homosexuals by being "tolerant".  By allowing, permitting, condoning, accepting, and promoting a lifestyle which is going to bring them judgement and eternal separation from God in the end.

We must rebuke our LGBT brothers and sisters in love, and try to save them from making that terrible choice, which politically correct people are treating as normal "human sexuality".  If you love them, help them to free themselves from that sin.  Your "tolerance" will only help them into hell.

Ray M.

Ray M.

Posted at 4:34 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/5/2007

I believe that Bishop Hanson's admonition to continue discussion around homosexuality in the ELCA is more apparently needed than I erroneoously thought.  Let me explain:  I see many comments on here from very well-meaning, concerned people that the ELCA is becoming "politically correct" by even having these discussions around the inclusion of partnered gay and lesbian people in the life and ministries of this denomination, that the ELCA is in fact straying from the "clear word of scripture" regarding such matters.

The problem here is, scripture is sometimes very vague on some issues and downright disturbing in others.  How do we deal with passages by Paul which seem to prepetuate the institution of slavery, even though they are technically equal to their owners in Christ?  Or women are suposed to remain silent in church and keep their heads covered?  Well, easy, some might say, we have to look at the cultural context and interpret accordingly with the rest of the testimony of scripture.

Here is where I would argue for a Gospel-based reexamination by some of you regarding the supposed homosexual passages of scripture.  There is a lot of very reliable scholarly research out there that casts into question the traditional interpretation of these passages.  It should also be noted that no words existed in ancient Hebrew and koine Greek for "homosexual."  So how did some Bible translators come up with that word?

Not all gay people are depraved sex perverts.  Most of the single gay and lesbian Christians I know strive very hard to live a chaste life with the hopes of settling into a loving, committed relationship, which they believe is the biblical standard for all people, straight or gay, no exceptions.

Do the homework.  Look at both sides.  And, listen.  Listen to the testimonies of those faithful gay and lesbian Christians who are walking the walk now.  Don't just write them off as being in sin or deprived, listen to their testimonies.  Listen to the countless stories of those who had put their trust in "ex-gay" ministries only to come out discouraged and despondent of ever being "acceptable" to God... err... read that "acceptable to the Church."  Listen to the testimonies of those who, like myself, have returned to a revitalized and exciting faith in Christ through the love, support, prayers, and outreach of courageous ELCA congregations who are not afraid of welcoming those who are outcast. 

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 3:13 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/5/2007

The issue is not about welcoming gay people.  (Is anybody seriously suggesting that gay people do not belong in church?)  The issue is also not about personal testimonies.  The issue is whether the ELCA follows the eternal Word of God, or follows the whims of men and this world.  We are sinners called to repentance.  Jesus shed his precious blood on the cross for us - all we need to do is sincerely repent and ask forgiveness.  Repentance requires acknowledging our sin.

Is sin becoming a four-letter word in the ELCA?  Will the ELCA follow the Episcopalians out of orthodox Christianity into blatant apostasy?  How can ELCA lay any claim to Luther's heritage of "sola scriptura" when it chooses the the will of the flesh over the perfect will of God?

Those who ignore clear scripture here are not being "courageous"; they are in fact taking the road the Satan and the world would have us take.  This places souls in grave eternal peril, and should not be seen as kindness or love of neighbor. 

"Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!"

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 9:09 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/5/2007

Ray, are you speaking of "the supposed homosexual passages of scripture" like Genesis 18:20 about Sodom (remember where the word "sodomy" comes from) where God says "...their sin is exceedingly grave."  No mention of the disputable term "homosexual" there.  What about Leviticus 18:22 where God says "...You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."  Not much to misinterpret there.  And what about Romans 1:25 - 28 where God says "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.  For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper..."

No mention of the word "homosexual" in those passages, and the meaning is beyond varying interpretation.  God sent His Word to be read and understood easily by everyone.  Not some "code" that had to be laboriously figured out.

2 Peter 1:20 says "No prophesy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation."

No one should "write off" homosexuals.  We are called to rebuke in love and to guide our neighbors back on to the path.  The ELCA is showing a willingness to climb on board the "anything goes" morality that Satan is pushing on the world.  Do not be conformed by the world.  Think eternally and take God's word seriously!  It is a narrow path to heaven!  Not a wide road of tolerance.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 9:43 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/5/2007

When you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you quit being the boss of your own life and give it to him.  He sends you the Holy Spirit to live in you.  The Word is "foolishness to the natural man...", but with the Holy Spirit's help we gain wisdom and understanding of the Word when we read it.

If you are having a difficult time understanding scripture and are holding on tightly to your life instead of letting God lead it for you, you may need to check yourself to see if you have actually been born again.  Please pray about it!

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 3:18 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/6/2007

How can any church body have rules and then urge officials not to apply them?  Isn't this deceitful and cowardly?  Honestly, how can any leader or member be proud of such obfuscation and dishonesty?  (In the left hand kingdom, when this happens we say there is no rule of law).

Christians would do well to look for a Christ centered, cross focused church rather than a worldly organization more focused on social and political issues of the day. 

As Stephen writes, the theological case against gay clergy is airtight.  (Of course, to most proponents of gay ordination, this is a social justice issue and not primarily a theological concern.) This is from Luther's Small Catechism:

A pastor [overseer NIV] must be above reproach, the husband of but one
wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to
teach, not given to much wine, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome,
not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that
his children obey him with proper respect. He must not be a recent
convert. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been
taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute
those who oppose it. (See 1 Timothy 3:2,3,4,6; Titus 1:9.)

Ray M.

Ray M.

Posted at 4:17 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2007

I would like to quote a friend of mine, Justin from Gcn.net, here regarding Sodom:

"According to popular belief, 'God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality.' If you read the passage for yourself, you'll see this isn't quite the way it happened.  Sodom and Gomorrah were set to be destroyed by God for a number of reasons (Ezekiel tells us they were 'arrogant, overfed and unconcerned' and 'did not help the poor and needy,' among other things [Ezekiel 16:49]).  Like any other city in Bible times, these cities were populated primarily by heterosexuals; Lot found husbands for his daughters there.

"The only reason people today think of Sodom as 'a gay city' is that passage in Genesis 19 where two angels come to warn Lot of the city's impending destruction, and the men of the city respond to these visitors by forming an angry mob and threatening to gang rape them.  What most people don't know is that this isn't an isolated incident in Scripture.  Judges 19 tells a very similar story about a town mob threatening to gang rape a male visitor in the city of Gibeah, though in that story they end up murdering his concubine instead.  Does this mean that in Bible times, the landscape was dotted with "gay cities" everywhere that loved to rape men?  Of course not.  A threat of gang rape should be interpreted as an act of humiliating violence - a way of saying to a visitor, "You are not welcome here; we're the big dogs."  (Just imagine if you were in prison and a bunch of big, burly men threatened to rape you.  You wouldn't assume they were gay men hitting on you; you'd realize that they were threatening you with the worst punishment imaginable!)  Although it might sound strange to our ears, this would have made sense to the earliest readers of these texts."

So, that explains Sodom. 

Romans 1:18-32... Of all the prooftexts, this is the longest and most complex.  In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about a group of people who "knew God" but "neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him."  Their hearts are darkened, and they begin worshipping idols.  As a direct result of this idol worship, they begin engaging in homosexual behaviors (which they previously were not doing).  Ultimately, they become depraved and God gives them over to a whole list of sins.

Most Traditionalists read this passage as referring to all humanity, with the idol worship used as a metaphor rather than a specific event.  In their reading of the passage, Paul is essentially saying, "People (in general) have turned from God (represented by idol worship) and as a result, have become sinful (including homosexuality)."  I don't think the language of the passage quite supports that interpretation, however.

Paul begins by talking about all of humanity, to be sure, but he quickly moves to a specific example as a demonstration of humanity's fallenness.  The specific example is one his Roman readers would be immediately familiar with: the fertility cults in Rome, where men and women engaged in sexual orgies that included both heterosexual and homosexual sex rites.  Remember, Paul wants a vivid example of fallenness for his audience, something they can all nod their heads in agreement with, because he's getting ready to turn the tables on them in the next chapter.  In ancient Rome, "homosexuality" as a general phenomenon wouldn't have been the vivid illustration he was looking for (unlike today, when many conservative pastors use it for just that).  Roman fertility cults, however, were a great example that served his purpose nicely and required no explanation to his readers.

Notice that Paul talks about homosexuality in connection with the fertility rites (look for the "therefore" in v. 24 and "because of this" in v. 26), and not in the list of sins at the end of the passage.  This is our clue that Paul isn't bringing it up as "another example of sinful behavior."  Why, then, does Paul make such a big deal about the homosexual aspect of these rites?  For two reasons: 1) to highlight the "unnaturalness" of turning from God; and 2) to describe the rites in the most unappealing way he can think of, to unify everyone in saying, "Yes! How disgustingly immoral!"

And furthermore, I for one knew that I was gay since I was 12.  I received Christ as my Savior when I was 8 and baptized when I was 10.  I was the only one in my whole family that went to church or studied the Bible while I was growing up.  I also realized that I was homosexually-oriented when I was about 12 or 13.  Someone, please tell me what I did that was so depraved as a child that God would "give me over" to something detestable, if this verse is as cut and dry as people say it is?  This text in Romans also does not describe the experience of gay and lesbian people I know.

I, too, believe the Bible must be taken seriously and studied seriously to be sure that one does not fall into error (by the way, Mr. Miller, these scripture passages are not "prophecy" as per 1 Peter 1:20 and yes, we do personally interpret scripture everyday and are called to do so as we live by the Spirit to seek out God's purposes in our lives). 

This dialogue is a terrific example of how much we all need to continue this discussion.  An abundance of assumptions about how the Bible is read and interpreted by faithful people exist and somehow we need to continue to "journey faithfully together."  As someone who has been where you are, I know all the arguments you use very well.  You, on the other hand, can never know the other side of it without personally being in my shoes and knowing what my own relationship with the Lord is like, though I would encourage you to squeeze your mind and worldview open just a little wider to try and understand even if you can't agree.

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 11:20 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2007

Ray, I'm afraid this "dialogue" is rather typical of how this issue has been argued over the years: 

"As someone who has been where you are, I know all the arguments you use very well.  You, on the other hand, can never know the other side of it without personally being in my shoes and knowing what my own relationship with the Lord is like, though I would encourage you to squeeze your mind and worldview open just a little wider to try and understand even if you can't agree."

You discount and argue away the objective truth of God's word for your own subjective experience. 

I can understand that having attraction to the same sex makes this an emotional, very personal issue for you.  This is an obstacle Satan has given you that only faith and prayer can overcome.  I don't think you did anything special to deserve this in your youth, although we are all slaves to sin and all of us our guilty of many depravities.

Looking at the debate on sexuality, it is apparent this is merely a symptom of the larger cancer in the ELCA regarding the inerrancy of scripture, our understanding of sin and the nature of fallen man.  Unless something changes, many members and congregations will leave the ELCA and the battles that are now raging in the ECUSA will become commonplace. 

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 7:06 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2007

Well said, Marc.

Ray, I don't agree that you have completely and simply explained away Sodom.

I'd also like to read your spin on Leviticus 18:22, which you left out.

When you write things like; "Paul wants a vivid example of fallenness for his audience,...because HE's getting ready to turn the tables on them..." and " In ancient Rome, "homosexuality"... wouldn't have been the vivid illustration HE was looking for...." and "Roman fertility cults,...were a great example that served HIS purpose nicely and required no explanation to HIS readers."

It sounds like you don't TRULY believe that the Holy Spirit wrote the scriptures THROUGH these men.  Paul was a conduit.  Not a novelist thinking up "twists" for his stories or trying to appeal to a particular demographic.

No matter what kind of spin you put on the scriptures to justify your lifestyle, homosexuality is still fornication.  I don't see how anyone can get around that.  I believe that God has provided us with everything we need to know about how He wants us to live in this world, through His Word.  God makes it clear in the Bible that He blesses sexual relations between married men and women.  I believe that if he BLESSES homosexual behavior, He would have also made that just as clear.  He didn't.  Quite the contrary!

Please be careful and prayerful.  I understand that you have had homosexual impulses and urges since you were 12.  That doesn't mean you should act on them.  We are all human and all have sinful urges.  I don't happen to be attracted to my own sex, but I have many sinful impulses and urges I have to fight too.

This life will be gone in the twinkling of an eye.  It's eternity where we will live... with God, or without Him.  He is just, and He respects our decisions, but will also judge them.

Romans 13:14;  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.   

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 7:20 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2007

To "prophesy" is not necessarily telling the future, although it is that too.

A prophecy is the divinely inspired utterance of a prophet, and a prophet is one who is devinely inspired.

Ray M.

Ray M.

Posted at 11:58 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2007

I do not think that God used Paul or any other writers of the Bible as dictaphone-robots.  I believe God did inspire these writers and allowed them to use cultural references and examples that the current (and even future readers we would hope and pray) would connect with and understand.  Just because I say "Paul uses such-and-such example" doesn't mean I think God had nothing to do with its inspiration.

Anyway, onto Leviticus.

In Leviticus, God gives Moses a long list of rules for the Israelites.  Some of these are rules we still follow today; others we don't.  The one that is most often proof-texted as homosexuality in any circumstance being an aberration is Leviticus 18:22, which says, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman" (NIV).  The NIV translation follows this with, "that is detestable," but the more famous version is the King James Version, which reads, "It is abomination."

Understand that "abomination" in Hebrew refers to anything forbidden for the Israelites.  For instance, Leviticus 11 says that eagles are an abomination, and so are owls, storks, various types of water creatures, "and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth," just to name a few.  Locusts, by the way, aren't abominations.

Still, abomination or not, the prohibition of male-male sex is pretty straightforward.  And at the beginning of the passage, God tells us why He's giving these rules - because He wants to keep the Israelites pure and separate from the polytheistic cultures surrounding them (Lev. 18:1-4).  This helps explain why the Israelites are forbidden to shave (Lev. 19:27), get tattoos (Lev. 19:28), wear clothing made of mixed fabrics (Lev. 19:19), or have sex during a woman's period (Lev. 18:19).  It also helps explain the rather strange comments about things like sacrificing children to Molech (Lev. 18:21) and eating fruit too quickly from a tree (Lev. 19:23); and why the Israelites are forbidden to have sex with a woman and her daughter (Lev. 18:17) but nothing at all is said about sex outside of marriage or having multiple sexual partners.  Outside of the context of keeping the Israelites separate, it would be a very odd collection of rules.

I've heard people quote Leviticus to forbid homosexuality and tattoos, but other than that, people generally don't turn to Leviticus for moral guidance.  There's something very haphazard about that approach to the Bible, picking and choosing passages like side dishes at a buffet.

the only reason we're having this debate now about same-sex relationships instead of about women speaking in church is that our culture's standards have changed.  A few decades ago, hair length was a major cultural statement, and many Christians quoted 1 Corinthians 11:14 to prove that men should have short hair.  Today, very few of us would take that approach.  Similarly, most of us have no trouble explaining away the "women must be silent" passages with a cultural explanation - something about how women in Paul's day were causing problems by interrupting the service, or speaking about things without the education to back themselves up, or violating cultural standards and thereby making the church look bad.  I've heard all kinds of cultural explanations for Paul's prohibition there, often made by the same people who resist applying that logic to the homosexuality prooftexts.  But let's be honest with ourselves.  If we're going to seriously be "not of this world" and follow Christ at all costs, how can we approach the Bible with a constantly changing standard, always trying to adapt it to fit our preconceived ideas?  That's exactly what the church has done for many, many years.

Unless we're going to start requiring women to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11:3-13), we're going to have to find a clear, consistent way of determining which passages in Scripture we're still obligated to follow, and which ones we're not.  And it has to be a standard that we can apply in every culture and in every context, not something that lets us reinterpret things every few years to suit our desires.

I believe there are inherent problems with the Traditional View that go much deeper than how you interpret the homosexuality prooftexts.

To explain what I mean, let's imagine that you and I are Traditionalists.  That means that not only do we condemn homosexual behaviors like the ones referred to in Scripture, but we would have to condemn ALL gay relationships, no matter how wonderful they might seem.

So for instance, let's say we know two couples - one gay, and one straight.  These couples are both Christian couples, and they're both equally devoted to Christ.  Both couples have made committments to stay together and be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives.  Both couples have a certain sense of complimentarity, so that each person's strengths and weaknesses help to balance out their partner.  Both couples pray together; both couples serve together; in fact, in every respect, these couples are identical.  The only difference is that one is gay and the other is straight.

According to the Traditional View, we're supposed to celebrate and admire one of these couples, while we condemn the other one as an evil thing in God's sight.

Or here's another way of putting it.  Suppose my friend Billy meets someone and falls in love with this person, named Sam.  Billy and Sam spend months, maybe even years, getting to know one another, and as they grow closer to each other and to Christ, they decide to form a lasting bond, to promise to be together forever in a marriage in front of God.  So Billy comes to me about it and I, being a Traditionalist, respond by saying, "That's immoral and disgusting!  You and Samuel are doing a terrible thing before God!"  Billy blinks for a moment and then replies, "Sam is short for Samantha.  She's a girl."  Suddenly, my opinion changes.  "Oh, well then, that's wonderful!  All the best to you!  What a blessing!"

In this case, nothing at all has changed about Billy's commitment, Billy's motivations, Billy's relationship with Christ, or even Billy's specific actions.  Everything is exactly the same, with one exception: Sam went from male to female in my mind, and that somehow changed the relationship from being disgusting and immoral to being holy and beautiful - even though, in either case, Billy's motivations and actions are exactly the same.

There's something a bit unnerving about that, isn't there?  It doesn't seem quite right.  But if we're going to be Traditionalists, we'd have to explain this discrepancy by reminding ourselves, "There's a rule that says that's the way it has to be.  It's not up to me; it's up to God.  God says same-sex relationships are sinful, so they must be."

But now we have an even bigger problem.

We've built our entire Traditionalist argument on one important premise: the idea that all people are either male or female.  That way we can distinguish the "holy" relationships from the "sinful" ones.

But what if we find out that Sam isn't male OR female?  Then what?

You see, although they're rare, gender anomalies do exist.  Many people have abnormalities that prevent them from being classified as male or female.  Some have both sets of genitals; others have deformed genitals; some have bodies that don't match their chromosomes; others have chromosomes that aren't XX or XY; and still others have bodies that don't match their brains.  It's a field that gets more and more complex the more you study it.  Most of these people find a way of publicly identifying as male or female, but their bodies may in fact be more like the opposite gender, or anywhere in between.

Most of us are just glad not to have to deal with problems like that, so we simply put it out of our minds.  But this is a very real problem that affects many real people.  It's not their fault they were born with these difficulties, and this is the only life they've got.  So if they fall in love with someone who loves them just as they are, then how do we advise them?  We can't just write it off as "an exception to the rule" - not if we really believe that gender marks the difference between holy marriage and living in sin.  No, somehow we'd have to find a way of distinguishing, but how?  Would we just go by the gender they identified with?  Even if their body was quite different?  Would we go by external genitals?  By chromosomes?  What about the ambiguous cases?

Even if we could come up with some sort of standard for judging the ambiguous cases, wouldn't it seem a little bit arbitrary?  Yet somehow we'd have to go on believing that gender is crucial to God - so crucial that marrying someone of the wrong gender can keep you out of the kingdom of God.

But that's only the first problem we face.  The second one is even more mind-boggling.

We based our Traditional View on the idea that we need to follow Biblical standards for right and wrong, even when it doesn't make sense to us.  Even though the homosexuality prooftexts could have been explained in other ways, and even though none of them referred to gay marriage or covenant gay partnerships of any sort, we still decided that the most straightforward reading of these verses said that homosexuality was wrong.

The trouble is, if we apply that same reasoning to other passages, we're going to end up with some major headaches.

For instance, let's take a look at 1 Corinthians 11:3-10.  The passage reads: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since his is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head."

So now what?  It doesn't make sense to argue that this is only a cultural command if we're not going to accept the same argument for the homosexuality passages.  In fact, it would make even less sense to argue for a cultural interpretation here, when Paul clearly tells us that his reason for giving this command is because of the order of creation "and because of the angels."  Whatever that might mean, it doesn't sound cultural, does it?

Or what about Romans 13:1: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

I was just reading an article where a conservative minister used this passage to prove that both the American Revolution and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s civil disobedience were sinful acts.  Using our current method of interpretation, we'd have to agree.  Furthermore, we'd have to condemn even the actions of German Christians who resisted the Nazi government.

This can't be right... can it?

When it comes right down to it, no one consistently applies Scripture passages in a literal, word-for-word, direct application to today's problems in every case.  Any honest Christian has to admit that there are at least some passages that either a) don't apply today; b) still apply but don't mean what they seem to mean on the surface; or c) are overruled by other passages or biblical themes.

The problem is, how do we know which passages are which?  As I said earlier, we need a clear, consistent standard that we can apply across the board.

This is more bad news for the Traditional View, though.  I've been studying this issue for quite a few years now, and I still haven't found any supporter of the Traditional View who can give me a clear, consistent standard to explain why we should apply the gay prooftexts to same-sex marriage and yet not follow the letter of the text on issues like slavery, women in the church, hair length, money lending, and so on.  Most Traditionalist Christians I've talked to are content to simply change standards as they go, arguing for a cultural reading of one passage and a literal reading of another, without any reason for doing so other than their prior beliefs about what the Bible ought to say.

The closest I've ever seen to a clear, consistent standard like this from a Traditionalist Christian is a book by William Webb entitled Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals.  Mr. Webb realizes this is a problem for the Traditional View, and his book (published in 2001) is an attempt to fix this problem - to give us a clear, consistent standard to explain why the church has changed its mind on slavery and (to some degree) on women but shouldn't change its mind on homosexuality.  When someone pointed me to this book recently, I thought, "At last!  Someone on their side has recognized this problem and is trying to fix it!"

Here's the thing, though.  Mr. Webb's attempt at a "clear, consistent standard" is a list of eighteen separate criteria, none of which are particularly clear.  I do admire him for making the effort, but somehow I just don't think he's accomplished what he set out to do - especially considering I could just as easily use his own eighteen criteria to make a pretty strong case for the "Reformed" View.

Romans 13:8-10 reads as follows: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Paul makes an incredibly bold statement here.  He says that whatever commandment there may be can be summed up in the rule to love your neighbor.  What a concept!  To put it another way, Paul is saying that if we lived our lives with a truly loving spirit, acting in truly loving ways, we would automatically fulfill every one of God's laws.  We wouldn't have any need for specific rules.

For example, adultery is an inherently unloving act.  If you were living in a loving way toward your spouse, you'd keep your vow without being told to.  Similarly, you wouldn't murder someone if you loved them, and you wouldn't steal from someone if you loved them.  And if you truly love someone, you don't covet the things they have; instead, you're happy for them when good things come their way, not lusting after those things for yourself.

We could literally go through every single one of God's commandments and show that each one of them is simply an extension of this basic principle to live a life of servant love.  ("Love" here of course doesn't mean romantic love; it means the deep, abiding, unconditional love that comes from God.)

But wait - the very definition of the Traditional View says that even when two relationships are equally loving - even when they're motivated by the exact same selfless desires and the exact same servant hearts - that one of them can be ruled sinful just because of a person's gender.  Traditionalists say that this command is from God.  But if it's from God, then why does it contradict the rule Paul gives us here - a rule that applies to every other commandment?

Incidentally, this passage in Romans 13 isn't just some random, obscure passage.  Paul spends almost the entire book of Romans building an argument about law, grace, and sin, trying to explain what the Christian gospel is all about.  Paul uses the word "law" 74 times in twelve chapters!  The passage I just quoted from Romans 13 is the conclusion of Paul's grand argument; it's the last time "law" is mentioned for the rest of the book.

Throughout all of his letters, Paul was concerned with two problems in the church.  On one extreme were the Christians who weren't living like Christians.  They were indulging themselves, behaving badly, and making the church look horrible.  On the other side were those Christians who were so concerned with following all the requirements of the Law that they were putting a tremendous burden on themselves and others.

It was this second group that Paul was addressing in Colossians 2:20-23: "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."

But what about God's law in the Bible?  Doesn't it give us a lot of rules like that?

Paul explains this apparent contradiction in Galatians 3:23-25: "

Before this faith [in Jesus] came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."

I think that this concept was too radical for many Christians, because it seems that no sooner had Paul written this than people started trying to find ways to explain it away.  For instance, some Christians will claim that the Old Testament can be divided into "moral laws" and "ritual laws," and that we're no longer under the supervision of the ritual laws, but we're still under the supervision of the moral ones.  This has several problems, one of which is the fact that the Old Testament itself does not contain any distinction between "moral" and "ritual" laws; it calls breaking any of the laws "sin."  (For example, see Lev. 5:1-6.)  The only way anyone "distinguishes" between the two is by deciding ahead of time which laws they think should still apply and drawing the line accordingly.  Secondly, even if there were such a distinction, Paul doesn't say "we are no longer under the supervision of the ritual law," he says "the law."  Period.

In a similar fashion, some Christians will try to claim that what Paul means by "the law" is only the Old Testament law, and that Paul gives us a new law in the New Testament.  But that isn't at all what he says; Paul makes it perfectly clear that we as Christians are not under the law - Old Testament or New Testament.  He's not trying to remove one law only to put us under another one; he's trying to show us that in Christ, we are free from the law.

But being free from the law isn't the end of the story.  Paul also wants us to realize that we must avoid the other extreme; we must not sin.  Galatians 5:13-14 says: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Notice how Paul addresses both extremes in this passage.  First, we're called to be free, and that means we're no longer bound by the rules and regulations of the law.  On the other hand, he says, sin is still a very real possibility for us, and we shouldn't use our freedom from the law as a license to sin.  Just as we shouldn't be bound by rules, we also shouldn't be bound by sin.

Some of Paul's critics must have been concerned that without the rules of the law, we wouldn't be able to know what is or isn't sin.  But that's why Paul tells us the alternative: we must "serve one another in love."  And again, he reminds us, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

According to Paul, if we live a life of servant love, we will be doing everything that the law requires of us.  No further rules and regulations are necessary.

This idea didn't start with Paul, either.  Even back in the Old Testament, God says through the prophet Hosea, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).  Sacrifice, of course, was a part of the law God had given them, but what does God mean by "mercy"?  Well, according to my Zondervan NIV Study Bible: "[This Hebrew word] can refer to right conduct toward one's fellowman or loyalty to the Lord or both - the sum total of what God requires of his servants. [...] The same Hebrew word is translated 'love' in v. 4."

So what God most wants is love - toward our fellow human beings and toward God.  And Jesus reiterates that when he tells us that "love God" and "love your neighbor" are the two great commandments (Mark 12:28-34).  And that's good enough for me.

Deaconess Megan

Deaconess Megan

Posted at 12:28 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/8/2007

"Romans 13:8-10 reads as follows: "Let no debt remain outstanding,
except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his
fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit
adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and
whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love
does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the
law." "

Amen, Ray.  Well said.

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 3:47 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/8/2007

Romans 13:11-14 "And do this,
understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up
from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we
first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let
us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and
jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

Jesus told us he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

Love requires admonishment when the person we love is in danger.  A parent teaches a baby not to chew on an electrical cord.  A Christian is required (by Jesus' second Great Commandment) to try to guide a brother/sister in Christ away from the danger of abandoning God's holy  and eternal Word.

We need to hear Law AND Gospel.  We need to realize that we are miserable sinners, called to repentance.  And our confidence is that when we repent our sins and ask for forgiveness, we are clothed in the the white robes of Christ who died for us.

Ray, I freely admit that many of the things that God has done challenge human logic.  Sending his only Son, sinless and clean, to die a horrible death on the cross for those who deserve nothing but eternal punishment, can never be properly explained in human terms.  It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't seem fair.  But we don't need fairness - we need mercy and grace.  We need the Father to see not us miserable sinners and our miserable deeds when we are judged, but Christ's sinless life that he has imparted us.  For that to happen, we do need to repent of our sins and ask forgiveness. 

Ray, I agree with you on the inconsistency in arguing for women's ordination and against normalizing homosexual behaviors.  You're correct:  you can't have it both ways:  you can't say God's word is true on this issue, but relative on that issue.  I would point out that after having watched the tragic theological nosedive that the ELCA has taken over the past two decades, the LCMS and the WELS are more confident than ever in their opposition to women's ordination.  ELCA has pointedly demonstrated the slippery slope danger of compromising God's Word, even on a matter that makes all the "human" or "cultural" sense in the world.  Christ promised us that following him will make things difficult for us, and this means following Him and not the world.

Heidelberg Disputations- Thesis 21- “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”

Ray M.

Ray M.

Posted at 7:43 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/8/2007


I do not disagree with anything you said about needing to confess our sins before God and live in a stance of repentance and gratitude to Christ for what he has done for us.  What I disagree with here is what we are calling "darkness."  What I am trying to point out is that traditional scriptural renderings about homosexuality in the case of loving committed relationships (and whether this bars someone from falling their calling to ordained ministry) isn't as cut and dry as the church seems to make it.  And this same logic applies to barring gifted women from ordained ministry as well.

I am glad that many congregations in the ELCA are making space at the table for anyone.  Having come from an LCMS congregation previously, it is refreshing to see the gifts of women in pastoral leadership being used.  I have also personally been blessed by knowing ordained gay clergy and can see God's hand on their calling.  We see through a glass darkly but eventually we will see in full.  Until then, we need to keep praying, keep the dialogue going, learn to respect some of our differences, and celebrate that which we have in common.

It is clear that we are going to have to agree to disagree on some of these issues, but I do believe that we can agree on at least one thing: that regardless of Biblical language/cultural ambiguities and our "midrash" of them, we agree on the centrality of Christ, his teachings, his life, his death for us, and his resurrection to accomplish what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  I'll make a space for you next to me at the communion rail.



Posted at 9:21 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/10/2007

It is disheartening to see how many people are decieved by tradition and personal bias into believing that scripture has a clear position against homosexual relationships.  Thank you, Ray, for covering these things so well.  It would be nice if the "yeah, but" responders would listen a little. 



Posted at 1:20 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/11/2007

WOW!  I hope that the above comments are an accurate representation of the members of the ELCA.  With the exception of Ray M and David, I totaly agree.  Up intil this moment I was seriously considering a move to the LCMS.  I have long been a supporter of the Word Alone movement within the ELCA. I have been a lifelong member of the ELCA (60 Years) and I am VERY concerned over the shift away from Scripture. If I may just quote Luther regarding Scripture:  "It is not the church which authorizes Scripture, but quite the contrary; the Scriptures validate the church".  AND,  "It is not the word of God because the church says so; but that the word of God might be spoken, therefore the church comes into being.  The church does not make the word, but it is made by the word". 

All of this drift is clearly predicted in Scripture,  2 Tim 4:3-4 "For the time is comming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own desires, 4- and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths."

I have often said that there should be an "ELCA" version of the Bible.  The pages would be perforated at the binding so that you could just easly tear out the pages containing the things you didn't like.  It has often been called a "cafeteria" religion where you can just pick and choose what you believe rather that follow God's word.

Once again, I hope and pray that the above is a good sample of how the people in the pews understand what Scripture so clearly says.  Let us all pray that we will be led by Scripture and not the gospel of political correctness. Please check out the Worl Alone web site to see what they believe regarding Scripture.

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 4:34 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/11/2007

John, God bless you and the faithful souls in the ELCA.  However, I wouldn't let the back-and-forth here keep you from not leaving the ELCA - I'd say this discussion has shown why you need to leave. 

The two sides argue past each other because the starting points are so vastly different.  Those who oppose ordaining homosexuals (or having the ELCA pay for abortions, or having the hymnal trashed) argue on the basis of Scripture and the confessions.  The other side plays along for awhile, but soon give up defending their position theologically, and then begin to argue on the basis of personal experience or social justice, and try to turn this from a theological issue into a civil rights issue.  For those of us who stress the inerrancy of God's word, the Bible is objective truth and is meant for the ages (What Paul wrote to the Romans, he wrote he us).  For those who stress a critical approach, the Bible is relative and is to be interpreted differently, a la carte, by each generation and each place.

Two completely different views:  one focused on how we should try to mold ourselves to the Word ("It's not about you, it's about Christ for you"), the other focused on how we can play with or ignore the Word to fit our lives in the world.  As you illustrate with the passages from Timothy, we've been warned this will happen.

The practical question then is what to do - stay in such a divided church body or go.  As painful as it sounds (and it can be as personally painful as a divorce), I would say it's probably better at this point to go.  You can't really expect things to get better, only worse, as the trend has been going all in the same direction since the birth of the ELCA.  Word Alone and CORE and faithful confessional Lutheran pastors and laymen are fighting the good fight, but the battles for the Bible in the ELCA are all being lost.  It becomes a spiritually more dangerous place year by year.  Not a place I would feel confident bringing a new generation into when their eternal souls depend on it hearing the Word faithfully spoken and the sacraments rightly delivered. 

What would I do as a layman?  Leave quickly, and look for a confessional Lutheran church (LCMS, WELS) that holds to the faith and has serious theology.

What would I do as a pastor or church leader?  Look for opportunities to talk to the congregation about joining LCMS or LCMC.  There is talk about a break-off group, but America probably doesn't really need another Lutheran church body.

The "traditionalists" will have an increasingly tough time staying in ELCA.  Defending the Bible will mean you will be accused of not loving your neighbor, or even worse, bigotry. 

Satan is calling the tunes when we're spending all our time and energy talking about sexuality, various social position papers, and what we think of other aspects of the left-hand kingdom.  He loved it when the medieval church did this, and he loves it now.  For that means we're not doing what we've been commanded to do:  Preach Christ and Him crucified, for all sinners.



Posted at 10:17 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/11/2007


It appears to me that Ray presented very solid and cogent theological arguments for his case.  It's difficult to see how you could dismiss it all as "playing along". 

I agree that the two sides argue past each other, but since Ray takes on each scripture passage used against gays, and points out the shaky theological basis they provide for an anti-gay position, it seems it's up to "traditionalists" to address these matters directly and honestly.  I haven't seen that happen yet. 

The "traditional" position seems to be essentially that we've always believed this way and there's no reason to reconsider it now no matter what the truth of the matter may be.  That is fine theology indeed!  I'm sure Luther would have been persuaded to shut up had Rome used that one on him. 

I don't think experience needs to be totally discounted in this discussion either.  If the Spirit calls gays to the church and to the ministry without converting them to heterosexuality, that suggests to me how important sexual orientation is, or is not, in God's view.  Could this be the modern parallel to the controversy over circumcision in the early church?  There were "clear" rules about that in the Bible too.

I totally understand concerns that this is just another (perhaps the most eggregious) step toward apostasy, but I will not be persuaded by a theology of fear.  If the devil is pleased by any of this, he may be delighted that church members get so worked up about homosexuality that they will go storming out of church, but they will fall gently back to sleep in the pews when they hear what they want and expect to hear about how they should just keep thinking and doing as they always have.

The slippery slope runs both ways, my friend, and for all its faults, I salute the ELCA for avoiding a rash misstep either way on this one. 



Posted at 11:03 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/11/2007


I do NOT agree that Ray "presented a very solid cogent theological argument".  I think he did all kinds of contortions to get Scripture to come out on his way.  All this brings up what might be an even larger problem.  If as Ray claims the Bible has been translated in such a sloppy and uninformed manner by so many scholors over the years then why don't we or the ELCA take the lead and re translate the Scripture to reflect a more acurate translation.  If the ELCA truly believs this they should be attempting to correct the misleading passeges of the Bible.  But of course that would bring to a head the false teaching and I am sure it would stir up a wirlwind akin to the reformation.  But maybe that is exactly what we need.  To get back to Sola Scripture etc. Bottom line, we will never agree and so a split or break with ELCA teaching seems to be all that is left.  I have heard ELCA pastors say things like "I don't believe in the devil",  "I don't believe that Jesus walked on water".  But when questioned they could NOT explain why they believe what they stated.  If as a pastor you are going to say you don't believe in things that the Bible mentions then you should be able to explain why. You should be able to explain why so you could teach others. I have not even scratched the surface.  I fear that the ELCA is going to suffer a large reduction in members if it does not return to Scripture.

Ray M

Ray M

Posted at 11:05 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/13/2007


Apparently you really did not read anything I wrote.  I used scripture, and LOTS of scripture, to defend my position.  I did not resort to whining about social justice or personal experience, although, yes, my personal experience certainly does have a role to play.  I believe scripture even talks about those who "overcame by the power of their testimony."  So, please do not discount mine.

Furthermore, and not that this is anybody's business, if I really wanted to contort scripture to fit whatever view I wanted, I would try to figure out a way to make scripture read things that make my life as a Christian far more "cushy" than it is now.  I am single and celibate as I believe that this is my calling, but I also realize that this is not everyone's calling.  I would find ways, instead, to avoid having to take care of wacky mentally ill homeless people, the fatherless, and the widow.  That takes me out of my cushy safe zones far more than anything else does.

So, while I defend a position, I am not defending it for my own sense of "getting what I want."  I have a much broader (and yes, it is Gospel-based) vision here.



Posted at 11:23 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/13/2007


I totally agree that there is a lot of sloppy theology floating around the ELCA and in its seminaries regarding miracles and the like.  After all, if you can't believe that Jesus walked on water, how can you believe he was raised from the dead?  And if he wasn't raised from the dead, isn't our faith in vain?  So why be an ordained minister of the Word, if you don't believe in it?

The problem i see here, is that these other matters have not been great controversies in the ELCA (for some reason).  Instead, everyone becomes exercised over homosexuality as if it's the central teaching of the church upon which all others stand or fall.  I see your raising these other matters now as simply "changing the subject."  

The subject at hand is whether we have rightly understood and taught what the scriptures say about homosexuality.   Unwillingness to even consider the possibility is simply stubborness (and a good dose of fear).  I don't think stubborness or fear are among the gifts of the Spirit. 

I don't see "all kinds of contortions to get Scripture to come out his way" in Ray's argument.  It looks to me like he's looking very specifically at what the Scripture says (in the original languages) and the context in which it was said.  He's also applying a bit of logic, such as, if this Levitical rule still applies, how come this other one right next to it doesn't?  Who decided?  Sounds like serious Bible study to me. 

Even appeals to Luther must be carefully considered.  Luther was ready to throw out whole books of the Bible because they didn't conform to what he saw as the overall thrust of the Gospel message.  The faithful Lutheran does not see scripture in the same benighted way as a fundamentalist, and even the fundamentalists have cherry picked through the Scriptures according to some sort of unwritten convention.

It is easy for me to see how the the "traditiional" view of homosexuality could have become so entrenched over time.  Homosexuals are a small minority of the population.  Homosexuality represents a threat to heterosexual concepts of manhood and masculinity.  Heterosexual men pretty much run everything.  (And, interestingly, a charge of homosexuality became a great way to bring down rich or powerful rivals and sieze their property.  No one dared defend someone so accused, since to do so would associate them with "evil." )

Some translations of the Bible actually use the word "homosexual" where this word did not even exist in the original language.  It was a non-controversial substitution for words meaning temple prostitute, promiscuous, or "soft", which could have meant anything from effeminant to fat, overly comfortable, and lazy.  Why worry about scriptural accuracy when everyone hates homosexuals anyway?  I can see the translator sitting there thinking, "Hmmm.... What does God really hate?... Ah!  Homosexuals."  Nowdays, laymen everywhere point gleefully at such dubious translations and interpretations and insist quite sincerely that "God said so."

The impetus for us to reconsider is that the "traditional" teaching doesn't hold water in the real world where there are many faithful Christain homosexuals.  Homosexuality does not appear to hinder the call of the Spirit, and this becomes more clear as more and more homosexuals come out of hiding.  When you find out that good ol' uncle Joe who ushered at church every Sunday was queer, it has to make you wonder.  At least it would if you are inclined to wonder about things. 



Posted at 7:46 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/13/2007

Ray M. keeps defending homosexual behavior in spite of the fact that most gay people agree that the Bible is totally negative about it.  However, he along with the 21 bishops completely ignore the fact that those who are ordained into the ministry of the ELCA make a solemn promise before God and the congregation that they will live up to the visions and expectations of ELCA clergy.  They knew this would be required before ordination.  So either their call does not mean enough to them to live up to their promise, in which case they should not be pastors, OR they made the promise with no intention of keeping it, which certainly would disqualify them for ordination.  Do we really want clergy whose sex life is more important to them than keeping their promises to God?

Marc E.

Marc E.

Posted at 6:56 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/14/2007

Dear Ray and David,

Please don't deny the importance of the law (as in Law and Gospel).  The Law instructs and convicts, telling us how much we need salvation and also telling us just how great the price Jesus paid on the cross.  The Gospel offers undeserved forgiveness to those who repent, ask and believe.  The Law without Gospel drives us to utter despair.  Gospel without the Law is self-refuting ("forgiveness for what?"). 

We should let scripture interpret scripture, and it does take an awful lot of contortions to come up with an argument that scripture does not condemn homosexual acts.  Honestly, if you had no opinion on the "homosexuality" issue, and you read the Bible passages that Ray sites above (as well as the text before and after the individual verses), do you think think you would come out where you are now?  Hypothetical in the extreme to ask for tabula rasa, but you do accuse others of not having an open mind because we don't accept your novelties regarding scripture. 

Regarding sloppy theology:  David, thank you for at least acknowledging this is a huge problem in the ELCA.  Forgive if some of us assume perfect correlation between those who argue for homosexual ordination and those who blatantly deny central tenets of our faith.  Correlation is, however, very high.  (Please note the homepage of the ELCA posits that Jesus' resurrection was perhaps an apparition - someone should tell Thomas.)  Ray is right when he notes that you can't take liberties in fitting the Bible to current culture on some issues but not others.  But Ray sees this as an opportunity for further "innovation", not a problem.

Regarding being "moved by the Spirit".  This is often the fallback when people give up making a scriptually-backed theological argument:  "The Spirit told me so".  You're not in good company when you make this claim - you've got people like Pat Robertson and other TV evangelists, Pentacostalists, 7th Day Adventists, etc., on your side.  The Spirit works through the Word, not against the Word.  ("Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through external Word and sacrament.  Whatever is attributed to the Spirit, apart from such Word and sacrament, is of the devil."  - Smalcald Articles 131)   

We should not be looking to ourselves and our experiences to interpret scripture.  We are fallen, incapable of doing good when we follow our own human natures and desires.  The world is at war with the Word.  If we find ourselves interpreting scripture based on today's culture (and it is most certainly a temptation), we're lost. 

David, I and others will readily admit to being stubborn and fearful on this issue, but not because of bigotry or wanting to preserve white, hetrosexual hetromogeny.  It is a good thing to be stubborn about God's Word.  Pray that the Lord will keep us steadfast in it.

Blessings in Christ,




Posted at 8:42 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/14/2007

I'm still waiting for someone to even attempt to refute Ray's Scripture-based arguments.  You can't make an honest defense of the "traditional" position by just assuming the "traditional" position is correct at the outset. 

I think I'm repeating myself here (seems necessary for some reason), but the question is "What does the Scripture actually say?" 

You assume that the "Law" proscribes homosexuality.  That is debatable, as Ray has shown.  The Law clearly does forbid eating pork and shellfish.  What "contortions" have we gone through to allow us to have bacon with our eggs?  Having seen no attempt to deal with Ray's statements Scripturally I have to conclude that the "traditional" view of Scripture has more to do with tradition than Scripture.

The Spirit moved Paul to preach to the Gentiles and dump circumcism and pretty much all of the other Jewish religious laws and regulations.  Peter had every Scriptural reason to remain stubborn in his defense of Jewish law.  Should he have?  Paul's writings and assertions were not "Scripture" at the time.  How did the early church justify abandoning the Jewish laws? 

I only mentioned the work of the Spirit in my previous post as a way of explaining why we're having this debate in the first place--not as any proof of argument one way or the other.  If our gay members and pastors remained in the closet and nodded their heads when told how depraved they are, we would not need to even think about this issue.  Everyone could go on pretending or being in blissful ignorance as they always have. 

Since most gays no longer risk death, imprisonment, or other harsh civil penalties for coming out, we're suddenly faced with the fact that homosexuals are everywhere (including in church) and always have been.  This reality seems to have invoked the "fight or flight" response in many.  The ELCA is trying to decide if a third choice is available or not.  If you're stuck in "fight or flight" you won't be able to find another way.



Posted at 10:37 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/14/2007


That most gay people agree that the Bible is totally negative about homosexuality is no big surprise.  It's been preached from pulpits and served as justification for civil suppression for centuries. 

And no surprise either, that gays often deal with it in despair or anger by leaving the church and becoming agnostics, atheists, or pagans.  So it would appear that homosexuality leads to spiritual ruin, even though the traditional Scriptural view seems to indicate the opposite--that spirtual ruin leads to homosexuality.  Yet, some gays cling to the skirts of their mother, the Church, screaming and bawling and hoping for some acknowledgement of parenthood.

Regarding vows, our hero, Martin Luther, broke his ordination vows of celibacy, obedience to the pope, etc.  It had to do with obeying God rather than men.  So the principle appears to be that a vow is not valid if it puts you in conflict with God (or your sex drive) or is more than God requires.   What God requires is the question.

I agree, however, that it would be hard to justify making a vow of any kind while knowing full well you had no intention of keeping it at the time.

The temptation to discuss divorce, and how the Bible looks at it and the church deals with it, is so tempting here.  That would be changing the subject slightly, but would serve as a prime example of the gross inconsistency in the "traditional" arguments against homosexuality.  Otherwise we would be equally embroiled in a bitter debate about what to do with divorced and (worse) remarried clergy.

My dad has often said (somewhat in jest) that "all the problems started when we let women vote."  If you ascribe to a "slippery slope" world view (which I don't).  You can't stay on any part of the slope and be safe.  You have to climb all the way back to the peak in the clouds and stay there.  People seem to like to talk about how great it is at the peak and how everyone should go there, but I don't see anyone climbing any higher than they already are.



Posted at 12:50 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/14/2007

While still a member of the ELCA, I am beginning to feel that I also have been clinging to the skirts of the mother church (ELCA) way too long, hoping and praying that it will return to Scripture.  I am afraid that the erosian can not be changed.  I am reminded of the "frog in the pot".  I just pray that I will know when to leave the pot. I wish I was able to describe things as well as Marc E. Thanks Marc.

Ray M.

Ray M.

Posted at 12:21 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/21/2007

Greetings, all.

Marc, I want to thank you for being a squeaky wheel.  I know that where we are at with church discussions is a scary place.  I have been there.  It does feel like a slippery slope.  On the surface, it does feel like compromise.  I don't want you to not think that your feelings here have no merit.  To consider the alternative--for example, taking a position like mine--would also probably constitute a paradigm shift that would shake everything you have ever believed your entire life (or at least it feels that way).

Again, I need to reiterate to you, though, that while human experience does not supercede scriptural authority, human experience should also help to reiterate and clarify the authority of scripture, especially in light of passages that human experience contradicts (such as the passage of Romans 1 that I quoted above, or Sodom and Gomorrah; again, these scripture passages refer to very specific acts of pagan sexual orgies and violent sexual intimidation, not the experience of the lives of most gay and lesbian people I know).

I do know that your heart is in the right place here, and I also know that mine is as well.  I hope we can agree to respectfully disagree, if nothing else because I maintain that we are still one in the Spirit.

Margaret, in regard to your comments about homosexual behavior (which is a misnomer, because there is no "homosexual behavior," singular, just as there is no "heterosexual behavior," singular), I couldn't give you a better response than David did above.  Thanks for your sharing your perspective here, David.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm done here.  I've said my peace, everyone has said theirs, no one's mind is going to be changed.  I think it is very sad that an issue like this is going to cause people to stomp out of the doors of the ELCA because, as David remarked above, this issue is not a central tenet of Christian faith.  I, too, am baffled when I hear seminary-trained pastors and the like talk about the resurrection and miracles of Christ as if they are mere myth or allegory (though I also can see their point from a literary perspective).  The claims of Christ and following Him are far more important than these debates are, and with that I'm signing off.

Christine Smith

Christine Smith

Posted at 11:53 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/2/2007

I am very deeply concerned about the issue of homosexuality within the ELCA. To be honest, I'm dreading 2009. Anyway, here's my take:

I believe that homosexuality is a sin. In all my reading of the Bible, I've never seen one word in the BIble that even hints that it would support or condone the practice. This is in contrast to women preaching in the church--although there are portions of the New Testament which state that women should not preach, it's also very clear in other portions that women have taken a prominent role in the church. For me, women preaching in the church is a gray area, but homosexuality is not.

The proper form of marriage/love is taught extensively throughout the Bible; we are taught (regardless of whether you take this as "literal" or not) that God established the relationship from the very beginning for male and female, and that the entire relationship between Christ and the Church is paralleled in marriage. Indeed, Jesus blessed a wedding with His own presence. If we are to hold to the authority of Scripture, how can we set these aside?

I disagree with those that would say that because it might be, or is, not a "choice" but physically caused, that somehow its okay. But just because something has a physical cause, does not make it right--would I be right if I committed adultery or had pre-marital sex because my hormones "made" me? Do we not affirm free will, that we can choose to resist temptation, even that which is physically based?

I disagree with those who say that because many homosexual couples love each other, and are committed to each other (even more so than many heterosexuals) that this makes it okay. I abhor the divorce rate and the general lack of respect for the institution of heterosexual marriage as much as I oppose homosexuality--as the saying goes, "two wrongs don't make a right". Likewise, just because two people love each other, does not make it "right"--I again turn to the examples of adultery and pre-marital sex, as well as some of those relationships between incestuous, prostitutes, and polygamous relationships--in each of these, examples may be found where the two people were in a "loving" and "committed" relationship, but that does not make it right. God decides what is right and what is wrong, and God clearly sets forth in the Bible that the bonds of marriage are for committed, loving, heterosexual couples.

I also disagree with those who argue that even if homosexuality is a sin, it's still okay for them to be ordained in the ministry. It is true that we are all sinful, even pastors; however, there is a big difference between recognizing sinfulness and repenting vs. a pastor not recognizing that homosexuality is a sin--to "call evil, good" so to speak. While no pastor is perfect, we must nevertheless expect them to be good and faithful witnesses--in word and in deed--to God's message.

To be clear--I have absolutely no problem with homosexuals coming to church, and I will join with them in prayer, in Communion, etc. Nor would I go on any type of witch hunt to insult or hurt them--because again, we are all sinners. However, when it comes to church policy and doctrine, we must uphold the truth--and the truth is is that this practice is sinful, and cannot be condoned.

In Christ,

Frank Herold

Frank Herold

Posted at 4:26 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/27/2008

Why the vote now on social statement on human sexuality? Are going to just keep watching you all voting again and again till you have enough votes to pass it. Can we not learn from the Episcopal Church? Homosexuality is a sin and should be treated like one. I am a live long Lutheran and this sure doesn't make for a faithful journey. I love our church and I am too old (75) to have to become ashamed of it and too late for me to change. I have the feeling this is being shoved on us.

God bless




Posted at 11:44 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/30/2008

Hi, all!

 Coming to this debate forum late, let me just make one observation and then pose one question.

The Word of God is first and foremost Jesus Christ himself.  He is the way in which we are to interpret Scripture, to know what in it is or is not the will of God.  The Bible as a whole doesn't have just one position on nearly any moral issue.  As it says in Hebrews 1:1, " Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, ..."  OK?  Many and various ways before, Son now.  And the Son does not speak to us in many and various ways, but in one way.

So then comes my question: Why in the church aren't we discussing celibacy?  The draft statement contains no discussion of it at all, only a couple of passing and almost disparaging references.  Yet both Jesus Christ and St. Paul make it clear that, while not mandatory for all, celibacy is somehow the standard of behavior in the area of sexuality.  It sounds to me like we are avoiding the eloquent example of Christ's celibacy so that we can instead make heterosexual marriage into the standard.  That is to say, we can make ourselves (married heterosexuals) into God's standard, which is perhaps what we really wanted all along.

The world very much wants to make sex into a god.  I'm afraid that the church is following far too much in that rut!   



Posted at 10:01 am (U.S. Eastern) 11/28/2008

 No one said that homosexuals were not allowed into the church. The question is about them leading our church. Lets look at it this way....if someone were a drunk, would you allow them to lead your church? What about a prostitue...no not just any prostitue but a committed and expensive call girl... could she have the job to lead us...our families...our children? Well the answer would only be yes to any of the questions if the person was reformed. The same logic still rules with homosexuals...it is evident that the idea of allowing them to lead while still practicing their sexual preference is not preferred by most people...Lutherans or not. The evidence is in the amount of money and time that has been spent on the issue. I think Frank Herold ( previously post above me ) is correct in that we have a group that will continue to push us into we merely say alright. I do not want it pushed onto me and for all of you throwing around scripture and saying how vague the bible is on social issues....i suggest you check your heart, if jesus lives there then you will know the right answer.    NOW, if that does not work ,tell me how I am supposed to explain to my son..."Jonah"..when we walk through our local mall and see the pastor holding hands with a man, kissing him on the cheek, walking with their adpoted child (son?) How am I to explain to him that it is ...alright... and if any of us did exlpain it as alright to our own children, would we not also be justifying it as well as giving them an approval to do live a similar lifestyle? Lifestyle is a choice and it is one that this large number of homsexuals have made. Why do we change our ways/ beliefs because a large number of people said so, creid for us to do so? We have the right and obligation to say NO! I will close with one last thought, while we are all Gods creation, we are not all God's children. Some will pose as a child of God, but will be there to spread falsehoods, deceit and lies...to skew the truth. So again I ask, search your heart, if he lives there, the answer will be evident.

God Bless,


David Pross

David Pross

Posted at 6:48 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/10/2009

Jeff makes some good points.

It seems to me that Lutherans Concerned, Goodsoil, etc. are not concerned that what has happened over the past eight years could mortally wound the ELCA as we know it, just as long as they get what they want.

I am dismayed that so many people in the ELCA think we'll just pass this motion, trash Visions & Expectations, become local-option-anything-goes, and all walk hand-in-hand smiling and singing "Kum-Ba-Ya."  Have  any of these talked to our Episcopal brothers and sisters going through schism?

I am also dismayed that those of us who oppose this have been painted as "hateful," "bigoted," "homophobic," etc.  Disagreement is not hatred.

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