Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sex or Scripture?

Many people think the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is all about sex. Much time has been spent in the plenary meetings discussing the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and the four resolutions on ministry policies pertaining to homosexual clergy. Local, national, and even global media have latched on to these topics, which gives credence to the notion that SEX is the defining topic of #CWA09.

Having heard much of the plenary debates and read hundreds of blogs and Twitter posts, I've come to the conclusion that this Assembly has very little to do with SEX and everything to do with SCRIPTURE...or, more specifically, the authority of Scripture.

Based on what I've heard and read, the Lutherans seem to find themselves in one of three groups:

Group #1 - Scripture Says No
There are many who are wanting to elevate the authority of Scripture within the Lutheran tradition. These folks feel that Scripture is clear that God doesn't agree with homosexuality. They argue there is no Scriptural basis for allowing openly gay people in committed, monogamous relationships to serve as pastors. Not only is Scripture clear on this issue, but these verses are and should be the primary place we look for guidance.

Group # 2 - Scripture Says Yes
Folks in this group believe that the whole of Scripture focuses on a God that forgives and redeems sinners and the ways in which they turn against God. They reference stories where Jesus seeks out the outcast, unclean, un-religious crowd and shows them grace and love. These people talk about the "old law" being thrown out with the "new law" of love of neighbor. They argue that it's not our place to judge what might or might not be a sin.

Group #3 - Scripture Isn't the Only Authority
This group lives in the tension. They believe that Scripture is filled with laws - some that we adhere to and some that we dismiss. They tend to look at the specific "homosexual" verses as well as the stories about Jesus equipping broken sinners with gifts for ministry. In addition, people in this group believe that Scripture is one of several voices that should be considered in debates. Church history, personal experience, and the individual & corporate discernment of the Holy Spirit are all equally important factors for this group. People in this group appear to be genuinely conflicted on the sexuality social statement & ministry policy resolutions, but tend to be in favor of their passage.

From my perspective, the group that is "most Lutheran" is #3. Lutherans believe that Scripture is inspired by God and functions as the "source and norm" for our spiritual lives. Scripture is instructive and faith-formative. It does not, however, stand alone as authoritative. Luther indicated that three things - grace, faith and Scripture - provide guidance and wisdom to the church. All three "solas" are gifts of God that carry equal weight and importance.

(Note: some reformers had 5 solas...and Wesley had his quadrilateral. All were formed under a similar premise that Scripture was important within the context of other aspects of a life of Christian faith.)

The Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust social statement passed by the narrowest of margins - exactly 2/3. As many as 3% of voters didn't cast a vote (for whatever reason). The four recommendations on ministry policies only require a 50% + 1 vote. It appears to some that the passage of these recommendations on Friday is a foregone conclusion. Still questions remain...

  • What is God's will for our church?
  • What role does Scripture play in our discernment?
  • How will the other 4.599 million Lutherans who aren't gathered in Assembly respond to social statement and ministry policies?

Your thoughts???


  1. I think your asessment is right on as far as the three different "groups" are concerned.

    My own thinking has led me to consider the WHY of the different groups. Why do they approach the issue(s) at hand the way they do?

    I actually think that Group #1 and Group #2, although they reach different conclusions, are coming at the issue from the same angle. Either the Bible provides is Yes or No, and that's that. Now, both groups can argue 'til they're blue in the face about how they got to their destination, but they're still using the same vehicle.

    I'm not sure if you're familiar with M. Scott Peck's four stages of human spiritual development, but it seems to me that Group 1 and Group 2 have their feet firmly planted in Stage II. Look it up on Wikipedia and you'll see what I mean.

    Group 3, then would be those in either Stage III or Stage IV. ....and I just lost my train of thought.

    I was babbling anyways. What do you think?

  2. Thanks for this good work, Erik. You've hit the mark in pointing out that the real issue is the authority of scripture and your three brief summaries are pretty crisp. Like you, I think #3 is most "Lutheran" and pretty much where I find myself personally.


  3. Jake - Peck's four stages are so choice...but it's hard to put the Lutherans in Group #3 in just one of the stages. Perhaps III.5ish. Why three different groups, you ask? MODERNITY, methinks.

    Tim - Thanks for your kind words. I, too, tend to be a Group #3 kind of guy. It seems that roughly 2/3 of the folks at the Assembly are as well. It's certainly a messy group to be a part of, though!

  4. I keep fighting against #3, in trying to resolve #2, and I can as things sit today. I've seen too many isolated theologies go far off the track, when an imbalance occurs and it makes me wary of such.

    Otoh, the CWA, the endless meetings, the hoop jumping, and the slow speed serve as crosschecks, and provide a real comfort when using such a model. A small independent church doesnt have that option, and via experience... that can be a dangerous deal.

  5. I think I'm more in the #2 camp although not quite the throwing out of old laws - but more the trajectory of scripture as God going against our efforts to establish pure/and impure and put ourselves on the "pure" side over and against others. I'm not comfortable flat out saying we don't judge what is and is not a sin for I believe we are accountable to God to cry out against injustice and stand up for the vulnerable.

    I think the understanding that we are not and cannot ever be on the "pure" side which is why God became impure and entered our impurity to redeem us is very Lutheran.

  6. I think we need some more nuance in your options.

    I would contend that everyone falls into camp #3. The only question is how those other authorities affect your interaction with scripture, thereby giving you a hermeneutic by which to interpret scripture.

    About every single person who has gotten up to speak for either side has spoken of the primacy of scripture as authoritative. There's not really debate about that. The Book of Faith initiative is a good thing for this church. We need to be having a discussion about hermeneutics.

    I've said before that scripture is authoritative, but only in the way in which it means itself to be authoritative.

  7. Matt - I agree, my options err on the side of brevity...and I also mostly agree with your point about hermeneutics. I still think there are some that believe that Scripture is the ONLY source that should be considered in these discussions, which is where I was trying to go with Group #1 & #2.

    Joelle - so does this mean that you're in Group #2.5? :-)


Thank you for taking the time to be a part of "koinonia"