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Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by JustAsking, Aug 21, 2009.
This is good.
I'm proud to be a gay Lutheran today.
I heard this on the news earlier and was a bit puzzled as I wasn't familiar with the history. I'm glad it passed. :smile:
Yet I can't believe they thought it was acceptable to have celibate, gay clergy; but not someone with a life partner? Are people in love somehow not fit to preach? That makes no sense to me. I'm not dissing Lutherans, it just sounds stupid to an untrained ear. :redface: It's like the time our neighbors gave their youngest son a really expensive stereo for Christmas; but didn't give him the speakers until he brought his grades up in algebra and biology.
The fact this only passed by 108 votes is a tad troubling, but at least it passed.
No, your observations are not surprising. You have to realize that each denomination is making these decisions while dragging along their entire worldwide congregation, with each member on a different part of the spectrum from conservative to very progressive, from rural to urban, etc. Although each denomination establishes and maintains its doctrine about things, each denomination varies in the strength of its hierarchy in terms of how much influence they have.
For example, Catholicism has a strong hierarchy whereas ELCA Lutheranism is more "congregational" in its structure, leaving each region and each local congregation a lot of leeway. So steering the coarse of major decisions like this across the entire worldwide church is kind of like herding cats.
As for celibacy or non-celibacy in gays, what you are seeing is denominations trying to balance their discernment between Biblical law (which seems to condemn homosexuality) and Biblical Gospel, which preaches loudly that God loves and forgives unconditionally. ELCA Lutheranism, Episcopalianism and some others are very big on the second part, which is God's universal unconditional love and forgiveness. This drives them towards favoring the Gospel while keeping an eye on the Law as a guideline, rather than conservative doctrines that teach that adherence to the Law is the route to salvation.
The struggle goes back to Jesus time and before. Jesus illuminates it beautifully in The Good Samaritan Parable where he raises the despicable heathen Samaritan (despicable as far as his audience is concerned) up as the Christlike person who has compassion for the guy lying in the road. Jesus contrasts this against the seemingly unfeeling and uncompassionate holy men who cross to the other side of the road because their religious Law (the Jewish Purity Laws of the time) tells them to avoid death, sickness, and other forms of corruption in order to keep themselves pure and pleasing to God.
It is pretty clear what Jesus is saying here, and he says it to illustrate his answer to a someone in the crowd who asks him what the greatest commandments are. His answer is not one of the ten commandments, but to Love God and Love Neighbor. He even finishes it off by saying, "...all the Law and all the Prophecies hang on these two."
Furthermore Jesus breaks religous Law plenty of times in the New Testament, but always when he is trading off Law for compassion.
For the last two thousand years, different Christian denominations have struggled with where they think they should be in this dynamic tension between Law and Gospel.
If you are strong on Law, you would read the Bible and tend to see homosexual acts as sinful, because of some of the passages. But if you were not altogether totally bonkers, you would admit to each other that we are all sinners for one thing or another, and our role as a Christians is to seek out and support any part of the population that is marginalized just as Jesus did all the time. So you would welcome homosexuals, murderers, rapists and everyone you thought was marginalized as sinners or castigated by society. However, if any one of them were still practicing whatever you considered their sinful behavior, you would not ordain them as clergy making them into your spiritual leaders. (But you would still welcome them into your congregation, pray for them, and do whatever it takes to turn themselves around.)
What has been happening over the last few decades, though is that a number of denominations are rethinking their opinion on homosexuality and coming away from the notion that practicing homosexuality is sinful. They are dragging themselves out of the dark ages and starting to recognize that not only are homosexuals God's children like everyone else, (many denominations had gotten that far a while ago), but the sexual practices of homosexuality are not that big a deal when you have other things to consider, such as long term relationships, real lasting love and committment between two human beings, etc.
So denominations like the ELCA Lutherans have come to believe that homosexuals are God's children, that homosexuality seems to be a natural human phenomenon and not simply a bad lifestyle choice, it cannot be "cured" by praying away the gay like fundies belive, and that those sections of the Bible that may or may not refer to it as sinful are either spurious, wrongly interpreted, or the Law that they advocate is strongly overriden by these other compassionate concerns.
Therefore, if homosexuality is natural, and we are all pretty much unfaithful when it comes to the Law anyway, homosexuals are to be warmly welcomed into the congregation, included into all activities, and now the same rules apply to them as to anyone else being considered to be ordained, which is to be single and celibate or be in a longterm committed relationship where you can be sexually active. If you are either one, you are welcome to become blessed as a spiritual leader of the church.
Because, what remains is the notion that sex outside of marriage is sinful. So it applies equally to gay and straight candidates for ordination. But what also remains is that we are all sinners somewhere and somehow, so promiscuous gays and straights in uncommitted relationships are welcome into the church like the rest of us rat-bastards, but just not welcome to be spiritual leaders.
As I said before, denominations have to make these shifts while dragging millions of members worldwide along with them, and that is difficult to do. As it is, the Episcopalians has lost a big chunk of their congregations who split off to form a more conservative organization when they elected their gay bishop as head of the American Episcopalian church a while ago. The ELCA Lutherans will probably lose a chunk, too, over this decision, but the clause that allows an individual congregation to choose not to call a gay minister to be their pastor may stem that a bit while the techtonic plates shift a bit more into position.
Another thing about the Lutherans is that they are very active in building bridges to all the other Christian denominations. They have formed official agreements of one sort or another with different denominations where they state their agreement on basic theological notions such as God's grace being sufficient for salvation. In fact, an Episcopalian Pastor can become a pastor at a Lutheran church and vice-versa. And I think they just formed the same agreement with the United Methodists. Although the Pastor exchange thing is not in the agreement with the RC church, they do have an agreement that their basic notions on salvation (God's grace being sufficient) are the same.
The irony is that the original denomination that caused the Protestant Reformation to begin with is also the denomination that is the most active in healing it all back up. Luther never wanted to break away from the RC church. (ragardless of all the nasty stuff he said about it at the time) He just wanted to reform it. It was the RC church that rejected him. After that it was a bloodbath, but that is not how it started.
It is this bridge building that causes the Lutherans to be slightly less radical in pushing themselves forward in contrast to other denominations. I see that as a two edged sword. Is it more faithful to bring the worldwide church back together, or is it more faithful to be a reformer and turn the money changer's tables over in the temple courtyard.
Anyway, religion is just as complex as politics, unfortunately, since organized religion is a human construct. There is nothing you can say about that is not an oversimplification.
Consider this announcement as very good news. It won't be long before the Methodists and others announce the same thing. The margin by which these proposals lose from year to year gets smaller and soon it will cross the line into full acceptance.
As for the fundies, I can't speak for them. (Since they speak for themselves all the time.)
A longtime Lutheran gay advocacy organization.
"God hates Fangs." - Fellowship of the Sun
Sounds like one step forward. Now, I'll wait for the two steps back by other religions or the US government.
How delightful to finally be acceptable to them! Remind me to call on them next Wednesday.
A fatuous and hypocritical decision since it allows congregations to discriminate against gay clergy with specific prejudice. Where is the moral imperative then? Jesus reserved his greatest condemnation for hypocrites and to say one thing while freely allowing another is just that.
I think the vast majority of Christians have no idea of the enormity of what Jesus asked of them. I'm sorry to see the ELCA fail yet again.
Yes, I can see it from this point of view, too. My comments had to do with their struggle. It was not meant as a defense of the limits of their decision. I think they feel that they ultimately have better luck leading those dissenting congregations to the right place if they are still part of the ELCA organization than if they leave and form their own splinter group. If they really wanted to be hypocritical they could have just kept silent on the issue.
That is a very Lutheran statement and it is true to the core. However, their radical theology is not always expressed in their actions. They always seem to hang me up, too when they stop short of making a radical statement. My other beef with them is that they have no social statement on science like the other mainstream denominations do.
Although Lutherans write prolifically about science and religion, and against Creationism and Intelligent Design, they don't have their own formal social statement about it. I know that is not anywhere near the importance of the gay ordination ruling, but it is something that bugs me to no end.
Here is an example from the Episcopalians of a social statement on science.
Another thing that makes the Lutheran church a bit hesitant to take social and political stands is their left-over guilt from being passively complicit in Germany under Hitler. Leading up to that time, there was a big wave of activity in what was called at the time, "social gospel". Protestant denominations were all mobilizing to fix all of the world's ills and address misery and suffering with strong social and political actions.
Ironically, the ultimate expression of social gospel turned out to be Naziism. Although it was very twisted, Naziism grew out of a perversion of social gospel where when it came to fixing the problems in the world, the ends justified the means. Taken to extremes and manipulated by a charasmatic figure like Hitler, you get Naziism, eugenics and all kinds of nasty stuff.
After WWII, when the dust cleared, a lot of Christian denominations retracted their social gospel activity and withdrew into a kind of introspective mode where they did not want to be involved in politics at all. It was the civil rights movement that woke some of them back up again, but there is still a big reluctance of some denomations, especially Lutherans to make bold statements and meddle in politics and social change.
Lutherans do have one of the best and most efficient worldwide relief organizations and they bring about change that way. But they keep a very low profile when it comes to social action. Where you will find most mainstream Protestant denominations forging some pretty bold statements on social issues, Lutherans have very few such social statements.
There are quite a few people in the Lutheran world that are starting to think very differently so it is starting to change.
I understand your disappointment on their recent ruling and I also accept your opinion that it can be seen as a kind of hypocrisy. All I know is that change is in the wind in all the mainstream denominations and there will be a time when all of them will be ordaining gay clergy. In the meantime, as the weather front moves in, there will be all kinds of turbulence and unsettled atmosphere.
Having come to understand Lutheran theology, I think they are sitting on a radical and powerful gem that could change hearts and minds all around the world. It is my feeling that they should become overtly radical in such a way as to match their theology. It goes against everything they have been working on in terms of reconciliation of all the denominations, but I say screw that.
Is it better to slowly lose membership because you don't seem to stand for anything, or is it better to actualize the theology, let the large number of dissenters leave and end up with a solid core that is as radical and countercultural as Jesus was and as Lutheran theology is now.
Thanks for the comments Jason. I look forward to the day when Lutherans no longer disappoint you.