The Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" panel is devoted this week to a discussion of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's decisions on GLBT clergy. As you may recall, the ELCA declined to change its policy requiring gay and lesbian clergy to be celibate, but it also urged Bishops not to enforce the policy. In my view, this was an effort to postpone consideration of the issue until the next General Assembly, but to put an effective moratorium in place in the meantime.
In other words, this was a fairly modest step by the ELCA.
Some of the comments by the panel were quite predictable. Cal Thomas opined:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church bishops have embraced trendiness and abandoned the very Scriptures which are their basis for "evangelizing." If these bishops choose to violate God's instruction book, church members have two choices, should they wish to continue to honor the authority of scripture and its Author: they can remove the bishops from office, or they can leave the denomination. To remain in the denomination and do nothing makes members co-conspirators in the bishops' apostasy.
Chuck Colson had this to say:
The decision by the ELCA to ignore biblical standards of moral behavior is, given the history of modern mainline Christianity, not surprising, but it is deeply distressing.
Who wants to belong to a church that doesn't treat biblical teachings as truth? Would I sacrifice my life for something I didn't believe to be true? Of course not. But martyrs from the first century on have.
This kind of decision dishonors our Lord, dishonors the Church, and dishonors those who have kept the faith for two millennia.
This is why John Gresham Machen said, almost a century ago, that liberal Christianity is not a brand of Christianity: it is simply another religion altogether -- liberalism.
The other panelist were more supportive. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, President of the Chicago Theological Seminary seems to understand that this was only a modest step, but is supportive nonetheless. Interestly, she offers a personal witness from her own experiences as someone "converted" to the view that gay and lesbian clergy should be ordained:
The ELCA has taken a good step toward full equality for their gay male and lesbian clergy by instructing Bishops not to discipline those in same-gender relationships. This step falls short of full affirmation for these pastors, but it is genuine progress.
. . .
There are those who say that what has changed and is therefore the cause for discipline is that being in a homosexual relationship is immoral whether it is committed or not and this immorality equals incompetence for ministry.
I used to agree with that. When I was in my mid-twenties and myself already an ordained minister, I did not believe that homosexuals should be ordained.
I was also a new mother struggling to finish her doctoral dissertation with a young husband who was a resident in surgery working 24/7. I felt very overwhelmed. I had the good fortune to be using the library at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., for my dissertation research when I met an Episcopal priest who worked there. He was very kind to me and listened with great sensitivity to my woes. He gave me excellent advice on putting my marriage and family first in my life and working at the pace that fit my responsibilities.
One day I found out this grace-filled priest was also a gay man. It hit me then that I had received genuine ministry from this priest and his sexual orientation did not matter one bit. I realized then that good ministry is good ministry is good ministry.
I now believe that the gifts for ministry come from God. I also believe that straight or gay we are all created by God and equally loved by God. I look forward to the day when the gifts for ministry are recognized without discrimination throughout the Church—we will then be stronger and more honest communions.
Finally, Bob Edgar, the secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, observes that the news media seemed to ignore the real important news from the ELCA assesmbly, and that we should not be alarmed or surprised that there are a diversity of views among Christians on issues of sexuality:
The 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches USA are all dealing with issues of human sexuality. But we are a group of different and differing churches. On some matters we agree to disagree.
I would commend the ELCA on how they openly and prayerfully processed this difficult issue.
But why did the media miss the story that the ELCA raised its commitment next year to give $20 million to stem hunger in the world? Hunger and starvation are the foundational elements to the poverty that kills. Ending the poverty that kills is essential to living into the Gospel message. I pray that the Holy Spirit will burn within us a passion to follow God's strategic plan as laid out in the urgent message of Christ.
The ELCA's process is open. It is open for the world to see and, most importantly, it is open to the Holy Spirit. I say that because of what the ELCA voted and, just as important, the way they went about it: they came together in the name of Jesus Christ and discussed and prayed and discussed some more, and prayed, and voted.
I applaud the ELCA for following its discernment process and moving forward with strength and courage. But what I have observed in the years this question has been debated is, regardless of the vote in denominational meetings, it is the local congregation that will determine how to draw the circle wide enough to incorporate all God's children, whoever they may be. Churches everywhere are asking the age old question, what would Jesus do?
Because we are human and not divine, we won't all agree on the answers.
The early followers of Jesus did not agree on everything. But let us pray that we can act with grace as the Body of Christ, seeking unity, if not unanimity, as we work to eliminate the poverty that kills, take care of God’s planet as the responsible stewards God has asked us to be, and love one another as Jesus loved us.
Read it all here (including many, many comments).