The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
These are the words of my pastor, John Piper, in his recent blog entry on DesiringGod, writing about the tornado that struck downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon—specifically, that it struck Central Lutheran Church where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was meeting to decide whether or not to allow homosexuals to serve in ministry within the church. They met again on Friday to vote “whether gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships should be allowed to lead individual congregations” (Minnesota Public Radio), and passed the motion with a 559-451 vote, repealing an earlier ban on gay clergy “unless they agree to remain celibate” (Star Tribune), essentially acknowledging the validity of same-sex relationships.
On the one hand, I respect and admire John Piper as a pastor and teacher. He believes firmly in the primacy of God’s word. He preaches the love of God to everyone, and the joy and full satisfaction to be found in the death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ—or, to use his motto, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” On the other hand, he also believes and teaches that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle, incompatible with scripture and the teachings of the Church. Piper doesn’t dwell on this like some in the pulpit do, but rather stresses that all humanity is sinful (straight and gay alike) and in need of the grace of God, and for that I appreciate his ministry.
It’s moments like this that unhinge me completely and make me start questioning everything all over again. Part of me does feel like my sexuality is broken. I can’t imagine a life in which I’m not attracted to men, but since when has my lack of imagination ever stopped God? Even after deciding to pursue a relationship with my boyfriend, there are still unresolved doubts and fears in my spirit that come from a fear of being wrong about something so significant. How can a man I have listened to and trusted to deliver the word of God faithfully and accurately be wrong on this issue, or there be such consensus amongst other pastors and theologians that I also admire who agree that homosexuality is at best a neurosis and at the very worst an abomination?
There is this definitely a divide over this issue. The ELCA motion to allow gay pastors was passed very narrowly, with a 2/3 majority—a small but statistically significant difference of 108. I’m sure there were a wide variety of opinions at the conference. Lutheran CORE, a coalition for reform within the ELCA, has renounced the decision as well as their recognition by the ELCA “as an Independent Lutheran Organization that officially relates to the ELCA”, essentially encouraging “faithful” members to split and withdraw their support from the denomination.
There are to many differing positions on this issue, ranging from the usual outright condemnation (though to varying degrees of vituperation) from conservative denominations and theologians, to blanket acceptance from the more liberal and reformed sects of Christianity (the Methodists and the ELCA, for instance), and they all seem to find ways of supporting their arguments with Scripture. Traditionalists hold to the status quo on interpretation, pointing to the role of the Holy Spirit and the sovereignty of God in the authorship of the Bible; while progressives argue that the authors of scripture were writing from their own cultural perspectives, with a very little understanding of human sexuality, and were addressing a contemporary audience, so different standards apply to modern interpretation.
To cite theologian Virginia Mollenkott, to deny homosexuals their right to live in same-sex relationships is to deny their full humanity as sexually created beings; and along those same lines, C. Ann Shepherd writes in The Bible & Homosexuality in reference to the oft-quoted Romans 1:26-27 passage,
“When the scripture is understood correctly, it seems to imply that it would be unnatural for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals, and for homosexuals to live as heterosexuals.”
Personally, I have never experienced attraction to women, or sexual interest in women, even as a boy. I have always had a sexual curiosity about men that eventually blossomed into sexual desire for them. Yet the only messages I get are that I must either practically beg God to change me into a heterosexual, or choose and maintain a cloistered celibate lifestyle through Bible reading and prayer. So what are young Christians like myself supposed to do when there is a complete lack of agreement in the faith community about our sexuality? Are we, like Piper cries, distorting the grace of God into sensuality?
Now, I fully agree that the Biblical model of marriage is the one we must adhere to. Human sexuality must be expressed through appropriate vehicles in order to keep it from running amok and causing societal damage. I believe this applies to homosexual relationships as well, for we are no less human because of who we are attracted to, and gay men especially need to exercise sexual restraint. But to say that the gays are “going straight” by moving towards monogamy is just as bad as accusing black people of “going white,” betraying a basic misunderstanding of what it is to be human. That something as complex as sexuality should be expressed in only one way, in a Western, monocultural manner, seems absurd.
So there it is. I’m out of thoughts for the time being. Need to process now.