Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Novel Ideas

If there is one thing that threatens to tear the (Lutheran) church apart in today’s time, it is centered on questions of human sexuality. Both sides can argue until their face turns blue – and they often do. While most conversation quickly morphs into heated debates, with each side trying desperately to convince the other without regard for personal feelings, or – to put it bluntly – common decency, it is crucial to enter into this discussion practicing the Christian values of openness, respect, and love for one another. A novel idea, for sure.

Yet such an opportunity recently presented itself at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, a seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the school at which I currently attend. The Board of Directors met this past weekend, and one of the issues on the docket was a discussion of becoming a publicly welcoming institution to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities (or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people [LGBT]). In order to facilitate such a conversation, the entire seminary community was invited to dinner with the board members.

Opinions aside (which is admittedly not the author’s strong point), the overwhelming feeling of the community discussion was one of relief. Finally, a conversation had taken place over a controversial issue, and – surprisingly enough – the church had not exploded. Imagine that. It is actually hard to do so, and that – I believe – is rooted in the use of Scripture for extraordinarily inappropriate purposes.

The popular belief that, for instance, only one person (i.e. Moses) wrote the entire first five books of the Bible has long since given way to the notion that the Bible was written by many different voices – from many different eras – and eventually edited into the format we have today. Thus, we have two completely different stories of how the Creation came to be in the first chapters of Genesis, four similar – but also widely variant – accounts of the ministry of Jesus, etc…This is continued throughout the Biblical narrative.

How, then, does this relate to the study of sexuality? If the editors of the Bible wanted a nice, clean narrative – one that didn’t contradict other parts of the Bible – they could have easily done so. Yet the Bible as we know it today contains more contradictions than days in the year. It follows, therefore, that it was more important to the editors to keep wholly different traditions (and the stories that came from them) side-by-side, no matter how much they may have disagreed with each other.

Therefore, It is relatively easy, in this wealth of information called Holy Scripture, to find a passage that fits your particular cup of tea. This diversity frequently leads to a sad irony that rears its ugly head repeatedly in the controversies of today: the Bible, a rich array of differing sources compiled into one extraordinarily diverse book, is often used as an uncomplicatedly blunt theological weapon – an instrument that is life-destroying, rather than life-giving. A symbol of hate rather than love.

And it produces sad results. Christians demonizing Christians. People all-too-certain that their perspective is the correct one – the “Biblical” one. The debate over sexuality, regardless of your specific stand, is one that challenges the very foundation of what it means to be a Christian in today’s society.

As for the people caught in the middle of this debate, I am certain that taking the time to put down one’s Bible and engaging in truthful and compassionate conversation with them – as opposed to about them – might be the most Christian act one could perform. For, as the Biblical writers have shown us, disagreement is not the problem. It is how one acts amidst such disagreement that is the real test of faith.


At 1:11 PM , Blogger david said...

The issue that may tear apart the leadership of the ELCA may indeed be socio-political issues such as the ones regarding LGBT Clergy and Marriage, however I gotta be honest. After working at an ELCA church for 15 months, the number 1 threat to this and any other ELCA church (i.e. the majority of the congregation) is apathy. Families don't want to attend church as a group. Adults don't want to step up to the plate as leaders and volunteers and (following their example) neither do the youth.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of youth and adults who do take their faith seriously and help in every way they can, but they are a staggeringly tiny portion of the congregation, let alone the general population.

I fear that the reality is that most Lutherans are 1-hour a week Christians. That is the true threat.

LGBT stuff is very important. And there are people who feel very strongly on all sides of the issues and the people they affect. But it's only until leaders decide to stir up the people who listen to them, that it becomes an issue/threat to the church at large.

Just my .02 dollars.

At 10:31 PM , Blogger Pastor Lori said...

Sigh. You know this conversation is very dear to my heart; and yet, I consider the lgbt ordination/blessing conversation somewhat "luxurious". That is, if we were going hungry each day; if we lived in southern Africa, for example; we likely would not be spending our time and energy on this to the extent that we have.

The larger issue you raise, however, is how we read the Bible. What is its purpose, its role, in moral deliberation? Too often the Bible (published book) supplants the authority of the living word of God--Jesus. Too often we either cling to it codependently, or abandon it altogether in our conversations. Yet, to "put it down" and listen to a real person is probably the most faithful approach: to let God become incarnate in creation, to let the Spirit speak in the breath of another human being, knowing in our soul how God has been author of the human story all along, and will continue to be, no matter whom we love.

May we trust God to lead us in a new way, rather than trying to give God the answers all the time. And may our fear not get in the way of our faithfulness.

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