coffee cup A group of ELCA pastors huddles over coffee for their weekly text study, but sermon ideas are not the center of discussion this week.  “What’s happening in your congregation?” is the question for each in turn.  “Just talk, so far,” reports one.  “My congregational president has resigned,” says another, “but that prompted two families who didn’t like his heavy handed leadership to return!”

It seems that there is a trickle of disaffected parishioners who are leaving or threatening to leave the ELCA over the new LGBT policies but not a trend–much less a torrent–at least not among this coffee shop gathering. 

Word Alone and Lutheran Core, the voices of the opposition, are counseling patience and due deliberation:

We will want to give ourselves time for patient and careful reflection. Now is not the time to make rash, hasty decisions. Most people make serious mistakes when they make decisions under pressure. We do not want to make this mistake now. Our relationship with the ELCA is a serious matter for us. I ask that we all take time to reflect patiently with ourselves and with others and not to make rash decisions now. We all have the time for God to disclose his will for us. Lutheran CORE and our supporters have consistently urged us to maintain at least a formal relationship with the ELCA. The question now before us is the level of our participation within the ELCA.

Around the country, there is anecdotal evidence that the Lutherans are not jumping ship, at least not yet and not in great numbers, over the ELCA 2009 convention actions approving gay clergy and gay marriage.  Many congregations are promoting discussion, and folks are seriously wrestling with the question, “what is the Bible and how do we use it?”

Those who leave echo a common refrain, “But there’s this line in the sand. It’s about the Bible and whether we believe what it says.”  The Lutheran Core talking points include the statement: “Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians. The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years.”

It pains me when some suggest that the ELCA decision was unbiblical, that those of us who agree with the inclusive actions of the assembly don’t “believe what the Bible says.” While we may disagree over interpretation of Scripture, it is self-righteous and judgmental to dismiss contrary opinions as unbiblical or even unchristian.

To the contrary, we believe in the heart of the matter, the “canon within the canon” (Luther’s terminology), the “core testimony” (Walter Brueggeman’s terminology) that compels us to open our arms, our hearts, and our pulpits as we did forty years ago to our sisters despite apparent Biblical admonitions. Luther suggested that all Scripture is not equal, that all passages do not carry the same weight, that some verses must surrender to the greater authority of the core testimony. We agree with Luther, but that does not mean that we reject the authority of the Bible, as charged by some in Lutheran Core and WordAlone.

The Bible says, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh” 1st Peter 2:18 and “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” 1st Timothy 2:12. Yet, despite nearly two millennia of teaching and tradition, the church now rejects slavery and sexism, by finding deeper streams of meaning in the core testimony of the good news of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who included those that society rejected, those who failed according to the purity rules of the church of his day, those deemed unclean by the Levitical holiness code–the same wellspring that spills out the harsh texts that “clobber” our gay fellows.

Syrophoenician woman The gospel text for yesterday that most Lutheran pastors preached on around the country was Mark’s narrative of the foreign woman who pushed against the traditional Jewish walls of exclusion.  For the early church, the question was not “gay” but “Gentile”.  Should the Jewish Jesus movement include non-Jews, the Gentiles?  Despite their uncleanness?  Despite their failure to follow the Jewish law?  Despite centuries of tradition and teaching that these did not belong to the family of God?

Halfway through his sermon, my pastor interrupted himself.  “There he goes again, some of you are thinking, he’s promoting the gay agenda.  It’s not an agenda,” he said.  “It’s the gospel.”

There it is.  The heart of the matter.  The canon within the canon.  The core testimony.  It’s not unbiblical.  It’s not unchristian.  It’s the gospel.