Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the Latest ELCA Headlines

In an effort to be fully disclosed--I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. Since college, I haven't believed in being a member of a church or of labeling my beliefs. So while I was raised in the Lutheran church, I currently don't label myself "Lutheran." The ELCA does, however, sign my paycheck.

For those in the dark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recently voted to accept the ordination of homosexuals in active, monogamous relationships. Previously, homosexuals could be ordained only if they remained celibate.

As you can imagine, this has split the church. While many people agree with the national assembly's decision (and some of those who agree actually surprised me), a sizeable minority disagree with the decision--and many of them vehemently. While I have heard many reasons against the ordination of gays in active, monogamous relationships, all of these reasons have been ideological. I have yet to hear a well thought out theological argument against it. I hope I do, though.

More full disclosure--I am not a theologian. I'm just a dude. I am, however, a sola scriptura dude. When the pastor of my church first told me that the ELCA was considering ordaining homosexuals, my gut reaction was "hell no." Like a good boy, though, I caught myself and decided to check what the Bible said about the issue.

The Bible is almost mute on the issue of ordination of pastors. Aside from the strict rules set out in the Pentateuch, there are very few guidelines on the issue. The Pentateuch's rules are inapplicable today as it is impossible to trace back anyone's ancestry to Aaron for starters. In The Ritual Process, Victor Turner makes a keen observation that the charismatic leaders of religious groups (Jesus, Buddha, St. Francis, etc) are often horrible organizers. The organizing comes from one or more structurally adept disciples. In the case of Christianity, this job falls on Peter and Paul. Turning to Jesus's own words, it is difficult to find direction concering the church in his absence. I was only able to find Jesus's warning of those who would come after him saying "Look here! Look there!" and not all of them would be true teachers. The way to tell true teaching from false teaching is to look at the fruit that they bear. The teaching that bears good fruit is true. I must admit that I don't see how ordaining homosexuals would bear bad fruit, but I will address that a bit more later on.

Since the Bible is silent on the subject of organization, I next looked for sections on homosexuality. As many are well aware, Leviticus speaks quite strongly against homosexuality. Undoubtedly, many of those against the ELCA's decision will point to Leviticus 18 and 20 as proof that homosexuals should not be ordained. Yet they will most likely skip over the same passage that states the punishment for homosexuality is death. If we are going to accept Leviticus as evidence that homosexuals should not be ordained, we must also accept that those same homosexuals should be put to death. That is obviously not an option, thus citing Leviticus in support of a denial of ordination to gays is a bit problematic.

The last point I would like to make concerning the Bible and this issue, and in my opinion the strongest argument to support the ELCA's decision, is that the Bible establishes sin and not-sin. Any human thought or action falls into one or the other category. There is either something that is sinful or something that isn't sinful. We certainly do not expect pastors to be sinless. Christian doctrine is almost uniform in stating that humans are sinners. A person need not be sinless in order to be ordained. The only way I can imagine using homosexuality as a deal-breaker for ordination is to consider it sui generis. For those against the decision, there must be three categories instead of two: sin, not-sin, and homosexuality. There simply is no scriptural basis for this argument.

Now I'll return to the good/bad fruit idea. Many may argue that homosexuality is inherently bad fruit. I am not one of them. Functionally speaking, what is societally important in a relationship is its monogamy. Heterosexually monogamous relationships are important for society because they bear offspring and provide the stability needed for raising those children. Homosexual monogamy may not produce offspring, but it provides the same stability needed for a healthy relationship. In other words, the monogamy of a relationship should be the priority.

This is not a soap box issue for me. I believe the ELCA made the right decision. But what bothers me the most is that those who disagree with the decision are using ideology to argue against it over theology. If the Bible is the book on which Christianity is based, let's use it. If someone has an argument against the decision that is based on scripture, I am sincerely interested in hearing it.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that Romans 1 deals with homosexuality, but not as it relates to ordination. It seems even Paul himself viewed homosexuality sui generis. As I mentioned before, there is no scriptural basis for this (other than Paul's own assertion). Let us remember that Paul never met Jesus and that his word is human. Lutherans are Christians--not Paulians. It is also worth considering the fruit that the teaching of Romans 1 would bear. And it would most certainly not be good fruit. While Paul stops short of ordering the execution of homosexuals (among others) he clearly wishes death upon them. That is most assuredly bad fruit. There are times when even Paul himself does not meet Jesus's rubric for right teaching.