14 December 2009

Setting Boundaries

The saga of sexuality continues within the ELCA. As it does, I'm more and more curious about how we all set certain boundaries, where we set them, and how blind we can be (all of us) to the sometimes arbitrary nature of how we order our lives.

In some places, the freedom to call and ordain gay and lesbian pastors in committed monogamous publicly accountable relationships is a cause for rejoicing. There are many such persons already serving congregations within the ELCA, some openly (and bearing the subsequent censure required by current ELCA policy) and some covertly. As I read and reflect upon the work of the Sexuality Task Force and the resolutions passed at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, I sense that the intent was always to allow the diversity of interpretations regarding same-gender human relationships to be reflected in the ministerium of the church. That is to say, we are a church that does not have a unified understanding of same-gender relationships - and our ordained ministers may reflect the diversity which exists within the church, freely and openly.

But for some, this is a step too far. Thus my pondering of boundaries and arbitrariness. I simply don't understand why it is THIS issue that must be the line in the sand. And I continue to be utterly flummoxed by how little I agree with certain segments of the church in which I serve. I mean this in a sense of amazement, not of anger: how is it that David Yeago, Michael Root and I can be educated in the same basic theological vein and yet be so wildly different in how we interpret our Lutheran faith?

I didn't live through the debates surrounding the ordination of women; most of the ELCA's predecessors made that change before I was born. But thirty five or so years after the fact, I see that the consequences of doing that new thing has given us a number of incredibly faithful pastors who, had our church set its boundaries in a different place, would have been denied the opportunity to follow their calling to ministry. And, I feel compelled to note, there are some lousy female pastors who got calls because of this as well - and there will be lousy gay pastors getting calls because the ELCA has opened the door for them. They'll fit in nicely with the lousy straight male pastors, never you fear.

I guess what I'm pondering lately is, why this issue is, for some, the line in the sand that must not be crossed. There are a lot of passages in scripture we have chosen, actively or passively, to violate: why, for some, is this issue the one upon which scripture and the tradition of the church must stand or fall? Why don't we get this worked up over people, like myself, who like blood sausage? Or polyester blend shirts? Or farmers like my Dad who combine every row of their crops? Or the millions of men who shave? All of those items are found in Leviticus 19, one chapter after the verses in Leviticus 18 which list same-gender sexual intercourse among the things forbidden to God's people. And I don't mean the question in a facetious, "I can quote more Bible verses than you" sense, either - I'm honestly trying to figure out, for myself, why my own understanding of the boundaries has changed, and what that means for the future of my own ministry in this church.

I don't claim to have a definitive answer for any of this. In fact, the longer I listen to us bicker, the more distrustful I am of the certain and the confident. How we live together seems more and more a matter to be approached with great humility and a willingness to listen. I am becoming convinced that Meldenius was right:
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.
In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity.

Grace & peace,


  1. Scott it isn't the verse in Leviticus that caused me to leave the ELCA, it's the one in Romans. How many men or women who meet the description in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 would be allowed to continue to serve as pastors? This is the line in the sand for me.

  2. Vernon - I appreciate your comment. My point was this: why was THIS the issue for some? Why not women's ordination? And, when you find a pastor who doesn't meet the description in 1 Corinthians 6.9-10, let me know - as someone who struggles with idolatry, revilery and many of those sins, I'm certainly not qualified to serve in the ELCA, either.

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  4. Didn't Martin Luther himself translate the words "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai" as "weakings" and "child molesters" respectively? According to the ELCA's own study he did.

    Those two words have been notoriously difficult to translate. There are no other examples of it that are contemporary to Paul that use the latter word.

    In cultural context, male Greek homosexuality was structured around paederasty whereby an older male would mentor a pubescent boy in exchange for sexual favours. The boy would grow up, marry and repeat the pattern. So I suspect that Luther's translation was right.

    In any case it seems odd to use a passage with a hard-to-translate word to keep qualified people out of the ministry.

  5. I suppose the big question is "is this a necessary thing?" Is unity necessary here. I'm not sure. I'm a United Methodist pastor, and I think our denomination has made too much of this. At the same time, I think the churches that are accepting gay clergy are doing so more for reasons of cultural accomodation than gospel fidelity. It may be that the Spirit is leading us this way. But ecumenically, I'd rather us continue to work for the acceptance of women clergy (which is far from complete, at least where I am) - than force yet another tough issue before its time. Good reflections though, thank you.