I've just returned from a vacation in Colorado and am catching up on the news of the past few days. I'm pleased by the amount of coverage we're seeing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's recent convention, although the depth of the articles varies wildly. Some are fantastic and cover a lot of ground and some are somewhat lacking. Even though I'm Lutheran, I'm a member of a congregation in the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod. The two church bodies share the name Lutheran but not altogether much else when it comes to doctrine. So I'm not an expert in the ELCA, although I have a great many friends who are clergy or members of ELCA congregations. And I know more than a few formerly ELCA clergy who have joined the Missouri Synod or other Lutheran church bodies in the last decade. The theological underpinnings that led to the most recent vote in favor of rostering clergy who are in same-sex relationships has caused some clergy and laity to leave in the past.
Anyway, of the many reader submissions and private notes I returned to was one from reader "Tony" saying:
This post is worthy of your reading (it even calls GR out!)
Now, feel free to go over and read the post headlined "lutherans make historic vote, and the AP wire F's it up" for some GetReligion-style commentary. (I wonder why "Lutheran" is lowercased but the cuss word is capitalized.) Anyway, it criticizes the following Associated Press headline and lede:
Lutherans to Allow Sexually Active Gays as Clergy
The nation's largest Lutheran denomination took openly gay clergy more fully into its fold Friday, as leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to lift a ban that prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian people from serving as ministers.
Author Drew Tatusko writes:
Provocative right? Also dead wrong.
This sort of language focuses on sex again. It sounds like the ELCA is now going to allow sex holidays and maybe even sexual orgy liturgies for those who are really horny on Sunday mornings. Of course this feeds into the crap that groups like the American Family Association and Americans for Truth like to spew from their venomous bung holes.
The only problem with the critique of the headline is that, well, the ELCA did vote to allow sexually active gays as clergy. And it's kind of hard to ignore that major vote when that's what the whole story is about. Tatusko goes on to explain that homosexuals have better sex than heterosexuals before saying that reporter Patrick Condon can not be trusted -- I kid you not -- because he once told a Minnesota Republican blogger that he enjoyed reading his blog. Then Tatusko wonders how GetReligion will "spin" this article.
Well, as it turns out, this was one of the articles that I wanted to look at here. I won't quibble with the headline, on account of it being factual and fair, and I can't say that I find Tatusko's writing to be terribly convincing -- but there were a few other issues the story raised. Let's look at the two paragraphs that follow the excerpt above:
Under the new policy, individual ELCA congregations will be allowed to hire homosexuals as clergy as long as they are in a committed relationships. Until now, gays and lesbians had to remain celibate to serve as clergy.
The change passed with the support of 68 percent of about 1,000 delegates at the ELCA's national assembly. It makes the group, with about 4.7 million members in the U.S., one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance.
"Gay-friendly" is the term I want to look at. What does that mean? The ELCA adopted a "social statement" that, among other things, endorses "chaste, monogamous and lifelong" same-sex relationships. To the media, I'm sure that sounds quite friendly. Now, let's look at that statement in the context of what the Christian church has confessed for thousands of years on the basis of Scripture. What the church has taught about sexual relations is that God created man and woman to live together as man and wife in a chaste, monogamous and life-long relationship. This is for our own good, for the procreation of children, for the intimacy of man and wife, etc. The church has taught that sex outside of this arrangement is sinful and that deviation from this natural order is a consequence of the fall into sin. And the church proclaims the forgiveness of sins to all of us who sin sexually.
Now, I know that many (all?) of the mainstream media believe with their heart, mind and soul in the inherent goodness of homosexuality and badness of the church's teaching that homosexuality is not what God wants for us. But let's just go with a thought experiment.
Pick something else that Scriptures teach is a deviation from God's will. Anything will do, really, but let's take an easy one from the Ten Commandments -- "lying." (On that note, it's the eighth commandment, Elizabeth!) Okay, now let's imagine that one church body endorses lying. And now let's imagine that another church body takes the position that lying falls short of how God wants us to behave. This second church body has a doctrine against lying, its pastors preach against it and its publishing house has devotionals on lying. This second church body also has a doctrine on the forgiveness of sins -- including lying. This second church body has pastors that absolve parishioners who confess that they are liars. Its pastors preach that sin is forgiven in Jesus Christ and it administers the sacrament of Holy Communion that, among other things, offers forgiveness of sins to liars.
Now which church body is liar-friendly? Some (be they liars or not) would much rather have a church in which lying is condemned -- and forgiven -- then one where they are told lying is A-OK and nothing to feel guilty about. Some would believe the second church to be infinitely more friendly. What's more, some would feel that the church that embraced lying didn't have liars' best interests at heart. Some would feel that a church that embraced lying wasn't friendly to liars at all and that what liars need is to have their sin clearly identified and forgiven.
So is it the job of the mainstream reporter to decide that one of the above churches is friendly and the other not? Or is that a theological issue that is too complex to be trivialized? Should it be any different if the churches are discussing sexual morality?
NB: As I've been following the proceedings of the ELCA convention, I was struck by how civilly the delegates disagreed with each other. (Or at least most of the delegates were civil!) Your comments should also be civil and focused on journalism.