Thursday, August 13, 2009

Will There Be Schism?

My Lutheran church, the ELCA, has its annual meeting next week in Minneapolis. Once again, we'll be returning to the question of sexuality. I'm hoping that by now we can all agree that we should be a welcoming church to everybody, regardless of orientation. One of our social statements proposes that we say such a thing outright.

The far more incendiary statement deals with pastors who are in committed, homosexual relationships. We voted on the statement during our Synod Assembly, and I failed to see how divisive it might be. It states that individual churches will decide the issue. So, we could have one church that decides not to call a person in a committed homosexual relationship, but at least rostered clergy wouldn't lose their ordination because of their love lives.

Notice that the statement specifies that the homosexual pastor, like the heterosexual pastor, must be in a committed relationship. Some people object because we tend to punish pastors who are living in committed, heterosexual, non-married relationships. I see that point. Yet, we're not giving homosexuals in most states the option of marriage, so I'm not sure how to work around the dilemma at this point.

I also see the problems inherent with letting each individual church judge the sexual nature of the potential pastor and requiring each church to judge whether or not the relationship qualifies as committed. I understand that a unified stance is more desirable in some lights.

But I really like that we've come to a point where we say, "We can agree to disagree. People of faith can come to radically different conclusions about a given social issue, and we've decided to honor that" (I'm paraphrasing the social statement that the whole church body will vote upon next week).

On the homosexuality issue, unlike with some other social justice issues, it's hard for me to see the side that's not mine, to understand where people are coming from. With abortion, although I tend to the pro-choice side, I understand the pro-life side. I've become increasingly queasy with the issue. But with homosexuality, I've always thought that what interests God is the quality of our relationships, not how the genital parts fit together. It's hard for me to see the other arguments, particularly the ones that pull Old Testament passages to support the arguments. Read the rest of Leviticus and tell me that you're going to live by all those laws. No, I didn't think so.

So, I will pray for the churchwide Assembly next week. So far, the ELCA has avoided the fireworks that our Episcopalian siblings are suffering, although I suspect that many churches have become Missouri Synod (the more conservative Lutherans in America, although not the most conservative), and depending on what happens next week, more may migrate. But that's O.K. Sometimes schism is necessary.

In future years, I'm sure that people will wonder what all this fuss was about. They'll shake their heads over the fact that some Episcopalians felt so strongly about the homosexuality issue that they'd pledge themselves to African missions rather than stay with the American Episcopate. They'll probably wonder why we spent so much time talking about this issue, while people died of very preventable diseases and the Congo became a cesspool of rape and violence and the divide between rich and poor became insurmountable. I have no answer for that, only sorrow.


Dale said...

There are an awful lot of people who never make a clear distinction between "what's bad" and "what makes me say ick!"

At a certain point in your moral growth, you recognize that people who are eating snails may be doing something that disgusts you, but is perfectly fine, or at least no more morally objectionable than eating fish or hamburgers. But a distressing number of people haven't gotten that far yet.

As long as homosexuality evokes that ick! it's going to be a huge issue. My guess is that the ick! is dwindling rapidly, and within a generation or two it won't be anything like the issue it is now. Let's hope so, anyway. As you say, there's plenty of things that are genuinely bad that need our attention.

Kristin said...

I always forget about the ick factor--a good point that you bring up!