I'm sorry, but I can't pass this up. My dear brother in the faith, Rob, has instilled in me (something I regularly forget) the importance of expositing one's theories and assertions with examples. In my effort to specify this thesis -- that the two "camps" to the Lutheran Church's wrestling with same-sex relationships and ordination come at the question from fundamentally different worldviews and epistemologies -- this came up this morning and seemed a perfect device for illustrating the thesis.
I heard (former) Bishop Lowell Erdahl (late of the Saint Paul Area Synod) interviewed on public radio this morning (I don't know whether it was a local insert or a national feed). He was talking about the ELCA's upset over the same-sex issues. (Funny: No one is talking about the new "worship resource" -- Renewing Worship -- and all the power that the Presiding Bishop wants to centralize over its adoption or over the proposal to go into full fellowship -- including sharing eucharistic fellowship -- with the United Methodist Church. Go figure!) And in the process he made a most revealing statement.
The Bishop, toward the end of the interview, summarized in terms roughly these: "These [i.e., gay] people are just faithful people who want to be accepted into full participation in the Church." And I realized that he had crystallized what I have been trying to say in the past few posts. With all due respect for the Bishop, whom I regard as having doing some very good things, he has fallen into the modernist heresy, too. His statement provides a clear example of what I have been haranguing against in recent days. Here's what I mean.
According to the Bishop, and there was more in his comments to support this claim, we arrive at our own understandings of what it means to be "faithful" and then have the "right" to be accepted in the Church and to exercise that self-defined "faithfulness." So, if I am convinced, for example, that Jesus should not be called "God" or a member of the Holy Trinity, then so long as I am "faithful" to that principle, I should be allowed access to all levels of involvement in the Church. Similarly, if I decide that God MUST love all people and that he wouldn't "make" people in a way he didn't approve, then I must and can and should be loyal to that principle and fight for full "participation" in the Church -- which usually means two things: that I get the Church's formal approval -- read "blessing" -- on me or my preaching or my "lifestyle" and that I be granted admittance to the "hierarchy" -- usually defined as some sort of position of power (maybe because it has too often been used that way).
Now here's where I think the Bishop has it wrong. "Faithful" has, through the Church's history, been defined by the Church -- not by the individual. Yes, Luther said, "Here I stand," but he did so on the basis of a careful reading of Scripture and a very long tradition of patristic and post-patristic exposition and teaching. (Yes, contrary to the views of many Lutherans, Luther knew the Church Fathers -- and maybe Mothers -- and relied on their insights. He did not suggest jumping from Wittenberg to Jerusalem.) With respect to my examples, Councils of the Church have stated finally and authoritatively that "Jesus is Christ is God." In the man Jesus resided the fullness of humanity and the fullness of the Godhead. Consequently, to be faithful, one may and can not deny this and argue differently. By that analysis, virtually all the members of the Jesus Seminar -- including my one-time Bible teacher, Marc Borg -- are heretics. And by the standards of the Church through all times, so far as I can discern (and I acknowledge my limited knowledge of history), one's heresy bars one from participation in the life of the Church -- until one repents of one's sin and confesses the "faith" of the Church. Thus, to be faithful is to acknowledge, to confess, and to obey the teaching of the Church -- in the words of one Father, what the Church has everywhere and at all times believed. (Remind me to unpack that phrase; it can mean different things, and I don't mean to suggest that the Church does not develop or change her teaching.)
In parallel, the Church through her history has taught-- from the earliest times quite expressly -- that faithfulness involves eschewing all same-gender sexual contact. (I was surprised to come on very direct teaching from some of the great Fathers, Chrysostom among them, on precisely this point. It didn't need to be intuited; they said it.) That teaching has not changed through the vast bulk of the Church -- both in terms of years of existence and in terms of the numbers who subscribe it today. It is, then, to beg the entire analysis to say, with Bishop Erdahl, that [gay people in noncelibate, nonchaste same-sex/gender relationships] are "faithful." For by the very analysis of the Church through its entire history, those people, by very definition, NOT faithful.
I raise this only to note the difference in "orientation" (couldn't resist) between the so-called "traditionalists" and the so-called "progressives." The "traditionalists" -- among whom I count those of us who call ourselves "evangelical catholics" and "catholic evangelicals" -- believe that we draw our direction from the Scripture by way of the Great Tradition of the Church. That "Tradition" includes the teachings of the great theologians and spiritual leaders, the dogmatic definitions of the pre-schism Church, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit through humble discernment throughout the entire Church in times since the schism. So for us, "faithful" is a conclusion, not a beginning point.
It seems that the "progressives" look at it the other way around. For them, it seems to me, the definition of "faithful" is drawn out a different way. In some ways, it is a given. And then on that basis, the Church is called to adjust. I think that support for gay-lesbian relationships in the Church grew out of the developing social/secular approbation of those relationships (the sort of post-Stonewall adjustment in culture). Frankly, that is often the way developments begin to take place in the Church. Luther, e.g., was feeling some of the oats of the Renaissance and the access to sources long cloaked in darkness when he began first to exposit and then to translate the Bible. But the point is to decide who or what gets the presumption: Do we presume in favor of the Bible or in favor of culture? For the progressives, it seems, culture trumps. And so people are "faithful" on terms other than what the Church has taught -- in this case, apparently, faithful means wanting to be in the Church and, probably, loving Jesus. (And, of course, that can get us into the same circle where we are now. For how do we know Jesus except through the Church?)
Now, I have stated my thesis baldly and I don't want to be grossly misunderstood. I set matters out starkly in order to try to illustrate what I see as different "hermeneutical" approaches to theology (and ethics). I do not offer these comments as a judgment on gay people. (We are all under judgment for particular reasons and in particular ways, because not one of us fulfills the intention of God for his or her life. That is fundamental Christian teaching.)
I do not think that gay people are any more "faithless" than are the shysters, the crooks, the baalists at Enron, WorldCom, and all the other great example of massive fraud where the leadership paraded its "evangelical Christianity" on their sleeves and Hummers, even as they offered up the fortunes and futures of tens of thousands of employees and investors (not their own, mind you) to the false god, Mammon. In fact, too, the Bible has a more to say about economics than about sex -- and the entire Church catholic is less-than-faithful until it gets that message. Thus, as I have said before in this blog, I don't think sex is the biggest issue in our lives -- though it may be for some of the gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Church. I do not mean to utter hate speech, although some who arrive at the same positions I espouse mean precisely that. To them I must say "anathema."
I do not mean to bar gay people -- whether in same-sex relationships or not -- from the eucharist. Were I to do so, I would remain in communion with very few of my closest friends! So please, as you read this, keep in mind that I take no joy, frankly, in writing this. I would much rather come to the other conclusion! But for the reasons I have been trying to state, I can't come down there.
And I do not even mean that the Church can, must, or should ignore sincere, long-standing, monogamous same-sex partnerships. With several, I do not believe it is within the Church's authority to "bless" those partnerships; but we ought to develop ways to support and encourage same-sex partners in the same way we provide social supports to so-called "straight" marriages.
But I think faithfulness, in whatever pathetic minor manifestation we can manage, requires that we humble ourselves before the Church -- Church conceived of through time (diachronic) and all over the globe (synchronic). That means subordinating our lives, our minds, our bodies, our loyalties to her teaching. For it is in the Church that we know salvation. Reinhard Huetter explicates, in Bound to Be Free this recognition which I consider critical to the life and well-being of the Church: "The formation of the biblical canon of Scripture and the emergence of the regula fidei [the rule of faith] and the creeds are reflections from early on of the necessity of the gospel's normative specification." (p. 51) I think that that is what is at stake in the current revels within Lutheranism and other denominations: the gospel's normative specification.