We all understand that the holier-than-thou-trinity of Lutheran CORE, WordAlone, and LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) believes that the Bible condemns all same gender sexual intimacy even for couples in a lifelong, monogamous relationship. Many of us (including the majority of voting members at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly) disagree, but what we find particularly odious about the rhetoric emanating from the schismatics are their self-righteous pronouncements that are sprinkled with judgmental terms such as “heresy”, “unchurched”, and “unbiblical”. There is the persistent implication that the ELCA has abandoned Biblical teaching and authority. “The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible,” sounds the refrain. And this is no mere exegetical or theological debate, for the ELCA is now so polluted that the schismatics must leave for fear of contamination. One must be wary of the purity of the minister who offers the bread and wine, after all.
In response to the bluster of the schismatics, Rev Dr. Brian Peterson, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, has penned a temperate and reasoned article.
“[W]e need to avoid, as much as possible, confusing the authority of the Bible with the authority of poor translations, incorrect assumptions, partial knowledge, or contested interpretations,” he begins, and “I do not believe that doing so constitutes the abandoning of the Bible’s authority. Honesty and the commandment not to bear false witness against others requires that we not confuse our disagreements about the meaning of these texts with faithlessness, heresy, or the denial of Scripture’s authority,” he concludes (emphasis mine).
Along the way, Dr. Peterson offers his scholarly interpretation of the so-called clobber passages, suggesting that they are difficult and uncertain, based on questionable “assumptions from first century culture, medicine, and science”. Of course, the Levitical lists of abominations derive from a worldview at least half a millennium earlier than the New Testament texts.
It is not my goal here to argue that my way of reading these texts is certainly the one right way. It has been my goal, however, to show how someone can read these texts with a high regard for their authority over the life of the church, and still speak in favor of the proposals adopted by the ELCA regarding homosexuality.
But serious questions remain about how these texts address the issues we are facing and the people involved. There are legitimate questions about how well the concerns addressed in these biblical texts correspond to the committed, exclusive, faithful, lifelong relationships that are the focus of the ELCA’s action. There are genuine difficulties in understanding some of these verses, and we ought to wonder whether, and why, we are trying to place too much weight on a few uncertain verses. Proper interpretation always involves listening to each text within the context of the whole witness of Scripture. There we hear with absolute clarity God’s desire and call for mercy, compassion, faithfulness, and love of our neighbors. We hear that God’s saving, sufficient grace has been poured out through Jesus Christ crucified and raised. We hear the promise that the Spirit will lead the church into God’s truth.
I believe that the ELCA Assembly’s actions have been shaped by, and are in agreement with, this authoritative biblical word.
Disagree if you will, but please don’t call us unchurched heretics.
Hat tip to blogger Ted Sitz for finding this article.