Between now and August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be discussing the report of it's task force on human sexuality and exploring what policy it wants to create regarding the blessing of relationships and the status of GLBT clergy in relationships. I know that's not of interest to everyone, but I'm going to post things that I think have a relevance beyond Lutheranism. This letter came from one of the leaders of a progressive group called GoodSoil. (They chose the name as a counterpoint to the conservative group called "Solid Rock.") The author is David R. Weiss.
For more than a year now, as we've tried to "journey together faithfully," we Lutherans have had our heads buried in Scripture. Some of us are convinced that the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexual activity. Others of us are convinced that context renders these biblical condemnations less than absolute - or altogether irrelevant today. And plenty of us remain somewhere in the middle, uncertain as to what exactly the Bible says - or means - regarding same-sex relationships.
Well, it's time to close our Bibles for a few months. We won't find the answer we're looking for there - at least not in the places we've been looking.
In fact, we haven't even asked the right question yet. Supposedly we've been studying whether to offer blessings to same-sex couples and whether to ordain persons in committed relationships. But in reality the study materials haven't really focused on those questions. Instead they've mired us in a quite different question: whether homosexuality, either in orientation or expression (and it's just plain arrogant when straight people assume a distinction between the two) is sinful.
But this has never been the right question. The church has only ever blessed a heterosexual marriages between sinners. The church has only ever ordained pastors who have also been sinners. And don't talk about "willful, ongoing" sin as the crucial distinction. We bless marriages between persons quite willfully devoted to conspicuous consumption. We don't hesitate to ordain people who smoke - even while wearing their collar, even around children. So the "sin" question misses the point. And while I personally do not think homosexuality is sinful, I recognize that this argument isn't going to be settled anytime soon.
Moreover, even the questions about blessing and ordination are misguided. They're so specific that they keep us from seeing the question that would offer us a way forward. The real question is this: How should we as a church respond when persons come to us seeking full participation in our church - as they are, without becoming like us? Especially when they are persons whom the Bible has seemed to suggest have no part among God's people unless they become like us? That's the situation we face. And that's the situation faced by the early church when the Gentiles sought full participation without the precondition of first becoming Jewish in diet and circumcision.
There are texts in Acts 10, 11, and 15 that tell us how the early church responded to that situation, but the Sexuality Task Force chose not to put those texts before us in the Journey Together Faithfully study materials. They chose not to offer us the one biblical model for constructively engaging our situation. No wonder we got nowhere. In contrast, the early church did not rush back to the Torah to see whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to join the church. If they had, they would've gotten mired in the same dilemma we are, asking whether what the Torah seemed to say about Gentiles 'back then' still applied in the first century. And while there were some who wanted to do that, the church dared to try a different approach.
Though not without some fierce squabbling, the church ultimately decided to listen to the lives of the Gentiles who sought to join them. Rather than challenge them with biblical texts, rather than insist on always presenting "fair and balanced" opposing views, the early church simply listened to the stories of God's activity in their lives. Then the church asked, is it possible that God's Spirit is already active in the lives of these people in ways we would never have guessed? Is it possible that God is surprising us even now? These are the questions that we must ask today. And we can only ask them by closing our Bibles long enough to quietly and respectfully listen to the lives of those gay and lesbian Christians before us now.
If we were actually to do that, I suspect that many of us - a majority, a two-thirds majority, I bet - would find ourselves saying, "I'm not sure exactly how to square up the biblical passages, but after truly listening to the stories of these people I have to agree with Peter (Acts 10:47), 'How can we as a church withhold blessings and ordinations from these persons whom God has so clearly blessed with love and/or called to ministry?'"
We still have time before August to create moments to genuinely hear their stories, to truly ask whether we hear evidence of the Spirit active in their lives. But we'll need to close our Bibles for a few months if that's to happen. And according to Acts that might even be the most biblical thing we could do.