My wife Erin returned home from the South Dakota ELCA Synod Assembly and gave me a little first-hand perspective on yesterday's vote to reject the proposed statement on human sexuality and stick with existing position papers. She said the debate was civil and not terribly tense. She thought the pastor from Sioux Falls didn't really need to include the discussion of rectal and vaginal tissues to make his point (eeww!). But she was able to vote to reject the proposed human sexuality statement. Another Madison delegate voted for it, and the two of them were able to sit down for lunch and have a perfectly neighborly discussion about their disagreement over barbecues (you don't get much more Lutheran than that).
Now homosexuality is only a small part of the proposed statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." (And remember, the statement isn't dead: the South Dakota Synod has simply stated its position, which it will take to full debate at the churchwide ELCA assembly in Minneapolis in August.) The overall focus is on much broader issues of trust and respect in all human relations. But the main conflict point getting media attention is that yesterday's vote affirmed the ELCA's current position that practicing homosexuals should not serve as clergy (see that Sioux Falls paper and KELO).
Madville Times readers from both sides of the aisle will likely find it interesting that Erin, whose progressive Lutheranism has played a significant role in my conversion from Republican to Democrat, essentially voted against equality for homosexuals. What the heck is she doing voting like Bob Ellis would (if he were Lutheran)?
I won't do Erin's argument nearly as much justice as she can. After all, she's the Lutheran in the family. But I want to capture one slice of it.
Erin heard delegates at the assembly argue for the sexuality statement by saying it was about fairness for homosexuals. One young delegate said it was unfair to limit homosexuals' ability to answer the call to serve as ministers. Erin and I both have a hard time looking a call like that for social justice in the eye and saying no. Socially and politically, we see no evidence that homosexuals are any less qualified than heterosexuals to carry out the functions of any job—pastor, soldier, journalist, teacher, garbage man, whatever. Neither does the ELCA: currently homosexuals can serve as ELCA pastors but are "expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships." (Feel free to debate the questionable distinction between being and doing.) One could argue that's not much different from the ELCA's expectation that unmarried heterosexual ministers remain celibate.
However fair it might be politically to extend the call to ministry to practicing homosexuals, Erin finds the proposed sexuality statement uses bad theology to justify that position. It's not written explicitly in the proposed statement; to recognize the bad theology, you have to read and think carefully. By Erin's careful reading and thinking, the proposed statement essentially declares that God has issued a new calling, a new Word in addition to the Old and New Testament.
I suggested making campaign buttons reading, "ELCA: We're not Mormons!" Erin felt that was unnecessary. But that line captures, I think, Erin's fundamental opposition to the proposed sexuality statement: no matter how good the goals, you don't go adding to Scripture. She's not a literalist: she's all for studying and interpreting the Bible in its fullest linguistic, literary, historical, and cultural context. But you still have to ground your theological positions (including sexuality statements) on what you get from Scripture as is.
As I said, it's not easy to explain—"Such is the burden of confessional Lutherans," says Erin. Yesterday's vote is complicated. I don't like the practical outcome of the decision, but I can tolerate it. Erin's vote comes not from irrational fear, intolerance, or malice. It comes from well-reasoned theology. It seeks no political revolution or support from the state. It only protects the philosophical integrity of a religious organization. I can live with that reasoning... not to mention with the person who made it.
Now if only the rest of society could coexist as well as the folks in my household.
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