Friday, October 9, 2009

What's the real issue?

What follows is part of an email I sent to a friend who expressed some concerns about my stance re. the ELCA's new policies. I have altered the text to remove any reference to this person's identity:

Let me see if I can share a few thoughts about this topic, not in hopes that we will agree but at least in hopes that we can talk about what the real disagreement is. First, you say “I
am a sinner in need of God's grace each and every day.” Amen! Me too. I heartily agree with you. This is why we have access to the love and power of God in Jesus Christ, because he came to seek and save sinners. So here we agree.

Second, you say that “Sin is separation from God and that sin is sin not big and small sins but Sin.” If I understand right you are saying that all sin is equally damaging in that it separates us from God and cuts us off from any hope of saving ourselves, which lands us back at your first point. Again, I say AMEN and I agree wholeheartedly. (Of course, in human terms some sins have more drastic consequences. A murder might cause more harm among us than me having a second dessert. But in terms of our relationship with God all sin is equal in that it cuts us off from God unless he will save us by grace. I think this is the point you were making.)

Third, you say that “If we all (includes Pastors) sin and fall short and sin again and ask for forgiveness again and sin again. we may not be qualified to be pastors. yet we are.” Again, I say Amen. I have no right in my own goodness or skill to be a pastor, but by God’s grace and in spite of my sin I am called, equipped, and sent. This call is not something I merit or earn. I am a sinner and I live before God in repentance and I receive his gift of forgiveness. This grace, and his call to me in spite of my imperfection, is the only thing that allows me to serve as a pastor.

So far I think you and I agree.

But now you say, “Now a sin comes along bigger and worse than others”. Here I must disagree with you. Homosexual activity is not a sin worse than others. We have already agreed that sin is sin. In fact, in terms of its consequences in society, I might even say that a loving, committed homosexual relationship might cause less damage (or at least less obvious damage) than many other sins. I would not agree that it is bigger and worse than other sins.

But here is where you and the ELCA part ways. You have said that homosexual activity is a sin. The argument that persuaded the ELCA to change its policies is very simply that a loving, committed homosexual relationship — including sexual activity between two people of the same gender — is not sin. You said in your email it was sin, but the ELCA no longer accepts this view. This is why we are encouraged to bless homosexual unions in our sanctuaries and welcome sexually active homosexual persons to preach and teach in our pulpits — because their sexual activity is not sin. (I understand that to some extent, local congregations have some say in who will be called as pastor. However, in terms of the denomination as a whole we will be asked to recognize the call and ministry of those called by other congregations, no matter whether we agree with their qualifications or not.) The ELCA says homosexual persons have no need to repent of their behavior, because it is not sin. This is the argument of the ELCA. This argument directly contradicts the Bible’s multiple statements about homosexual behavior. So in approving these new policies, the ELCA contradicts the Bible.

Let me hasten to add that I have friends who are in relationships with people of the same gender. Many of these people have a deep love for Jesus. I have worshipped and studied the Bible with them, played and argued and eaten with them. I have no desire to put some special judgment on these people, and I have no desire to exclude them from Central or any other church.

I do have a desire to live my life faithful to the Bible’s teaching. And if the ELCA says something is not a sin, but the Bible calls it a sin, I’m going to side with the Bible. Homosexual activity is not a greater sin than any other. But unless the Bible is wrong, it is still a sin. The argument is not in the end about homosexuality but about whether the Bible is accurate about what is sin and what is not.

All repentant sinners are welcomed by Jesus. All repentant sinners are welcome in the church. But those who look at their sin and say, “There’s nothing wrong with that” are in deep trouble — whether their sin is gluttony, gossip, or some kind of sexual sin.

In the end the issue at stake is how we read the Bible and what kind of standards we have for leaders in the church.

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