Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scripture, Homosexuality, and the ELCA

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has produced it's latest version of it's Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality. The document is here Draftstatement.pdf

Very few writings have provoked me to as great a sadness for the laity of a church body as this. It is probably true that there are a few Bible believing, and possibly even Lutheran (as in a quia subscription to the Confessions) pastors and congregations in the ELCA--and it is likely there may be a few traditionally conservative or politically conservative pastors and congregations in the ELCA. This document is a strong testimony concerning the direction that church body desires to go. And that direction is not toward Scripture alone and the teaching of Justification by Faith in Christ alone.

The document's writers quickly distance themselves from Scripture as the only source and norm for the Doctrine of God.

Scripture and moral discernment (Page 14)
Lutherans understand that Scripture sometimes can be abused and misunderstood through selective use as a moral guide. Bible verses once were used, for example, to justify slavery. Scripture passages have been cited both by legalists and by those who seek to live as if there is no need for law under the gospel.19 Particularly in the area of sexuality, the Bible can be misused to support an ethics of legalism on one hand or an ethics of relativity on the other. For this reason the Lutheran Confessions are particularly focused on protecting the purity of the gospel and properly distinguishing God’s promises from God’s commands.
Notice how quickly the proclamations of Divine Law are shoved aside with the fallacy of Accidence.
Premise: The "Scripture can sometimes be abused and misunderstood"
Evidence: "for example, to justify slavery"
False implication: Those who wish to use Scripture's Divine Law to object to Homosexuality are doing the same thing as those who used it to justify Slavery.

"Legalism" is given a new, non-Confessional meaning:

Footnote 19
“Legalism” indicates a belief in the need for literal adherence to or trust in commands and “shoulds,” whether from Scripture or elsewhere. “…no need for law under the gospel” indicates a belief or practice that moral guidance from Scripture or elsewhere is unnecessary because the principle of Christian love by itself is a sufficient moral guide.
Anyone then who believes that God really means what He wrote down in Scripture is therefore a legalist. And while this note and the text above states that it is avoiding moral relativism excused by "the principle of Christian love," the paragraph that follows shows their study and pronouncements to be based on morally relative grounds.

From Page 15
Scripture cannot be used in isolation as the norm for Christian life and the source of knowledge for the exercise of moral judgment. Scripture sheds light on human experience and culture. At the same time, society’s changing circumstances and growing knowledge help us to see how Scripture can speak to us. Scripture, especially in the law, must be interpreted continually under the Spirit’s guidance within the Church and in thoughtful dialogue with insights of culture and human knowledge.
Scripture "cannot be used...as the norm for Christian life." These words should make every reader realize that this is the same as "Did God really say...." (Gn 3) Oh, yes, they use the crafty words "in isolation." But what does that mean? They mean simply this: That Scripture cannot stand on its own. It needs to be understood according to historical and cultural situations. These are made clear by the words " society’s changing circumstances and growing knowledge help us to see how Scripture can speak to us" God's Law is supposed to be especially subjugated to the "insights of culture and human knowledge".

"For in the day that you eat of it you will become like God, knowing good and evil." (Gn. 3)

Now, on to what the document says about Homosexuality.

Same-gender committed relationships (pp. 36-38)
This church recognizes that it is in relationships of life-long companionship and commitment with public accountability that both interpersonal and social trust may be nurtured. It is within committed binding relationships, lived out within community, that relational and physical intimacy may be expressed and may have the capacity to offer worth and value to society. This church understands and affirms that such relationships reflect God’s love for the world and the vocation to love the neighbor.
Homosexuality is then to be encouraged, affirmed, nurtured. The ELCA claims that Homosexuality is not a sin, but a relationship that "reflect God’s love for the world".
It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to deal in a new way with the longing of same-gender persons to seek relationships of life-long companionship and commitment and to seek public accountability for those commitments. In response, this church has drawn deeply on its Lutheran heritage to dwell in Scripture and listen to the Word of God. This listening has brought biblical scholars, theologians, and rostered and lay persons to different conclusions.39 After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships. This church has committed itself to continuing to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, and pastoral care.
So the issue is not settled within the ELCA, but this document is the direction the leaders want to take the members through their study. Notice that the appeal to the lay-member is that they have experts who've been studying this for decades. The rhetorical effects are: "You, lay reader, we love, but you cannot possibly study everything you need to know to make a good, loving decision on this without our leadership and expertise. You must trust us.. Even though we said that Christian love can't be the final reason, we appeal to you to make this your final reason because we're the experts and have told you so."
Although this church lacks consensus, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the community of the baptized. Following previous decisions of this church, we call on congregations to welcome,41 care for and support42 same-gender-oriented people and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection.43
Rhetorically: "So keep going to church and don't let this document keep you from giving your offerings. But you need to accept Homosexuality as a God pleasing lifestyle, not a sin. Remember, you can't use God's law this way. That would be legalism of the worst form."

Notice the ironic twist? This document binds all ELCA members to become political agitators for the cause of Homosexuality even while the writers acknowledge that some members might have a problem with Homosexuality.
We believe that this church has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes pastoral response to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. We encourage all to avail themselves of the means of grace and pastoral care.
Rhetorically: "See, we are concerned about Homosexuals and their spiritual situation. We are even concerned about you and would like you to tell your sex stories to our pastors. They look forward with anticipation in hearing them so they can help you."
In their pastoral response, some pastors and congregations will advocate repentance and celibacy. Other pastors and congregations will call our same-gender-oriented brothers and sisters in Christ to establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous, and lifelong. These relationships are to be held to the same rigorous standards and sexual ethics as all others. Further, they will encourage same-gender couples to model their relationships according to the teachings of the Small and Large Catechisms pertaining to the sixth commandment. This suggests that dissolution of a committed same-gender relationship be treated with the same gravity as the dissolution of a marriage.
Notice the redefinition of the word "chaste?" Homosexuality is presumed "chaste" by the writers. Lip service is paid to the Catechisms--forgetting "husband and wife" for the moment, and hoping that the laity don't really know their Catechisms. After all, why should they? The Catechism's haven't been taught with any rigor in the ELCA for just as many decades as this debate has been taking place.
This church recognizes the historic origin of the term “marriage” as a life-long and committed relationship between a woman and man, and does not wish to alter this understanding. It recognizes, however, that some states have enacted or are in the process of enacting legislation in which the term “marriage” is used. This is the prerogative of the state, which is the realm in which civil marriage and the laws governing it exist.
Now the term "marriage" is redefined as a historical artifact and a civil construct. Marriage is no longer specifically instituted by God in the Creation of Adam and Eve-which is where Christ taught us it was instituted. Acts 5:29 "We ought to obey God rather than men" is probably too Legalistic in this context. In the ELCA this passage really only applies when the US refuses to sign onto the Kyoto agreement or such things.

From the Conclusion (pp. 45-46)
This church understands that responsible action requires both ethics and discernment. The work of moral discernment is an important dimension of this church’s identity. It is carried on by all members of the ELCA community and is lived out best when all participate as full members of this community. We come as we are—teens, young adults, middleaged adults, and mature adults; single, married, divorced, and partnered; straight and gay; right, left, and center—with a good will and, in Paul’s words, a heart “widened” by God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
"Moral discernment" is, however, engineered by the body politic in the ELCA through documents like this that reject the authority of Scripture and leave people in the clutches of Satan, freely sinning and condoning sin to damnation.
This social statement represents a contribution to the ongoing work of moral discernment within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is circumscribed necessarily by the broadness of the subject of human sexuality, by disagreements in matters of sexual ethics, and by our rapidly changing social context.
So their teaching will change in the future. Not for the better, I fear. Despite the hand-wringing in the document concerning pornography, harrasment, and child sexual abuse, if the ELCA can cave into pressure from pro-gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual groups, then NAMBLA is not far behind on these issues in that church. That progressive spirit away from God's Law is what "our rapidly changing social context" reflects in these liberal congregations.