Saturday, August 22, 2009

Both Sides of Your Mouth

Well, the ELCA did it, voting in a fairly close vote to recognize the ordained ministry of non-celibate homosexuals. This was not terribly surprising - mainline Protestantism marches on. What has been surprising has been the reaction and discourse following the vote. Of course there were those who were very excited, and those who were very hurt, and time will tell what the fallout will be (something I've written about prior). But the only thing I've seen written from any Lutheran has been "unity." Bishop Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, had this to say, "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross - where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ." Furthermore, if you read Facebook posts and blogs and all that, everyone is frantically and earnestly praying for unity.

I find this a strange reaction to this course-altering decision. If unity is really the primary concern here, why should a vote have been taken at all? The prior policy was fully open to homosexuals, allowing them to serve in ordained capacity if celibate. It recognized the value of homosexuals and their gifts. This new policy is really no more "open" than the previous one, a policy that was generally accepted and practiced for many years in the ELCA. In other words, it maintained a loving stance towards gays while embracing unity inside and outside the denomination. And the ELCA was no more unified on this issue than yesterday morning, prior to the vote. While there certainly was underlying disagreement as to whether this was the fullest policy or not, the ELCA was able to peacefully exist. This vote forces the disagreement to the surface, and the results insure that disunity will happen. So if the concern really was for unity, the more appropriate step would been to have held off on this altogether.

Obviously, I'm a bit skeptical that unity is really what they're after.

The seeds for all this were sown in the Human Sexuality statement. In that statement, Lutherans codified disunity. It acknowledged that there are differing theological positions, that those positions are "conscience-bound," and that they are to be respected. It affirmed that all have positions that are honest and well-meaning. Interestingly enough, the Human Sexuality statement is a document of disunity that produced a certain unity, reflected in a super-majority vote.

The problem, you see, is that this most recent vote reversed course and blessed a particular "coscience-bound" position. The ELCA may have affirmed all believers, but this policy affirms one position more than another. Those who are "conscience-bound" that homosexuality is a sin have been affirmed in their views via the Human Sexuality statement, only to be told in this vote that regardless of how passionately they believe, the Church is moving away from them. This vote is a vote of unity that produced disunity, reflected in a close, simple majority vote.

The question then becomes, "Which unity are is the denomination after?" Is it after the Human Sexuality unity, which agreed to disagree? It couldn't be that, because the ELCA's actions in the homosexual vote said otherwise. That only leaves one option - the call for unity is the call to unify behind this homosexual affirmation. In other words, I fear it is really a passive evangelization. It sure seems like the strategy at this point is that with the soothing words of "unity, "respect," even "Christ" (and who would be against these things?), eventually the emotions will wear off and most everyone will slowly come to accept the ELCA's new theology by attrition. If this is the case, it is the worst kind of pandering. Its dishonest. And it's a slap in the face to those who are genuinely seeking God's will and who vehemently disagree with the actions of the ELCA, the ones they patted on the back two days ago.

Of course, it won't work. With such a seismic shift in understanding, it is impossible to gather "at the foot of the cross" and sing "Kum Ba Yah." Its not just that the church adopted a different way of doing things; the very substance of the church has changed. Both sides have fundamentally different views of the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, and the mission of the Church. This is about the Gospel - and both sides cannot proclaim a meaningful Gospel together given their views. Those conscience-bound individuals now must ask themselves, "Can we stay here? Can we remain in a denomination that moved away from us, and has perpetuated the insult by telling us two different things, one that is trying to sway our beliefs not with reason and discourse, but with passivity?" And the answer, as I've predicted, will be "no" for many individuals and congregations.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that the ELCA really does hope to find unity in the midst of this trying time. And of course, I only assume the best motives for the ELCA and her leadership. But it seems highly unlikely given her actions over the last couple of days. I fear that her well-meaning words are little more than self-deception. With the actions of this week, real unity is impossible. One only hopes that the ELCA takes seriously the pain and hurt of those affected by this week's decisions, and lives up to the standards she is so fervently trying to attain.


David L. Hall said...

Great reflection, Sam! I wish I could say I was surprised at the ELCA decision, but it is exactly what "churches" do who are not anchored to the Truth.

Coach said...

I guess in the classes you have taken at Gettysburg, you must not have gotten into the study of the simuls.
That we are simultaneously sinner and saint, and the other dichotomies that are at the heart of Lutheran teaching. Is it possible to disagree and be unified? The future shall tell.

Pastor Sam Chamelin said...

Coach, on what would our unity lie? Is it on doctrine? Obviously that can't be the case. Is it in the fact that one is Lutheran? That's simply not sufficient. Whatever it could be, I'm not convinced that such a unity is "built on the rock." How can a "conscience-bound" individual remain in a church that they believe has become apostate? Doesn't the state of their conscience bind them to leave?

The reality is that in every denomination that has made this kind of shift in belief, there has been a massive division. I pray that the ELCA proves more godly than the rest.