I hosted a discussion at my local Lutheran congregation a few nights ago about the recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2009, which approved gay clergy and possibly gay marriage. When I was asked the question, “What’s the Biblical basis for the ELCA action?”, I’m afraid I didn’t provide an adequate response. That’s partly my fault and partly because the answer is complicated and nuanced and not a black and white, unambiguous, simple “proof text”, which is what many conservatives on this issue demand.
Does the Bible speak to nuclear disarmament? Universal health care? Teaching evolution in biology class? The flat earth society? Does the Bible speak to twenty-first century issues that are far beyond the purview and understanding of the ancients who authored the words of the Biblical texts? (Ok, if you’re of a mind that God wrote the Bible, you may as well stop reading now).
Does the Bible speak to “publicly accountable, monogamous, life-long same gender relationships?”
Yes, but we must use modern lenses to filter the pre-scientific, culturally conditioned worldview of ancient authors. We must view the issue in light of a twenty-first century understanding and apply broad Biblical principles and not isolated proof texts.
The sixteenth century monk and priest Martin Luther, the greatest sexual revolutionary in history, not only confronted the church’s insistence upon a celibate priesthood when he gleefully married his love, the nun Katy von Bora, but he also reversed a millennium of sexual angst by rejecting the hangups over human sexuality dating to the fifth century, the time of Augustine and Jerome and others who saw sex–even within marriage–as the spreading of the sinful seed of Adam. The joy of sex: the author of the modern book by that title can thank old Father Martin.
But I digress …
It was Martin Luther who suggested that we view, interpret, and understand Scripture through the lens of “the canon within the canon.” Not all scripture is equal. Not all verses carry the same weight. Had it been up to Luther, he would have excluded the “epistle of straw”, the book of James, altogether. He also had serious doubts about the book of Revelation. With deep devotion toward the Holy Writ, he was nevertheless willing to challenge that which should be challenged.
And what is the heart of the matter, Luther’s “canon within the canon”, or the Scripture’s “core testimony”, to use the terminology of theologian Walter Brueggemann? I think most Christians would agree that it has to do with the gospel, the good news of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who accepted and included those rejected by society.
And what of the law, the rules and regulations, the moral precepts that guide and instruct? Here too, there is a heart of the matter, a canon within the canon, and core testimony attributed to the words of Jesus himself. Love God and love your neighbor, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Or, as John the evangelist records the words of Jesus, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
Christian ethics is less a set of rules than a principle: a measuring stick, a gauge, or a scale. What is the loving thing to do? The evidence must be weighed–and that includes the best evidence available—scientific, cultural, academic, historical, medical and psychological. Faith and reason. If the weight of the evidence tilts the scale one way—despite the ancient words of the Levitical priests or Paul the apostle—our way forward as faithful Christians is clear. The heart of the matter, the canon within the canon, the core testimony compels us.
While others may disagree, it is unfair to judge this view as unbiblical or unchristian. With Jacob at the ford of the Jabbok, we have wrestled with our wonderings. We believe we have plumbed deeper streams that wash away the passages that some would use to clobber their fellow.