After the Episcopalian fuss last month about gay clergy and Bishops, the battle now moves to the American Lutheran church – specifically, the branch known as the “Evangelical Lutheran Church America”. (This is apparently the more liberal of the several branches of American Lutheranism.)
“Goodsoil, a coalition of Lutheran organizations which advocates full inclusion for gays and lesbians, will articulate its position Aug. 17-23 at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) convention in Minneapolis.
Goodsoil is asking the body to pass the “Social Statement on Human Sexuality” to give greater recognition to gay and lesbian Lutherans. It is also pushing for revised ministry policies which would allow gays and lesbians in committed long-term relationships to serve as clergy.
Currently gay clergy must take a vow of celibacy.
Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, is aware these are potentially very contentious issues for the church to wrestle with.
“Lutherans disagree on many significant issues,” she said. “Lutherans in the pews every Sunday have differing and strongly held opinions on abortion, capital punishment, the ordination of women, wine or grape juice in the service, war, apostolic succession, and differing interpretations of Scripture.
“Allowing ministers to serve who are in committed, lifelong same-gender relationships will not be required of those congregations that do not wish it, nor will it be prevented for those that do. This is very Lutheran.“
Already, same sex marriage in church is fully legal in Sweden, where the Swedish Lutheran church is the dominant religion. This has led to concerned protests from some UK Anglicans, who are concerned that their decision will lead to increased pressure on the Anglican/Episcoplian church, which is in communion with the Lutherans, to follow suit. Similarly, if the ALCU accepts the proposal this will put pressure on other American Lutherans – and other denominations. Even if it is is rejected, the mere fact of discussion will be helpful – the proposal will surely be raised again. The tide is clearly starting to turn.
Judging by the advance press reports, the decision is likely to be close – and bitterly contested. Already, those opposed are at least discussing the possibility of leaving if the decision goes ahead, along lines similar to the emerging split among Episcopalians. The arguments are familiar: opponents insist that they are not basing their stand on homophobia, but on truthful fidelity to Scripture. What I find refreshing, is the response by the reformists that they would welcome a debate based on Scripture, so that they can point out how flimsy is this argument:
But what I find disturbing is the hysterical response from some of the gay community, commenting on a report of the proposal on Towleroad.
The comments thread shows once again that far too often, the strongest opposition to gay Christians comes not from other Christians, but from gays outside the church, who blame religion for all discrimination:
“If you support religion – the institution that made homosexual wrong and created ALL our pain and suffering, then YES I AM TRYING TO DRIVE YOU AWAY.
YOU are on the WRONG TEAM.
We must put Equality BEFORE Religion.
I hope the Lutherans self-destruct. Nothing should make gays and lesbians happier.
If you belong to a Church that still makes homosexuality wrong, sinful and deviant you are sanctioning the hate and discrimination of gay people.”
Both views are misplaced: that homosexuality is inherently sinful, and that prejudice is caused by religion. The truth is far more complex. Discussions such as those about to be undertaken by the Lutherans are to be welcomed, as open debate will force a more rational discussion of the Scriptural texts and their relevance. Gay & lesbian Christians need to be part of the debate. Further, secular experience has shown that the best defence against against prejudice has been the increasing visibility of out LGBT people leading ordinary lives. If we can encourage similar visibility in the churches, we can contribute to greater understanding and acceptance, there, too.