In a post, below, I commended a recent paper by Michael Root. In it, he analyzes a kind of development of doctrine in Lutheran theology. Lee commented, and I find that I can't fit my reply into a comment box, so I raise it again, here.
You assert that Michael Root misses "the main point: is homosexuality immoral?" Well, obviously, I think, that is not the focus of his paper. His point is to question how we go about answering that question, and he finds our modus problematic, to say the least. I don't know how he would answer your question: Ask him, on his blog. I suspect, however, that two arguments compete: First, if we can't agree on a "Lutheran" approach to answering questions, then we're just sharing opinions. And second, that suggests the need for a more formalized magisterium -- whatever you might want to call it.
No one denies the all-too-human failings of any tradition's magisterium. I don't think that any of my catholic-evangelical colleagues has delusions about that. To use an analogy: Trained as a lawyer and committed to respecting judicial authority, as my entry into the bar requires that I be, I nevertheless look with utter disdain on numerous of the decisions that have come out, even recently, of the United States Supreme Court. That disdain, however, by no means frees me from respect for the institution of the Court or from advising clients in light of its decisions.
The issue is one of authority. Authority need not be read as tight-fisted authoritarianism. In fact, the authority of Christ and of the so-called "office of the keys" should never be exercised in that way. But there is a need (in this the Church shares with all institutions) for someone to guide, commend, and correct the Church. American Lutheranism (at least, the ELCA variety) has never faced the question of how to structure our life in such a way as to vest someone (meaning, too, perhaps some group) with the responsibility of answering to no other source than God -- freed of public pressure, political correctness, mass hysteria in delineating the "boundaries" of God's word.
Do we want the proclamation of the word of God to depend on majority rule? I mean, do we really? It is such majority "feeling" that has resulted in the churches' adopting as their model of operation that of large corporations -- with the consequent concern for numbers and budgets and retirement plans and the yet consequent denial of the hard counsels of the Sermon on the Mount. It was such pandering to the majority that the US Supreme Court issued that debacle of an opinion in the Dred Scott case.
I think Michael is correct in implying that what the ELCA has now is a magisterium of how ever many members are in the ELCA -- everyone is his or her own deacon, presbyter, and bishop. That is part, I think, of what led to the Lutheran allergy to ethics, as you aptly term it. (And I read Michael to support me in that assertion.) For example, it's simply more comfortable to over-stress Gospel freedom than it is to try to maintain the existential and scholastic tension that the "simul" should carry.
I think the problem that Michael analyzes in his paper is especially concerning to Lutherans because of our self-proclaimed seriousness about the importance of the tradition (whatever we mean by that) in guiding our contemporary theology. Lutherans are not the only ones to suffer from a radical refocus in the way they do theology and the sources to which they point. But Lutherans live among the rare breeds of Protestants who claim such guidance from confessions and confessors -- serious Calvinists' being another example. How we make decisions about what to teach and preach and about how to live maters.
Besides, in following of our Lutheran bliss, we have allowed for quasi-magisteria, anyway. When we allow teachers to pick up relatively marginal ideas and thematize them into key points, then we provide each seminary prof a mitre and permission to play around with the Gospel. When we puts points of doctrine up to a vote at a denominational convention, then then we abandon the tradition of bishop, presbyter, and deacon.
The modern word is "accountability" and -- so as not to hang Michael with this analysis I stress that this is my reading -- the current ELCA lacks that accountability. A crowd of delegates, who don't even have to work for re-election to the next CWA, can't be held accountable for the decisions they make by 50%-plus-1. And the people of the Church cannot be held accountable when Church teaching -- and, yes, the teaching of 2000 years -- is overturned or determined by votes of that kind.
I think that the ELCA's way of handling the evolution -- if such it be -- of its teaching on homosexuality has been most unfortunate by both sides. The "left" spoke of "rights" and "justice" and such nonsense. (Reminder: "Self-evident unalienable rights" is not a Christian concept.) The "right" never did make a particularly compelling case on the balancing of Scripture and modern understandings. And a pox on both sides for being so cocksure.
Frankly, I lose much more sleep over the rabid capitalists I know -- especially those who wear clerical collars -- than I would think of losing for gay people. I think they much more obviously transgress and traduce the expressed will of God than do monogamous gay couples. Where's the outrage on the "right" over that? And why are so many gays eager for their own "rights" but ignorant of the needs of the poor and the other powerless?
But do you see how Michael's argument is spot on? You can complain about how a concern for the Great Tradition intersects with the obvious need for a magisterium (or a ministerium or something) when it gores your ox. But watch how it works to gore someone else's, and the objections must be tempered.
I regret that this sounds pompous, glib, and not very clear. But I think that it is fundamental to the Church to be ultra-senstive to its "use" of scripture and its appeals to authority. And that is what I hear Michael saying.