Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Worst of Both Worlds - I should be at least relieved, if not overjoyed. As discussed elsewhere, I am (for now) a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and I am generally nonplussed by the topic of ordination of gay clergy. So one might expect that I would welcome the news that (as reported by the Chicago Tribune) the ELCA voted today to refrain from disciplining congregations who call gay pastors who are in in what the denomination described as a "mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship" and asked that similar forbearance be granted to those ordained clergy who are similarly situated. The final resolution passed by a vote of 538-431, and was seen as a bit of a surprise according to the Tribune, as "it came a day after leaders defeated a measure that would have ended the ban on non-celibate gay clergy."

My sense is that those who were gathered at Chicago's Navy Pier meant well with this resolution, in as much as they sought to avoid "further strife and pain." It seems reasonable put any discipline of churches and clergy on hold until the ELCA publishes its social statement on human sexuality in 2009, as it is hoped that this document will provide sufficient clarity such that the church will be able to come to some closure on the matter of openly gay clergy and blessing of same-sex unions.

My fear is that, at least for now, the ELCA has gone down the same slippery slope as has the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) vis-a-vis openly gay clergy. As mentioned repeatedly elsewhere, the ECUSA has gotten itself in some hot water over the ordination of V. Gene Robinson as a bishop, as this runs afoul of the standards for ordination of the worldwide Anglican Communion. This type of willful disregard for established doctrines becomes problematic in as much as churches derive nearly all of their authority from their ability to establish and encourage their adherents to meet moral standards of behavior. When a religious body itself either fails to meet, or refuses to enforce mores of its own design, it ceases to be useful or relevant.

If openly gay ELCA clergy in non-celibate same sex relationships are to remain exempt from discipline by their synods - and churches are free to call such clergy to service as ordained pastors, then what would prevent an astrophysicist from accepting a call from a congregation? But in fact, current ELCA policy dictates that those who would be pastors "must complete requirements for a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited theological school" (and M.I.T. would not count in this case.) By openly encouraging individual churches and clergy to disregard certain church teachings, the ELCA neither addresses the problem at hand in a real way, nor avoids the risk of insurrection and/or secession on the part of dissenting churches.

My hope remains that the ELCA and other churches will open their hearts and their pulpits to all those who are spirit-filled and called to ministry, irrespective of their sexual orientation. But this must be done in an open and above-board manner, not in some religious version of "don't ask, don't tell." Given the proclivities of liberals more generally, it does not entirely surprise me that the leftist-tinged ELCA has taken this route to push for what it wanted, irrespective of church policy. Like most on the Left, the ELCA tried to solve a problem by starting with the answer, and then shaped the conversation such that their "answer" would be the only one that made sense. This is yet one more example of many where the Christian Left has achieved its goals by denying fundamental truths. As stated elsewhere,
"progressives appear to have abandoned any discernible set of principles with the exception of the pursuit of what is convenient."

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