Sodomy and the ELCA
“Gay marriage” may be on the political back burner for the moment, as Karl Rove is busy crafting phrases that will appease Christian-conservative Bush backers this fall while appealing to homosexual swing-voters with promises of “civil unions” (a.k.a. legalized “gay marriage”). In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (ELCA), however, the pot is fixing to boil.
The ELCA was founded in 1986 as a result of a merger of several formerly ethnic Lutheran synods in the United States as well as a splinter group that left the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod after an attempt to turn the LCMS liberal failed. From the beginning, the ELCA has been distinguished by a professed loyalty to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions that can be set aside freely whenever the need arises. Sadly, this reality is not apparent to some lifelong ELCA members whose country churches maintain the historic liturgy and have not had occasion to call a priestess to lead the flock. It must have come as a great shock to these faithful, then, when the wicked little booklet (with happy trees in a misty woodland on the cover) Journey Together Faithfully: The Church and Homosexuality arrived. This handy brainwashing tool is to be used by committees in ELCA churches across America, to help seminary-trained pastors lead little old ladies and young parents to discover just what the Bible says about homosexuality and the Church’s role in blessing “gay marriages.” After each church finishes the “journey,” everyone’s thoughts and feelings are to be gathered together and sent to headquarters, forming “recommendations for the church to consider in 2005,” after which a “social statement” will be drafted by 2007.
Despite all of the ELCA’s appeals for meaningful dialogue, it appears that the deck has been stacked against those who would oppose church-sanctioned sodomy—both the blessing of “gay marriage” and the ordination of pastors and bishops who are “homosexual persons who give expression to sexual intimacy only in a relationship that is mutual [sic], chaste [sic] and faithful . . . ” Wait a minute! one of the faithful writes (on the “Frequently Asked Questions” page on elca.org), “Hasn’t the outcome of this study already been decided?” Take heart, ye who adhere to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession: “There are no foregone conclusions. All involved in the conduct of our studies on sexuality are committed to an open and fair process in which all views will be heard and respected.”
There are, however, several “foregone conclusions” at work here. First, the ELCA already officially “welcome[s] gay and lesbian people to participate fully in the life of its congregations”—that means active sodomites, not repentant men and women who have renounced their unnatural behavior. This attitude has created a homosexual subculture within the ELCA which has, in turn, lobbied for a definitive decision on homosexual “marriage” and clergy. Still, despite the recent spate of court decisions and lawless civil ceremonies affirming “gay marriage,” it is difficult to imagine that this issue would have come to the fore so quickly in the ELCA were it not for the elevation of V. Eugene Robinson to the status of bishop in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. That Bishop Robinson abandoned his wife and children (dubbed “adultery” in days of yore) to pursue a “mutual, chaste, and faithful” relationship with another man—who, in a Queer Eye for the Queer Guy moment, handed V. Eugene his mitre at the height of his elevation ceremony—is well known. That his status affects the ministerium of the ELCA may not be so obvious.
In an effort to unite the “Body of Christ,” the ELCA entered into an agreement with the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., in 2001 called A Call to Common Mission, which establishes full communion between the two bodies. In addition, CCM provided for the mutual recognition of clergy—which involved some doctrinal jiggering on the Lutheran side, as the role of bishops and “historic succession” had been understood differently by Lutherans in the past. Practically speaking, this means that the ELCA must recognize an adulterous sodomite as a legitimate bishop and that any ELCA church could call him to preside over the Sacrament of the Altar. Furthermore, according to CCM, “The churches will over time come to share in the ministry of bishops in an evangelical, historic succession.”
Not to worry, dear parishioner: If you read the accompanying supplement to the Journey (Background Study on Biblical Texts), you will see that all of those nasty Scriptures that seem to condemn homosexuality, when held in the light of recent scholarship, actually condemn “inhospitability” (Sodom and Gomorrah), that which is “against current custom” (St. Paul’s reference to “that which is unnatural” in Romans 1), or just plain don’t apply to our times, since we’re not under the law—we’re under grace!
Such exegetical chicanery may cause a mass exodus of pastors and laity from the ELCA to the Missouri Synod and to other conservative Protestant denominations in the course of the next three years. Those bodies should be cautioned, however: Many of those within the ELCA who are raising protests about their church’s attitude toward homosexuality carry with them the hermeneutical seeds that grew into the current thorn bush. The acceptance of “gay marriage” did not happen overnight: The rejection of natural law began with the ELCA’s embracing of contraception, female “clergy,” abortion, and homosexuality as an “orientation.” And the ELCA’s rejection of the clear teaching of Scripture began when the ethnic bodies that it comprises accepted historical-critical methods of exegesis in the mid-20th century.
As for those faithful who are contemplating leaving Sodom for the plain of Mamre, there is but one admonition: Remember Lot’s wife.
This article first appeared in the May 2004 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.