Tuesday, August 25, 2009

While we're at it, let's talk about divorce too

In all the talk about lifelong committed same-gender partnerships for homosexual people over the past several years, we have lost much conversation about divorce which (I would expect) actually affects more people in our churches directly. While there are many congregations that don't have (openly) gay members, I doubt that there are any that have no divorced members. Families too--its becoming more and more rare to find families not affected by divorce in one way or another.

This comes hot on the heels of the reaction of (many? some? a few?) ELCA pastors and congregations connected to the LutheranCORE organization who can not abide the stance of the ELCA on homosexuality at the Churchwide Assembly and are now leaving the ELCA (or pulling funding anyhow) and joining a new denomination, the LCMC, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (not to be confused with the LC-MS, Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod).

When read with the same sort of lens as LutheranCORE and others have offered to the homosexuality discussion, the Bible has some pretty clear words on divorce, many from the mouth of Jesus himself, which actually seem less open to interpretation than the ones on homosexuality: Malachi 2:16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18, 1 Corinthians 7:10-17. I'm interested in how this will play out, as I imagine that (many? some? a few?) of the people who leave the ELCA for the LCMC will be (or will have in their close friends and family) people who are divorced and remarried. Will the LCMC reach out in welcome to them, even though one could assert, from the Bible, that they are "adulterers"? Will they only allow "repentant" divorced people who agree to remain celebate? Will they allow divorced (and further, divorced and remarried) pastors? Will they bless marriages (or unions) in which one or both of the partners has been divorced?

People think I'm just being snarky when I ask these sorts of questions, but I'm honestly not. I'm concerned where the argument for this sort of way of reading the Bible naturally leads, and how that will affect people who have experienced divorce. And here's a big reason why: In 2006, during my first year as a Lutheran pastor, the Gospel reading for one of the Sunday's in early October was Mark 10:2-16, which included Jesus' teachings on marriage being "joining a man and a woman into one flesh" and "what God has joined let no one separate" and "whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery."

Now, as a Lutheran pastor I am trained to draw my preaching from the Bible, to use the readings presented to shape the message, and to not be afraid to preach "Law" to lead people to long to hear the "Gospel"--to shake them up when needed so they can hear the Good News even more clearly. So I crafted a sermon that had some harsh things to say about the brokenness of human relationships--lifting up God's standard and showing how we fall away from it, how easily we stray from what God created us to be. "Jesus tells us God is against divorce," I told my congregation, "and even calls people who divorced 'adulterers'. But he does so in a 'love the sinner, hate the sin' sort of way. And the Good News is that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." The idea was to shock them with God's standards (which are harsh in this text) so that they Good News that we're all broken might be clearer. But as I looked out at the room, I got the sense that what people were actually hearing was Bad News, and that the promise of forgiveness didn't sound so promising to them.

And then my face fell on a couple, with whom I had been on a hiking trip with the day before (Saturday--after my sermon was done and printed). On this "get to know the new pastor" hike, these folks in their late 50's shared their story with me: how they'd had difficult marriages that fell apart, how they'd felt alone for so many years, how they turned to our congregation for support and care in their brokenness, and found not a harsh critique of what had happened to them, but a loving, welcoming community that has as a guiding principle "Everyone is Welcome" and lives this out every day. And then, by sheer Grace, God introduced them to one another through the church--the best thing that ever happened to them, they said--and they fell in love and got married, transforming their lives and faiths in the process.

By the time I looked to these two (snuggling in their normal place in the pews) it was too late. I was on a roll, the law was flowing forth with gusto, and though I paused, there was not much I could do but keep going. But when I came to the part that was meant to comfort, to console-- to show people that all that law was simply to show us all that Jesus loves everybody equally, forgives sins, and calls us to a new way of life--it seemed somehow less than convincing, even to me. What I was trying to say simply did not mesh the story that I'd heard the day before: that God turns brokenness into healing, death into new life, heals broken relationships when people reach out with hospitality and love. And as I got down from the pulpit I felt like crap, realizing that I'd failed in my calling to preach the Gospel in ways that people can hear it. And though the law is appropriate at times, and we need to call one another to account, I simply couldn't see in this case how it helped--but I could clearly see on the face of these two people, how it hurt them.

So after worship I pulled the couple into my office, explained to them all these thoughts, and apologized for what I had done, how I had hurt them without good cause, and to speak in person the "Good News" part I'd failed to fully communicate in the sermon. And they were unbelievably gracious to me, as only broken and healed people can be, and embraced me. They could hear, even in my sermon, what my intent was and that I didn't mean them any ill will. And since we had started build a relationship (though only a day old) they were willing to cut me some slack (thanks be to God!). But I'm haunted by the fact that there were two visiting families that day who have never come back, whose stories of brokenness and healing I'll never get to know.

Its funny how this law/gospel thing works sometimes, and this experience was a sharp lesson for me in how much context matters. What might be the sort of "law" in one context that could lead to embracing Good News (say if I were counseling a couple to stick it out in their marriage even though it is hard) became something diabolical and merely hurtful in this context. And my attempt at a "law" sermon did preach the law that leads to repentance, but I was the recipient of it. In my own speaking I condemned myself, and only through turning to the reconciliation offered in Christ (which led me to apologize) did I hear the Good News for me. And how ironic that (contrary to my own preaching) these supposed "unrepentant, adulterous" remarried people became God's messengers of both Law (when I looked on them and realized my own sin) and Gospel when, despite what I had done to them, they offered me the unmerited grace I had denied to them.

And while I don't suggest we get rid of the law, we need to recognize that it is a much more mysterious thing than just enforcing God's law or calling for repentance. In this example the preaching of the law had precisely its interned effect--but the effect God had in mind was speaking law to me, not me speaking God's law to someone else. It is a reminder to me that our over focus on law (on rules and who breaks them) can lead us to harm one another and set up a false distinction between "law followers" and "law ignorers." The reality is that both of these false "camps" are harmful, and lead us to mistreat one another. The true power of the law is that it shows how screwed up this whole way of arguing is--we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and when we debate who is in and who is out, who is lawful and who is not, we end up hurting one another. And I'm pretty sure that if God keeps a sin score-card (which of course he doesn't but if he did) "Christians hurting other Christians in the name of Jesus" would fall pretty close to the top of that list. The truth of my sermon on divorce was that we were all broken people in need of reconciled relationships, and we needed each other both to remind one another of that fact, but also in solidarity to give and receive forgiveness as Jesus taught us.

So back to church politics, here's where this teaching of the strict "laws" against homosexuality (to the point where some Lutherans intend to "divorce" themselves from one another) seems to lead down a legalistic path that might be really hard to carry out lovingly in their context on other things like divorce. Its one thing to draw a line in the sand when it comes to God's law for gay and lesbian folks especially if that is culturally acceptable or tolerated, or if there aren't any (openly) gay people in your congregation. But to follow the same line of logic on divorce is going to stir up some major conflict in pretty much any congregation, and will make the task of telling people about Jesus that much more difficult.

Imagine a conversation in a restaurant: Non-Christian couple: "Thank you for sharing the Good News about Jesus with us! What is to prevent us from being baptized? Can we come to church with you on Sunday?" Christian evangelist: "Sure! But wait, is this your first marriage?" Non-Christian couple: "Um...no. We've both been married twice before." Christian evangelist: "I'm sorry, Christians believe that second marriages are adulterous and you wouldn't be welcome. Sorry. Bye!"

I fully understand the desire of my brother and sister Lutherans to stand on conscience and not allow what they understand to be false teaching. Homosexuality, they assert, is contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible. I also understand the desire (following dear Luther himself) to be willing to sacrifice the unity of the Church for one's principles. We are, after all, ecclesia semper reformanda, an "always reforming church." But I worry, if teachings such as this aren't consistent, wouldn't there quickly be yet another split--between those in the LCMC who insist on the same sort of reading on divorce (and perhaps, women clergy?!) against those who disagree. And then, I don't know what argument can be made that wouldn't contradict the one used on homosexuality.

LutheranCORE, wrote a letter sent on 8/21/09 suggesting ELCA congregations join LCMC and either leave the ELCA or withhold their money (but keep their pensions and other benefits of being part of the ELCA. This is bad stewardship in my view, but that's another blog). Sorry, back to my point--In this letter they assert: "The assembly has voted to remove the ELCA from the universal Christian consensus on marriage and homosexual behavior. Lutheran CORE intends to remain faithful to the clear teaching of Scripture and the consistent teaching of the Christian Church worldwide and throughout time.” I honor their claim and their commitment to their principles (and to Biblical principles), but I wonder if they realize how costly this will be for them, especially if they follow they "universal consensus on marriage and homosexual behavior" as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, which gives special honor to celibacy (contrary to Luther's own writings on the subject), and refuses to bless people who have been divorced, ordain women, or clergy in any sort of sexual relationship (with a few exceptions). The Eastern Orthodox Church also requires any clergy not married before ordination to remain celibate, and previously married pastors are forbidden to remarry (even in the case of death of the spouse). And there hardly seems to be "universal consensus" on divorce among protestants (even very conservative ones) and if there was, why don't we see (as disagreement generally plays out in our sound bite culture) signs proclaiming: "God hates divorce! Malachi 2:16" like the "God hates fags! Romans 9:13" signs that have been so "popular" in the past few decades?

To those of you who disagree with me, I would love to hear how the teachings on homosexuality and divorce are different, and why the teaching of groups such as LutheranCORE (or other conservative Christian groups that forbid homosexuality but allow divorce and remarriage) would be different on one arena of sexual behavior forbidden in the Bible than on another. To me, it seems like the approach that the ELCA is leaning into with the newly adopted social statement and decisions on GLBT relationships and clergy is much better able to answer these seeming contradictions.

In a nutshell, the change in the ELCA which the folks at LutheranCORE (and elsewhere) are so upset about isn't to categorically say "homosexuality is totally OK" but to admit to the existing range of Lutheran interpretation and applications a fourth possibility that allows congregations for which it makes sense (and who believe it Biblically) to bless same gender relationships and ordain pastors in these relationships. It doesn't actually force any Lutherans to believe any differently than they do, except to recognize that there are other points of view, and to trust that we can differ on this point without breaking fellowship with one another. This is a very Lutheran attempt to still be one in Christ amidst differences (which are many beyond this issue) and to say there are things we could be spending our time on (say, mission and evangelism) that would be more interesting to fight over than this. Here's the section on this range of understandings from the social statement:
This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:

• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are
convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful,
contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of
natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior
carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore
conclude that the neighbor and the community are best
served by calling people in same-gender sexual
relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a
celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be
accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are
convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong,
monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken
world in which some relationships do not pattern
themselves after the creation God intended. While they
acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with
mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or
community are best served by publicly recognizing such
relationships as traditional marriage.

• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are
convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the
context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and
committed relationships that we experience today. They
believe that the neighbor and community are best served
when same-gender relationships are honored and held to
high standards and public accountability, but they do not
equate these relationships with marriage. They do,
however, affirm the need for community support and the
role of pastoral care, and may wish to surround lifelong
monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.

• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are
convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the
context of sexual orientation and committed relationships
that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor
and community are best served when same-gender
relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous
commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards,
sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They
surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with
prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the
challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They
believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of
social and legal support for themselves, their children and
other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability
available for their relationships.
In addition, the assembly affirmed that we need to respect the "bound consciences" of one another--not just that some will have consciences which are bound to one interpretation, but also that our consciences are bound to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We need all of these understandings and applications of the Biblical witness in context because it allows us all to see more fully, and to be in relationship with those who profoundly disagree. This is not how the world works--you are meant to pick a side and battle until one beats the other and the true winner is declared. This other way just doesnt make sense.

The fact that it doesn't make sense (How can people who fundamentally disagree on important matters of faith and scripture not battle to the death until one mind is reached?) is part of its profound beauty, and its reliance on the "strange to the world" Lutheran theological emphasis on paradoxical "both/and" thinking. Christ was both human and divine, we are both sinners and saints, the world is both loved by God and profoundly disordered. Saturday morning at the Churchwide Assembly, Pr. John Nunes of Lutheran World Relief quoted Arthur Carl Piepkorn: "Only Jesus death and resurrection can make sense, ultimate sense, out of our terrifying absurdity." The prospect of holding this range teaching without splintering to little bits is "terrifyingly absurd" (its really haaard, to quote Nadia Bolz-Weber) and I think it reminds us how absurd this whole "one in Christ" thing is--Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, gay and straight, red states and blue states, and all range of worldly divisions that try to split us apart melt away because all we really have in common, when it comes right down to it, is Jesus. Crazy talk. But that's how we Lutherans roll.

It seems to me that people and groups like LutheranCORE that oppose the fourth option are going to have a much better time sticking things out together within this framework than outside of it. I think its reasonable to say something like: "Because of how we have come to understand together what the Bible means in our context, it makes sense to "bind" the teaching on homosexuality even as we "loose" the teaching on divorce and women pastors. But we don't claim to be totally right for all times and places and so we not only stay in fellowship with people who disagree, but we allow one another to challenge each other, because the capital-T Truth is not really in one understanding or another, but in Christ--the Word of God that comes to us in community through the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit--and we all see through a glass darkly. "

But, as this assembly has proven over and over to me, that Word of God comes to us first as law, reveals us all to be in bondage to sin (legalists, antinomians, and mushy-centrists alike) at the foot of the cross, and painfully reveals how screwed up our community has become over this. What sort of witness is that we have been offering to the world?

What does speak volumes (and I hope is the witness of this past week) is that Christians, like the Lutherans (screwed up as we may be), can think all sorts of things on important issues, can disagree and even argue passionately with one another, but in the end, we are family--and don't allow these wordly divisions to get in the way of unity in Christ. At the danger of being redundant from my previous posts, what the ELCA claimed (and quite publicly) is to embody the words of the song "Peace" from Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA:
"Broken conversations, broken people, we're broken Lord. Terrified illusions, seeking comfort, we're seeking more. We need each other more than we need to agree. Father, Son, Spirit bless us with your love, with your grace and peace. Peace. Let there be peace."
We are a broken people, a screwed up church that can't figure out one authoritative teaching on sexuality for all times and places that will do what God intends. But we know we need each other, and we long to be in relationship with one another as Christ calls us to be. And like the couple from my church who found out what real love looked like because of the brokeness they had experienced in previous relationships and so were able to offer it to me when I needed it, we're just a bunch of broken people connecting to other broken people who find peace not in all being perfect (or even all being the same) but in Jesus who broke himself for us--and continue to break himself for us--so that we could be made whole. And I still wonder what would have happened with those two families whom I never saw again if I'd figured all of this out before now.


  1. What do you tell the children, our better yet teenagers (maybe your daughters when they are 15, 16, 17) when they come to you and say they are in love, in a monogamous relationship with their boyfriend and want to have sex. It's okay for pastors to do it now, so why not me.

    I guess you give them the foot of the cross speech, and tell them we live in a broken society and say it's okay, right? You certainly don't want to "hurt them" like the re-married people. We can't be hurting people's feelings now.

  2. Pr Pub,

    I sense the depth of your questions, and I don't read them as snarky.

    As I read your blog post, I am lead down a slightly different tangent: How will the rules of engagement for "life-long" GLBT pastors compare to those of their straight pulpit-mates?

    "Life-long" doesn't give much wiggle room. Will the process of dealing with a previously divorced (or currently divorcing) straight preacher be the same as those for GLBT folks?

    Do we end up with 1 or 2 sets of guidelines on the topic?

    I don't have the answers, but I trust that reasonable people using a process of discernment will somehow come up with some reasonable rules.


  3. Pastor Erik I love this post. I would love to hear more on your thoughts and would even maybe suggest a sermon or adult forum on these topics. I know they can be heated topics but I feel they are the topics that we most commonly ignore, and thus, don't understand. Keep up the writing.

  4. Pastor Eric, Wow that was long but well worth the read. Your questions are the same ones I've been mulling over. There's another question that irks me some. When did part of Lutheranism become fundamentalist? Now maybe this is the fault of my growing up in the Metro-New York Synod ELCA and further back LCA, ULCA. I've attended many bible studies and adult forums and never ran into this theological view. My pastors were rooted in the historical critical method of interpretation. the stuff I'm hearing from LutheranCORE and the likes of Carl Braaten is totally foreign to me. By the way I read Braaten's Christian Dogmatics 20 years ago and never thought of him as a literalist. Would these folks now revoke the ordination of women? Are they captive to a certain culture just as much as so called liberals? As I look at Lutheranism's history I see a church divided and sub divided by many factors. Germans,Norwegians,Danes,Swedes etc. High church, low church, pietist, rationalists. Some coming together for a time only to split off when personalities clash. And the theological variations. Does a pastors particular brand depend on where he or she went to seminary? Just some questions from a happy, redeemed and forgiven Lutheran who's a little confused. God Bless

  5. Hey Holly, when you call someone who opposes GLBT clergy fundamentalist, is that because there is absolutely no scriptural backing whatsoever to do so? Since when do men and women's feelings get to trump scripture when they feel like it?

    I have a sense you are against wars and killing? What if the ELCA decided to have an eight year study and a "statement" finding that they can come up with some "living in the now" reason for supporting them, even though it goes against everything written in scripture, should we just be okay with it? Slippery slope huh?

  6. I asked this question to a friend of mine: what manner of Biblical interpretation allows us to accept divorce and women who speak in church, but calls us to reject homosexuality? It seems that we have applied reason, experience, and other texts to re-interpret those texts addressing divorce and women speaking in church, so why not with this issue of homosexuality? Do we just pick and choose which texts we re-interpret and which texts we interpret only in their "plain sense"?

    My friend has yet to offer a response.

  7. First, friends, please add a name when you post to this blog (even if it is a fake one). It's very hard to have a loving conversation with "anonymous". I'd like to respond to the first "anonymous" so I'll call you "Any Parent":

    Any Parent, you wrote: "What do you tell the children, or better yet teenagers (maybe your daughters when they are 15, 16, 17) when they come to you and say they are in love, in a monogamous relationship with their boyfriend and want to have sex. It's okay for pastors to do it now, so why not me."

    This is really an example of what I was writing about where we create this false polarity between "law followers" and "law breakers". If you haven't already read the social statement itself (its not that long, especially if you have already slogged through this post) you will see that while it "looses" some teachings, it "binds" others and gives us a solid framework (gift and trust) with which to talk about human sexuality as it exists in the real world. Here's a bit from the section against cohabitation:

    "Because this church urges couples to seek the highest social and
    legal support for their relationships, it does not favor
    cohabitation arrangements outside of marriage. It has a special
    concern when such arrangements are entered into as an end in
    themselves. It does, however, acknowledge the social forces at
    work that encourage such practices. This church also
    recognizes the pastoral and familial issues that accompany these
    contemporary social patterns...

    This church believes, however, that the deepest human longings
    for a sense of personal worth, long-term companionship, and
    profound security, especially given the human propensity to sin,
    are best served through binding commitment, legal protections,
    and the public accountability of marriage, especially where the
    couple is surrounded by the prayers of the congregational
    community and the promises of God."

    The effect of adding the sections on same-gendered relationships, as I see it, is to not to undermine the high standards Lutherans hold for marriage, but rather to allow congregations that choose to do so to hold same-gendered couples to the same standards we advocate for with heterosexual couples--meaning being against cohabitation and sex before marriage, against casual sexual encounters, and against divorce--while also recognizing (like I did) that a hard line is not always the way to communicate this or invite people into relationship with one another, with the church, and finally (and most importantly I think) with Jesus as their savior.

  8. But, Any Parent, you asked about my daughters, who are very young. The prospect of sexually active teenage daughters fills me with terror. My advice to "Any Parent" with this sort of question would be to uphold this desire that God has for human relationships, to help them to see their growing sexuality as a gift from God that is meant to be used in ways that build trust and form deep and healthy relationships. I know too many teenagers (especially girls) who did not feel in their family (or in their church) that sort of deep value and that they were loved just as they are, and turned to this new found sexual "power" to win attention and affection through squandering this great treasure (to use the language parable of the prodigal son) only to find that it wasn't as fulfilling as they thought it was going to be. The harm to them wasn't punishment from God for breaking a law, but broken relationships (and in some cases a life long of emotional scars)--which is precisely what I believe God's laws and the laws of the state are meant to shield us from (in the 1st use of the law for you theologians).

    Any Parent, if my teenage daughter (or yours) were to come to me with this sort of a request, I would advise her (as the social statement suggests) to find the highest level of legal recognition possible for this relationship. In my state (Washington) the minimum age for marriage is 18, or 17 with parental consent (which she very likely would not get, at least from me). Younger than that requires an action by family court (which I would probably not support). If this were a same-gendered relationship, I'd advise the same, and if there were no such laws, it seems to me that at least the same high standards of marriage would apply (even if they were seeing a civil union). The teaching of the social statement is that sexual relationships outside of this lifelong covenant are hurtful, harmful, and against God's intention for human growth and love. Here's a bit from the social statement on that point:

    "This is why this church opposes non-monogamous,
    promiscuous, or casual sexual relationships of any kind.
    Indulging immediate desires for satisfaction, sexual or
    otherwise, is to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians
    5:16–19). Such transient encounters do not allow for trust in
    the relationship to create the context for trust in sexual intimacy.
    Such relationships undermine the dignity and integrity of
    individuals because physical intimacy is not accompanied by the
    growth of mutual self-knowledge. Absent the presence of
    physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual trust and
    commitment, such sexual relationships may easily damage the
    self and an individual’s future capacity to live out committed
    and trustworthy relationships. Fleeting relationships misuse the
    gift of sexual intimacy and are much more likely to be unjust,
    abusive, and exploitative."

    But even if such relationships were legal, I'd strongly advise my daughters to think beyond sexual desire, to all that an intimate relationship entails--what it means to live in a covenant relationship, how hard it is to do so, and the responsibilities that come with it. And I'll probably say to them (as my father-in-law said to me when I asked for his daughter's hand) that their partner better well be prepared to support them because college funding from dad dries up when she walks down the aisle (I was 20). Were we, even at 22 and 21, (after graduation, see) ready for this sort of life long commitment? Hardly. But by the grace of God, supportive communities of faith, and amazing families we have built our relationship on a solid ground of trust, mutual respect, and honor of the other. We intend to teach our daughters every single day through how we live together what this looks like so they can have a model for healthy families, healthy relationships, and healthy sexual expression.

  9. But, I know that my girls, try as we might to protect and educate them, will mess up (they are Lutherans, after all). They are sinners like me (especially at bedtime) and if they come to me broken by a relationship that didn't live up to these standards, that's the time to embrace them with the love of their father, reassure them that God loves them, and help them put their lives back together (again, like the prodigal son). At that point to tell them merely how disappointed I am with them without the overwhelming embrace of love and grace is just cruel and a bad way to express the fullness of God's relationship with us. Is this easy? Hell no. But nobody said being a parent (or a Christian) was supposed to be.

  10. Eric where there is Law there is Gospel. The Law is this is really about intimcy right. The law here was double edged. They sinned by not drawing close to their spouse in a "broken" marriage that ended, just as we sin by not drawing close to our creator. The law that spills over from the rest of our lives needs to plead with us in our spiritual life to keep us more connected to God. It's a warning. The Gospel is that God is willing to forgive and draw near to us. The Challenge is for persons in a rocky spot in their marriage to draw close to God AND close to each other and commit to both relationships.

    Now I think the two questions at the base of this should have been: Is a monogamous homosexual relationship sin? And the follow up to that is if it is do we let unrepentant sinners in the ministry? For the record I don't think this conversation would have worked out being easy to act without love and judge people. This also leads to the question if we're kicking homosexuals out then we need to get rid of the perverts, the drunks, the fornicators, the theives...and then you come back to Jesus drawing a line in the sand and asking any of us without sin to cast the first stone.

    Oh and my kids are never having sex they're 6 and almost 2.

    Jonathan Z

  11. The parallels are strong indeed, albeit some might call divorce, remarriage, etc strawman arguments relative to cwa09. I think if we could get to the bottom of why some do not see the parallels, it might help a great deal with understanding on all sides.

    Just thinking out loud, it could be lack of experience. As concerns cwa09, how many have seen a young person being in the position of having to give up their loved one to accept the call to be a minister? As concerns divorce and remarriage, how many have been in the pastor or counselor seat, and dealt with the law/gospel implications head on with 2 real people in front of them.

    Its easy to grab onto the law in abstract, and state with authority this is scripture, this is what I must do, followed up by what seemed the right call to the Gospel. Yep, btdt, and the law does come back to whack one upside the head in a huge way.

  12. I wrote to long last time and it said it wouldn't work, so here goes a short version.

    The ontological distinction between same-sex relationships and divorce and remarriage lies in the oft-maligned orders of creation. Read Althaus' wonderful little chapter in the middle of "The Ethics of Martin Luther".

    Only the first marriage between a woman and a man is an icon of the FIRST marriage between a woman and a man, which, before the fall, was created according to God's good pleasure and perfect will. Same-sex unions and re-marriages are broken icons, refracting and bending the image of Eden.

    That said: I believe both remarried heteros and partnered same-sex folk can live happy, whole, repentant, loving, fulfiling, societally-upbuilding lives - I have deep love and respect and indeed wouldn't be a pastor if if weren't for folk in such marriages and unions.

    Should folk in second marriages or same-sex unions serve as Pastors? The ecumenical concensus is NO. Who am I to disagree, my vote doesn't count as much as Augustine's.

    Can anything separate divored or unionised people from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? NO!

    Josh (who prays his sins are forgiven) EM

  13. I'm just stumbling on this blog in order to catch reaction of elca people regarding the recent decision. I am a Christian, and actually a former Assemblies of God/Pentecostal pastor. However, I come from a rich heritage of Lutherans. I find myself becoming more and more Lutheran in my theology. (Maybe I'm going back to my roots?) But this recent decision is very concerning to me.

    I didn't read all of the comments and post, but the gist of what I heard was what is the difference between divorce and homosexual relationships. Forgive me, if I've reduced it to this, but I thought I should post.

    I agree that the church should revisit the divorce question in relationship to clergy. However, I see one clear difference between divorce and a committed homosexual. I view divorce as a terrible act and homosexual sex as a terrible act. However, divorce is a decision that happens in ones past. Living in a committed homosexual relationship is a daily decision that one makes.

    I think the only way the comparison could be made is if a potential clergy member was asked in their interview, "do you plan to get a divorce?" If they said yes, then they would be disqualified. However, we all know this is not the case.

    IMO, everyone is welcome before God and in Worship irregardless of any faults. However, when we are talking clergy, there is a responsibilty of that clergy to live a noble lifestyle. Part of that lifestyle is sexual morality. Future divorces and homosexual sex disqualify someone from that opportunity.

    I'd love to see more discussion on this. Thanks!

  14. Peter-

    I think you are right, that divorce is different. A horrible act consigned to the past that nobody wants to ever have happen once let alone repeatedly. But what Jesus talked about as adultery was remarriage after divorce. Divorce may be a decision in the past, but remarriage is one that continues.

    According to this way of reading the Bible, every sexual encounter a divorced person has that is not with his (former) wife is adulterous. Follow that logic, and a divorced and remarried pastor is continuing to sin, an unrepentant adulterer. I'm just trying to figure out how a Christian person can follow one way of interpreting the Bible on one issue and a different way on the other.

  15. I quoted your comment on this issue that you posted on the Carl Braaten piece on my own blog.

    I offered additional commentary regarding Braaten:

    "Presently, Braaten argues that ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson is wrong, our ELCA unity is not in Christ, as Hanson suggests, but in our Reformation era confessions. Braaten longs for the good old days of the Augsburg Confession (1530), but then he muses that even the Reformation was too radical: “When the first Lutherans lost the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church, it had no sure authority to put in its place.” Too much democracy, that’s the problem. Too much enlightened thinking. Too much reason and rationality. Ah, if the Lutherans only had an authoritative, top down Magisterium like the Catholics, this slippery slope modernism would be held in check. Why, just look at who the ELCA’s ecumenical friends are these days! The Episcopalians, the UCC, the RCA, the Presbyterians, and the Methodists. Mainline Protestants all."

  16. Erik,
    Happy Labor Day Tuesday!

    As I follow this conversation, two thoughts come to mind:

    1) The Church is merciful. Even without rebranding sinfulness the Church has structures that allow her to work with the inevitable brokeness of her members. I don't think anyone is out to punish anyone else in this debate (though that said, I think we do need to actively preach against 'reparative' therapy, which seems to me to be a wash) The Church shouldn't punish divorced people or gay and lesbian people.

    2) I think a big part of the cognitive dissonance we're experiencing comes from what the Church can do. We know we can bless marriages. We don't know, or have concensus about whether we can bless same-sex relationships. Marrying divorced people was a relatively easy leap after we got over the country-club social stigma, since we already knew how to marry men and women. Are the people entering into such a marriage sinful, sure, but no more so than anyone else (remember what Jesus said about adultery and wandering eyes...). The rub, and maybe this is unfair, but who ever said life was fair, is that we as Church, ecumencially and within our denomination, don't know how to bless same-sex unions. Some of us think that the Word forbids us from doing so, some of don't see such a prosciption.

    The Church is always going to be loving and ,heck, facilitating unrepentant sinners. The question is how she will do that.


  17. First off, Erick, I'm digging your style. I live in the Seattle area and want to buy you a beer when you're over here.

    I've tried to read all of this, but I'm finding part of it difficult to interpret, mostly because I don't come from a lutheran worldview.

    Am I hearing your primary argument to be that because the church doesn't make a big deal out of divorce that it shouldnt also make a big deal about homosexuality?

    It was my understanding that the vote that took place was simply a statement that "we can all disagree" regarding this issue. Would the ELCA take a similar stance with Alcoholism, obesity, and involvement in producing pornographic films on the side. (i just threw that one in on the side for fun. Forgive me as i jest. But that would cause a firestorm if a pastor was found out to be an international porn star on the side. :)

    I read your story about the couple that you lambasted with your sermon regarding divorce. I've done stupider things with the pulpit, bible interp, and such.

    Is it possible to "'uphold' the law" and at the same time be loving and accepting of others? Is there a standard of conduct for those who lead the church? From what I'm reading, this ruling from the elca opens leadership positions to all irregardless of sexual orientation. I'm saying, is it possible to say we believe that homosexuality is a deviation from the good and healthy and appropriate way, the same way that divorce is a deviation. Aren't these two different issues? Qualifications to be a part of church and qualifications to lead and teach the church?

    I've now read a bunch of your stuff. I like your style but dont agree with all of your points. I'm curious are there ELCA peeps who disagree with you but who have wrestled with the issue thoroughly and honestly as you have. Do you understand people who disagree with your points and view this all as a gamechanger and need to leave the elca, quietly and lovingly? Or if they leave are they a bigot or have bigoted views?

    Again, I apologize if I'm oversimplifying this issue, but I have to in order to fit it into my small brain. :) Thanks!

  18. I am a little disturbed at how easily some people fall into the clericalism of "it's ok for lay people but not for clergy -- they are called to a higher standard." So divorced and remarried people can come to church, but they can't be pastors, because pastors are called to a "higher standard." Nope, all of us are called to the same high standard, and all of us are saved by grace through faith, alone.

    There are two sides to the clericalism standard, and I'm not sure you really want to go there.