Say it Ain’t So

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A Response to the Statement by ELCA Scholars found at:

Say it ain’t so, you Luther Seminary profs who taught and mentored so many of us. Is CCM so forgotten that there can be a new alliance of pro-CCMers and anti-CCMers – an alliance that takes an Anglican stance on how to do theology?

Four Luther Seminary profs have joined with thirteen other theologians in a public call to reject the ELCA Task Force on Homosexuality’s recommendations because:

“… if adopted, they would alter fundamentally the ecclesiology of the ELCA and that, in turn, would threaten not only the unity and stability of this church, but, as a consequence, its ability to proclaim the truth of the Gospel.”

What an un-Lutheran thing to say. It’s downright offensive.

1) The chief offense: Making church trump truth. Now you claim that the unity and stability of the church are foundational for proclaiming the truth of the gospel? What happened to Luther’s zinger that councils can err? And bishops can err. Assemblies can err. Congregations can err.

Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel attacked the pretension that the church can safeguard the gospel. The gospel purely preached (CA 7) produces unity and stability. Not the other way around.

The Statement’s section on “ecclesiology” incorrectly states: “In the New Testament, however, the criterion for the discernment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a broadly based, ecclesial determination ….” Maybe in Acts but not for Paul, who says the plumb line is the truth of the gospel itself (Gal 1:6-9), not bishops or assemblies – not even an angel from heaven, let alone a churchwide assembly. The pretentious claim for “the church” makes one shudder.

The pro-CCM signers of The Statement must be laughing up their sleeves. They have gotten former CCM opponents to agree that church trumps gospel.

2) The offense of making sex the issue. How could you identify sex with the truth of the gospel? Gay sex is harmful. So is lesbianism. The costs for individuals caught in these life-styles, as well as for the church and society, are enormous – physically, socially, psychologically, financially, and economically. The ELCA has been weakened by its quiet accommodation to gay clergy and same-sex families. Nevertheless gay sex is not a gospel issue. It’s a left-hand kingdom issue that is addressed by common reason and a concern for harmful consequences.

The Statement resorts to inflated ecclesial rhetoric in order to make an ethical protest with the volume turned up. This inflation wrongly confessionalizes social-ethical issues in a manner contrary to Christian freedom. It opens a Pandora’s box in which moral concerns, both serious and trivial, are carelessly identified with the gospel’s own unique word of promise.

3) The offense of accommodating to CCM. How do you accommodate to the 1999 constitutional changes (ΒΆ10.81.01) requiring Episcopal structures and ordination rites? Not gay sex, but CCM has fundamentally altered the ecclesiology of the ELCA. CCM broke the unity and stability of the ELCA. CCM corrupted the ELCA’s ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel.

By adding ecclesial requirements for full communion, ordination, and eventually valid Eucharists, CCM has corrupted all ELCA preachers who accommodate to it. CCM is an attack on the solas – Christ alone, Word alone, Scripture alone, the cross alone, faith alone, and grace alone. Having accommodated to additional requirements, you have moved on to other issues.

It cannot be claimed that gay sex is REALLY the big issue because it deals with the authority of scripture. As Paul would say, scripture is ruled by the gospel which declares both forgiveness and freedom – forgiveness in Jesus Christ through the cross and freedom to serve the neighbor, asking in all moral issues, with Romans 13:10: What harms the neighbor? What are the damages? But not exchanging Christian freedom for a third use of the law.

4) The offense of pretending not to see. People in the pew can be forgiven for not knowing what’s happening in the ELCA; leaders cannot. It’s disingenuous for leaders not to notice that the ELCA already has a de facto “local option” for gay clergy. “More than 100 gay and lesbian pastors already quietly lead churches with the tacit knowledge of their local bishops,” according to the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation (Boston Globe 1/14/05). A look at Higgins Road and the 65 synods easily confirms this statistic.

The facts on the ground suggest that CCM has taken hold. The bishops are in charge. Like their Episcopal counterparts, they allow “local options” to safeguard unity, and they are not going back no matter what theologians say or assemblies do. The ELCA has left the Lutheran orbit, just as your Statement does. Both make the truth of the gospel a consequence of unity. Please, say it ain’t so.

Meg H. Madson