I am simply a parish pastor. I do not claim to be an expert in the history of the Reformation. I have not specialized in Ethics and Social Development. I am a survivor of the free-love ’60s and the repressed ’80s. I bear within my own being a conflict concerning the primary emphases of both of these documents, namely, how does the church accept people who are homosexual or in the words of the RRMP “people oriented to the same gender.”
I am a firm believer in what I call the “both and” nature of Lutheranism. We are at the same time both sinner and saint. The elements of the sacrament are both body/blood and bread/wine. We are saved for both this world and the next.
But I do not believe that the church can say that homosexual activity is both sin and not sin. This is what is being asked of us. One position looks at scripture references and clearly sees all sexual activity between “people oriented to the same gender” will not “…inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10). Therefore, since such activity separates us from God, it is sin.
This is the crux of the matter: How do we read and apply the scripture?
The opposing position says, according to their understanding, that only sexual activity by “people oriented to the same gender” which is unhealthy and unfaithful will disinherit such people from the kingdom of God. Therefore, if such activity takes place in a healthy and faithful way, it does not separate one from God; it is not sin. This is the crux of the matter: How do we read and apply the scripture?
How can one who believes an activity to be sin be asked to embrace and support a position within the church that such activity is not sin? How can one who believes engaging in a certain activity not to be sin be asked to confess that such an activity is sin? These positions are mutually exclusive. There is no human institution with a broad enough umbrella to encompass both these positions. Thus my response to these documents is that they will split the church.
To acknowledge differences and recognize that those differences cannot be overcome is healthy.
My further response is that the sooner we as the ELCA recognize that the church will be divided over this issue, the better off we will be. To proclaim unity where there is no unity is dangerous for all involved. To impose unity where there is no unity is dictatorial. To acknowledge differences and recognize that those differences cannot be overcome is healthy. Thus I propose the following:
The language of the first step in RRMP is for “congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.” I would propose that congregations, pastors, and bishops “that choose to do so” form themselves into a non-geographic synod, such as the old English District of the LC-MS or the Slovak Zion Synod of the ELCA.
This new synod could maintain its own clergy roster, as synods of the ELCA currently do. The ELCA would nurture this new synod by continuing to provide services, such as health insurance, pension, and other benefit plans to its members. Finally, the ELCA could spawn this synod into a self-supporting, freestanding church body. I believe that such a solution would be the least onerous to and most honoring of the conflicting but conscientiously held positions within the ELCA in particular and Christendom in general.