“Marriage Policies” of the LCMS
This is the third article in the Epiphany (Winter) issue of the Daystar Journal on the subject of missions. It inquires whether the present synodical directives are the best way to reach out to those affected by the homosexual debates going on in the nation.
“Marriage Policies” of the LCMS: Are We Seeking to Reach Out or Build Walls?
*Dr. Norm Metzler taught Systematic theology and Ethics at Concordia University in Portland Oregon. He has participated with biologists, heath professionals, and others in seminars dealing with homosexuality. Before he retired, he headed the Division of Theology in the College of Theology, Arts, and Science.
The LCMS Headquarters recently issued a document, “Information on Marriage Policies for Member Congregations,” (LCMS Nov. 2013) that gives guidance to congregations on protecting themselves legally, should a pastor and congregation refuse to perform a gay marriage. The document ends with the advice: “We urge all our congregations not to live in fear, but to engage our communities winsomely, lovingly, and faithfully with the glorious truths of God’s Word and, above all, with the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This very fine counsel would seem to be in tune with a missional understanding of the Christian faith. However, the content of the document which precedes this statement sets the Church in strong and direct opposition to the unfolding complexities of the religious and cultural understandings of marriage. There is no question that “these societal and legal trends present great challenges. Pressure on churches to accommodate their teachings and practices to the changing societal view of marriage is increasing.” The cultural shift on gay marriage is challenging the traditional Christian understanding and practice of marriage between one man and one woman, and Christians must properly wrestle with the implications of this major cultural shift.
However, this informational piece from LCMS officialdom fails to reflect appropriate Christian awareness and understanding of the complexities and ambiguities involved in this issue that would guide congregations in seeking to engage their communities “winsomely” and “lovingly.” We will challenge on biblical grounds some of the assumptions and blanket statements of this informational document from the LCMS, precisely for the sake of “winsome, loving” missional outreach to our society in our time.
Now granted, the Christian tradition in the West eventually developed an expectation of monogamous marital practice that has persisted throughout virtually the whole of Christian history. This arrangement certainly reflects the beginnings of humanity and God’s intention for marriage (Gen 2), and monogamy is encouraged by St Paul for those who would serve the Church as presbyters or deacons (1 Tim 3). Genesis also does connect human intimacy with child-bearing, along with the joy and mutual support of such intimacy. These marital values have been maintained and nurtured throughout the history of Christianity.
However, a number of concerns arise, given the glib LCMS equation of its “doctrine” (as if Synod has its own “doctrine”?!) with the biblical understanding of marriage. First of all, the blanket assertion that “marriage cannot be rightly understood apart from another gift: the gift of children” fails to reflect Christian sensitivity toward those couples who cannot or choose not to have children. Is their union any less a fully “biblical” marriage because they do not have children to evidence their “one flesh?” Does Genesis really equate the two becoming one flesh with the child that may result from sexual intimacy? Is not that “one flesh” far rather in the first instance that full commitment of the two persons to each other, including physical union, whether or not that sexual union produces children? This interpretation of Scripture by the LCMS authority who wrote this document is NOT so obviously the clear teaching of Scripture regarding marriage and children.
Secondly, while Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy regarding presbyters and deacons, and various passing mentions in his letters, indicate that monogamy was the preferred marital arrangement among Christians, his references also clearly imply that other marital arrangements existed among Christians and could be maintained among Christians. Multiple marriage was a common practice within Old Testament society, and was still common among the Jews at the time of the New Testament. It actually served socially to protect and make proper provision for women, their alternatives to marriage being slavery, prostitution, or starvation. Interestingly, polygamy was forbidden by law in the Roman Empire at the time of the New Testament, and later references from early Church history indicate the conflicts between Roman law and ongoing Jewish polygamous practice. In any case, the Bible does not flatly and categorically rule out polygamy among Christians, even though monogamy is the preferred arrangement. And in contemporary cultural situations where those engaged in polygamous marriages convert to Christianity, it is not expected that they would divorce other wives to attain a monogamous arrangement; indeed, such divorce would transgress another clear teaching of Jesus regarding marriage and divorce, and conflict with common Christian compassion for the multiple wives. Therefore the document’s blanket declaration that “To believe that marriage is a sacred union of one man and one woman is not a political opinion or a cultural bias, it is the clear teaching of Scripture,” is simply not as unambiguous and categorical as the document would want us to believe.
Thirdly, and most importantly for the issue at hand, the document states in a “Sample Marriage Policy” for LCMS congregations, “that homosexual unions come under categorical prohibition in the Old and New Testaments (Lev. 18:22, 24; 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10) as contrary to the Creator’s design (Rom.1:26-27).” If one reviews these passages, and indeed any other biblical passages typically cited in relation to this issue, it is clear that the Bible nowhere expressly addresses and therefore prohibits gay marriage (assuming this is what the LCMS document means by “homosexual unions.”) These passages may (depending on translations and context, 1 Cor. 6 and 1 Tim. 1 may not) address homosexual behaviors, which taken on their own would imply opposition to gay marriage, but they do not expressly speak to the issue of gay marriage itself.
Even more significantly, in the Christian discussion of homosexuality, the Bible nowhere explicitly addresses the issue of gay Christians. It is assumed in the Bible that gay behavior is equated with our sinful humanness, and evidences the brokenness of God’s original intention for humanity. Such most clearly is the argument of St Paul in Romans 1. But nowhere does the Bible go beyond gay behaviors to address the condition of homosexual orientation, a critical element of awareness and sensitivity in any contemporary conversation regarding homosexuality and gay marriage. We know today that a certain small percentage of humans, perhaps 1 to 2 percent according to current studies, has a special sexual condition of homosexual orientation. Whether or not these persons act on what is to them their “natural” attraction to the same sex and so engage in homosexual behavior, they have this inescapable and apparently irreversible homosexual orientation.
The very personal, pastoral, sensitive and compassionate question for Christians to address is then: how shall we work most “lovingly,” “winsomely,” effectively with Christians who have this special homosexual orientation, to assist them in best living out their Christian life and calling? Shall we advise them to remain celibate, that is, forego in their lifestyle any gay sexual intimacy, given their attraction to the same sex? Or shall we encourage them to attempt to become more androgynous, and learn to go beyond their natural homosexual attractions to find a meaningful and workable heterosexual relationship? Or if gay Christians are convinced that the Bible does not address their special sexual condition, are they therefore biblically allowed to follow their natural inclinations and seek a monogamous intimate relationship with another gay person, following the biblical guidelines for lifelong commitment and fidelity in marriage as prescribed for the vast majority of Christians that are heterosexually oriented? (The “option” of “reparative therapy” that supposedly can “change” a person from gay to straight, has been very broadly discredited by psychologists, psychiatrists, and even gays who earlier claimed they had been “converted” to heterosexuality through their faith in Christ.) Whatever approaches Christians may take in dealing with this very complex and difficult situation for gay Christians, they cannot categorize gays as any more sinful than any other Christians. If this condition is a result of the fall into sin, and so an evidence of our human brokenness, so are the various manifestations of sinfulness in all of our Christian lives…all of them equally damning before the perfectly loving Law of God. All of us Christians are broken sinners, saved by grace alone, and dealing with our various broken conditions the best we can.
If the LCMS is truly interested in reaching out with the Gospel to all conditions of humanity, including those who have a homosexual orientation, it would do well to discontinue the present approach reflected in this simplistic, insensitive and blanket “advice” regarding the rising and complex issue of gay marriage in our society. Such advice can only build barriers to any meaningful conversations. Synod should rather address itself to the more fundamental matter of how most effectively to interpret Scripture in a way that speaks God’s gracious acceptance and love to gay persons, as well as to those with other special sexual conditions such as bi-sexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality (hermaphrodites). Christian humble acceptance of our radical equality under sin and grace could speak much more positively and winsomely to our society than the self-righteous, judgmental, categorical pronouncements expressed in this document and in other LCMS documents dealing with homosexuality. Let us in the LCMS indeed commit ourselves to reaching out “winsomely” and “lovingly” on this very complex but crucial personal, pastoral, and social issue of our time.
For further reading on the content of this article, one might consult a good encyclopedia regarding marriage, monogamy and polygamy in ancient Greco-Roman culture and in Second Temple Judaism. Eric Marcus’ book Is It A Choice? (Harper San Francisco, 1999) provides a lot of brief answers in question and answer form regarding homosexuality, and Mel White’s Stranger At The Gate: To Be Gay and Christian In America (Penguin, 1994), is a powerful personal story from a once-highly-connected evangelical Christian. The most extensive biblical investigation of homosexual practice is Robert A.J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001), while James Nelson in his classic text Embodiment (Pilgrim Press, 1978, Chapter 8) addresses churchly responses to homosexuality.
29 thoughts on ““Marriage Policies” of the LCMS”
It is important to underscore that homosexuals really are not any different than heterosexuals. We all are created in God’s image. We all are broken. We all stand condemned under the law. God promises to each of us forgiveness and salvation – a promised based in Christ’s perfect righteousness.
That said, I doubt that the legal implications of refusing to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples is much of a threat. However, if the church really does have the concern, the simple solution would be to not perform marriage ceremonies for anyone. More specifically, the church should respect the difference between the blessing of marriage, which is an appropriate religious function, and the validation of a “marriage” license, which is strictly a civil function. The latter is an inappropriate religious function, especially in a society that values the separation of church and state and pastors should stop functioning as agents of the state.
Thanks for the reply, John…I would suggest, tho, that along with our common human brokenness, within which we are all “the same,” a certain small percentage of humanity (and other creatures apparently as well) does have a special sexual condition that the vast majority within heterosexuality does not have, and in that sense (perhaps, we may find, even genetically) they are different. I think it is important to acknowledge that that special sexual condition (and others along with them, like bisexuality, transsexuality, hermaphoditism) IS something to deal with that 98% of humans do not have to deal with.
I don’t disagree with that observation. I’m just suggesting that it is a mistake to assume that heterosexuals are somehow a better indicator of what God’s perfect order of creation looks like. Every one of us deviates from the perfect order. Given the reality of original sin, I think the better assumption is that we all deviate to the same degree even if we deviate in different directions.
Thank you, DayStar, for being honest enough to show us what you are really all about. Becker has been pushing this junk-theology and has advocated for gay marriage and acceptance of the ELCA’s position.
Good to see Metzler doing the same.
It is also good to know that you people are in the tiny minority.
You should just all go join the ELCA.
Why is the first line of attack fir right-wing LCMS members to tell brothers and sisters in Christ to just leave if they don’t like something? It was a year or so ago when one of the higher-ups in the synod told my wife and me to just leave if we didn’t like President Harrisson showboating in Congress about birth control. It was a difficult decision, as I have been an LCMS member all my life, but we couldn’t stand the hatefulness coming from a lot of what the synod tries to pass off as sacred doctrine anymore, so we did leave. We are now happy members of an ELCA congregation. I’m glad that there are some still in the LCMS fighting for some sanity, but the fight got to be too much for me and my family.
The author states that “Synod should rather address itself to the more fundamental matter of how most effectively to interpret Scripture in a way that speaks God’s gracious acceptance and love to gay persons, as well as to those with other special sexual conditions such as bi-sexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality (hermaphrodites).” Does this imply that as a synod we should reinterpret these scriptures, concluding that God no longer judges such behavior as sinful? There is no doubt that we should proclaim both Law and Gospel to all sinners, regardless of the nature of the sin. But at what point do we address the inherent sinfulness of the behavior connected with these different sexual orientions? Or does the author want us to reinterpret the scriptures in such a way that there is no longer any real condemnation for the sins previously condemned?
God condemns all sin. God loves all sinners. Are you saved because you have stopped sinning, or are you saved because you confess Christ as Lord? Are the answers to those questions any different for the homosexual than they are for your?
I don’t disagree with the fact that God condemns all sin or loves all sinners. That was not my point. I also do not believe that I am saved because I have “stopped sinning,” which is clearly impossible this side of heaven. The point has to do with how the church should respond to these alternate sexual orientations and the accompanying behavior. Since God condemns all sin and we become sensitive to appearing to single out one sin over another, does this mean the church is silent on sinful behavior that may have a tremendous impact on our society and the foundation of the family? My point is how does the church address this reality that has such a potential impact on our church and communities? The article seems to imply that we go back and see if scripture addresses the issue differently than we have traditionally believed (that is it condemns such behavior.)
Which takes priority, the Church’s call to condemn sin or the Church’s call to proclaim salvation, by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ? I’d suggest the latter. I’d also suggest that, when we single out some sins for special attention, except for the sin against the Holy Spirit, we are at risk of failing to faithfully proclaim the Gospel. From that perspective, I take the article to be a call to reassess how the church talks about the sinner more so than to reassess how the church talks about sin.
I simply can’t see where you are utimately going with this. We all know that while all sins are violations of God’s law and therefore equally in need of condemnation, not all sins are of the same effect. A simple lie doesn’t equate to the same impact as, say, an adultrous affair. Avoiding or ignoring the nature of the sin’s effect on the sinner, on the church, and on society would be no different than arguing for the disassembling of law enforcement because we need to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the law breaker. Some sins must be “singled out” as more serious. As for the church and Christian repentence and absolution are the only way of dealing with sin. In what way, then, should the church deal with sexual sins other than to call for repentence?
We are talking about justification, not law enforcement. I don’t see how such an analogy fits in a conversation that assumes a Lutheran understanding of Law/Gospel. Where I am going with this is to suggest that, by singling out, for special attention,homosexuality, in the context of committed relationships, the Church is at risk of contradicting itself in the teaching of Law and Gospel. The notion that we can overlook the “little” sins but have to be diligent in singling out the “biggies” sounds to me like a peculiar blend of antinomianism and work ethic.
Repentance is, first and foremost, looking to Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith. We have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees because we hold to Christ’s promise, not because we no longer sin. If that formula doesn’t work for those guilty of the “biggies”, how can it work for those of us who commit lots of little sins (and we all do)?
In my opinion, the clearest teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin is the passage in Romans. That passage includes a comprehensive list of sins (big sins!), a list that condemns you and me as well as the homosexual. But, the story doesn’t stop there – for you, for me or for the homosexual. Paul bookends that list of biggies with clear pronouncements of grace – a promise for everyone on that list, without distinction. Grace does not depend on our worthiness. Rather, it depends on God’s promise – a promise fulfilled in Christ.
I find two things interesting
1: Dr. Metzler asked the questions but did not provide an answer. This, frankly, has been going on in the church for more than 3 decades, pastors saying “we need to reach out winsomely and lovingly to same sex attracted people” or “how can we be more loving in our approach” but never actually coming up with an answer how to do that. Asking questions is good. Asking questions but never answering them – not so much.
2: Dr. Metzler also commits the same classic error made by both liberal and conservative pastors, that the answer to reaching out to gay people is in the way we proclaim sanctification. The more liberal churches try to reach out by affirming same sex relationships in some way. The conservative urge celibacy outside of male/female marriage. But both jump ahead to the third use of the Law too soon. This is the same error made in the Oct Issue of the Lutheran Witness in which 3 of the 5 article that included Gospel skipped from a very brief presentation of Gospel to some form of sanctification or promise that God would produce some kind of change in behavior. Pastors skip ahead way way too fast to the question of same sex marriage before the foundation of Law and Gospel has even been laid and, therefore, the 3rd use of the Law far overshadows and dominates the Gospel. When did “ministry” get reduced to how we proclaim sanctification?
Before we are even ready to ask these questions or to push Christian sanctification we need to realize a couple of things:
1: Within the LCMS are many many homosexual individuals who have chosen to remain within her wall because they believe sex is indeed reserved for a man and woman in marriage. They desire celibacy or marriage to someone of the opposite sex. Narrowing our attention to “outreach” to the gay community almost always results in a failure of “inreach,” a failure to feed these sheep whom God has already called us to care for.
2: These people need to hear, and are often begging to hear, the Gospel applied to them. Yet we feed them a diet of almost pure sanctification. It’s not that they don’t need to hear 3rd use of the Law too – in fact, they appreciate the Law and are probably living a life of sexual purity beyond what most heterosexual Christian ever achieve. But they need to hear it in the right order and with the right emphasis. They need the Gospel and, as the LCMS is today, the Gospel applied to homosexuals is a very very rare commodity.
So basically, this whole article is essentially irrelevant to the issues at hand.
Matt – I appreciate that Dr. Metzger did not assume that he had the right answers. I think that we are challenged to faithfully wrestle with these kinds of difficult questions. But, it would be a mistake to conclude that wrestling necessarily will lead to a single, correct answer. Rather, a model that would be more consistent with a Lutheran understanding of Law/Gospel and Creation/Redemption/Sanctification would be to confess that original sin is so pervasive that many aspects of the human experience are like a multiple choice test in which all of the answers are wrong. Yet, on this side of the eschaton, we have to live with choices made from that selection of answers. When all of the answers are wrong, it seems to me that the Lutheran approach invites us to default to grace.
Thank you both for your helpful dialogue. It seems to me, though, that you are not both talking about the same thing.
John, you seem be arguing that homosexual attraction and homosexual sexual behavior is currently being used in the LCMS as a special sort of a sin which excludes the possibility of justification. This is hypocritical, since biblical Lutheran theology upholds the free and gracious promise of Christ precisely to the sinner, to the one who is unable to free herself from the bondage of (any and all sins) and therefore can be nothing but a passive recipient of God’s free forgiveness in Christ.
It seems that Don is not really getting at this point. He doesn’t seem to think that sin is an impediment to justification. I think he is more concerned about what happens afterwards, ie. sanctification, and how the Church should describe this. As Paul mentions in Rom. 6: Christians, because they have died to sin and been raised with Christ, are to live in newness of life, which Paul seems to think of as freedom from the bondage to sin. Granted, this freedom is never complete this side of the resurrection (which Paul gets on to in Rom. 7), but that does not entail that we cease to claim this promise of freedom when declaring war on our sinful tendencies and inclinations.
So, to put the question directly: Ought homosexual behavior to be identified by the church in its teaching and preaching as itself a sin, as something which the Christian must repent of and attempt to avoid?
Granted that people with homosexual orientation can be Christians, ought the church to continue to call people to repentance for homosexual behavior?
Should homosexual people identify their preferred sexual behavior as a sin they ought to avoid?
Ought the LCMS follow those denominations which have ceased to acknowledge homosexual behavior as sin?
I do apologize if I have misrepresented either of your points. If I have, please feel free to correct and clarify them. Like Don, I am not sure where this article and argument would like us to go as a Church. Yet I think that this could and should be specified more clearly.
Nathan – in how many LCMS churches is a person who confesses the doctrine of justification; who confesses that the Sacrament is Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins; and, lives in an open, committed homosexual relationship welcome at the communion rail? I am not operating on the premise that the LCMS position is that homosexual behavior excludes justification. I am operating on the premise that the LCMS position is that homosexual behavior, even within a mutually committed relationship, is prima facia evidence of unrepentant sin. I am suggesting that repentance is about turning to Jesus. It is not measured by the sin which we no longer commit.
We should all be concerned with what happens after justification. That is not a unique problem for homosexuals. But, what happens after justification – sanctification – is the Holy Spirit’s work. It seems to me that, when we deploy third use like a hammer, it is no longer third use. I sometimes whether it is appropriate second use in service of the Gospel.
Regarding your last set of questions, I’d note that, if it is the Church’s obligation to call out specific sins, it misses most of them.
If I understand John correctly, “homosexual behavior….within a mutually committed relationship” should not be considered inherently sinful. O.k. This would be consistent with the position of the ELCA, of which he is a member. Obviously, the LCMS is on a different page with this. My question, which was directed to this article written by a retired LCMS professor, was how he envisioned us dealing with this issue specifically within the LCMS, and specifically on the parish level. At present, there is no endorsement in the LCMS of “mutually committed homosexual relatioships” as God-pleasing behavior. We also don’t accept this in our clergy, as does the ELCA. So obviously, if it was brought to the specific attention of a pastor (especially if the pastor was directly approached by the person in question), it would become an issue of confession and absolution, as with any sin. My confusion with the article is whether the author would approach “mutually committed homosexual relationships” as a sin, or if it was to be accepted as just another behavior that was not inherently sinful.
Rev. Engebretson – there is a critical difference between saying that “homosexual behavior within a mutually committed relationship should not be considered inherently sinful” and saying that “homosexual behavior within a mutually committed relation is not prima facia evidence of unrepentant sin”. I did not say the former. I implied the latter.
That said, I tend to agree with Dr. Metzler in that Scripture, at least Old Testament Scripture, does not speak about homosexual unions. A plain read of the Old Testament would define “sodomy” as inhospitality, culminating in homosexual rape. The Old Testament also speaks against idolatry and hedonism involving homosexuality. I’m less certain about the New Testament reference, especially Romans 1. However, while that passage speaks about homosexual behavior, it does so in the context of a litany of sins. We can all find ourselves on that list. If the homosexual deserves special attention, based on that passage, so do all of the rest of us. Thanks be to God that we have received His special attention – as referenced in the proclamations of grace that bookend the condemnations.
That we are singling out homosexuality and homosexual behavior in the context of this limited exchange does not need to imply that we are thereby excluding or treating as less serious other sins. So to the more immediate point at hand: Is “homosexual behavior within a mutually committed relationship… prima facia evidence of unrepentant sin.” You would imply “no” as your answer as far as I can see. O.k. But that therefore implies that homosexual behavior- and here I believe we are talking about the sexual expression of such actions and not simply the inclination or orientation, as such – is not sinful. You base that, as far as I can see, on the fact that, in your view, the scriptures seem insufficiently specific or clear about such behavior. Naturally we are going to see this differently, for our views of scripture, coming from different church bodies, if different. But even aside from the passages you mention, I think that thinking this through theologically we don’t begin by looking for a negative prohibition as our starting point. We begin by looking at God’s original will for man. If God had intended for man to order his relationships – especially his familial ones – in a same-gendered way, would this will not have been expressed from the beginning? And yet it is not. Surely, if homosexuality is considered as ‘normal’ as heterosexuality, it should be noted early on. Yet, when Paul talks about the church much later he reaches back to God’s foundational will for man and woman and compares the Body of Christ to the relationship of husband and wife. He does not talk about two men or two women or any other arrangement (including polygamous ones). So this is where I start. Homosexual behavior is therefore inconsistent with God’s original will and intent. And again, lest we get sidetracked again on the issue of whether we are unfairly singling out one sin over another, the issue of homosexual relationships cuts to very heart of what is meant by marriage and family. This is the foundational stuff upon which is built the rest of society. So it is important for us to address it and have a clear idea of how the church understands it, especially since it is tied into so much of how God relates to us.
Rev. Engebretson – again, you are not correctly represented what I said. I base the suggestion that homosexual behavior, within the context of a committed relationship, is not prima facia evidence of unrepentant sin for the same reason that I do not think that the propensity to tell untruths is not prima facia evidence of unrepentant sin. Everyone of us who confesses commits to amend our sinful lives and we all fail in that commitment. Repentance is turning to Christ as the author and perfecter of our faith. Repentance is the daily recollection of our Baptism and the washing and renewal promised there in.
I fail to see how one can view a “committed homosexual relationship” and not address the sinful aspect of such a relationship. The committed part would seem to imply a commitment to a ‘full’ marital-type relationship as I described earlier. Otherwise it’s just a platonic friendship. But I guess we’re just going to continue to speak past each other on this one.
You note that “Repentance is turning to Christ as the author and perfecter of our faith. Repentance is the daily recollection of our Baptism and the washing and renewal promised there in.” Where does sin fit into repentence? You attempt to define repentence without any mention of it. As I recall, when Paul talks about living out our baptism – as per Rom. 6 – he talks about dying and rising. Luther picks up on this and sees in it the drowning of the Old Adam the rising of the New Man on a daily basis. We die to sin through confession. We rise to newness of life as we are absoloved in Christ. Should I assume that this is what you also mean by “daily recollection of our Baptism”?
Rev. Engebretson – who many of your parishioners are divorced and remarried? How many of the husbands in your congregation fail to love their wives as Christ loved the church? How many of your parishioners routinely commit lust in their hearts? What makes their repentance any different from that of the homosexual?
I don’t think that I have ever denied that there are other sins in my own midst and that they, too, require repentence. That was not the original point. The point had to do with homosexual relationships as they may exsist within a LCMS congregation. But we have tossed this around enough for me.
Repentence needs to be praticed by all Christians regardless of their sins. That is clear.
Rev. Engebretson – we agree that repentance is integral with faithful living.
Thanks for your reply. You clarified your position issue helpfully.
I am not sure, however, that I fully understand your use of the term “repentance”. I agree that this indicates turning towards Jesus, but turning from what? I would suggest that this can to be anything other than sin, even if we define sin as generally as possible: refusal to trust God’s Word (ie. God’s law concerning human sexuality). We turn from the lives we have been living according to our own law, recognizing them as inherently and inexorably sinful, and receive God’s grace. This does not mean, however, that it therefor becomes ok to just turn back away from Jesus and willing and intentionally go back to living by our own law. Repentance as turning to Jesus necessarily involves a rejection of and turning from sin. Sure, it is a lifelong practice, but that does not change the fact that it involves admission of and turning from sin precisely because it is contrary to God’s Law. If someone claimed to repent and turn to Jesus, but also informed you that he planned to continue beating his children, cheating on his wife, and oppressing poor people, I think it would be fair for you to conclude that he had misunderstood repentance, and Jesus.
This, however, begs a question which you raise. Is an “open, committed homosexual relationship” sinful as such? If this relationship involves homosexual behavior, I would go ahead and say, yes, this would be sinful. In saying this, I do not believe I am parting either from scriptural revelation or the witness of the historic Christian church. I think there is ample scriptural support for the claim that homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s intended plan for human sexuality.
Thus, if repentance is turning to Jesus away from sin, and homosexual behavior is sinful, it is hard to see how a person who willingly, openly, and persistently denies the sinfulness of an act (be it homosexual behavior, child abuse, or otherwise) is actually turning from it at all.
To your last comment, though, I am unsure of how this answers the questions I posed. I do acknowledge that it is inherent to preaching the Law (in whatever use) that specific sins are mentioned. Is it ok to call out greed, hypocrisy, racism, adultery, abandonment, abuse? Do you object to the application of the Law to these matters? If so, what does it mean to preach the Law if you can’t mention specific sins? If not, why wouldn’t homosexual behavior also be included? Sure, it shouldn’t be singled out and placed on a worse level than lust, adultery or greed. But that does not mean that it should no longer be acknowledged as sin–which is precisely what several denominations have done in the past decade, and, if I understand you correctly, you seem to be claiming about homosexual behavior when it is in an “open, committed relationship”.
Finally, even if the church has failed to meaningfully call out certain sins (which it undoubtedly has in every time and place, given the prejudices of culture and class), it is hard to see why this is justification for continuing to intentionally fail to call out all sin as sin. That amounts to justifying continued error on the basis of past errors, which seems a strange method.
Nathan – Please note that I agreed with Dr. Metzler regarding the O.T. passages. I’m not certain how to apply the N.T. passages to the question of committed same gender relationships. For purposes of this conversation, I am not questioning your assumption that such relationships are sinful. I agree that homosexuality – not just the behavior, but the orientation – differs from God’s perfect plan of creation. In that regard, however, it is a stain on all of humanity not just a stain on the individual. Further, I think it is a mistake to assume that we know God’s perfect plan of creation or that heterosexuals are any closer to it than homosexuals. As I noted above, I think a more honest assumption is that we all differ from it to about the same degree – just in different directions.
If it is fair to conclude that the homosexual doesn’t understand repentance because he has indicated his intention to continue in his committed relationship, I would ask whether any of us really understands repentance. We all are captive to our respective sinful natures. If we were brutally honest with ourselves, everyone of us, on leaving church on a Sunday morning could generate a catalog of sins that we would be committing later that day and that week. And, we could do so even though we had just confessed our sins and just received Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
The church consistently has failed to call out sin and, too often done so on the basis of prejudice and class. To what extent is the hyper-concern regarding committed same-gender relationships likewise biased by such prejudices? And, for what it is worth, I am not trying to justify not calling out homosexual behavior on that basis. Rather, I question the apparent inconsistency between what the church believes, teaches and confesses in the abstract regarding justification and sanctification and the practical applications of those doctrines. Unbelievers can see that, even if we can’t.
So what if I am wrong? I am content to leave the weed-be-gone on the shelf and fellowship with folks whom you think are tares.
Oops, there is a rather important typo in the first full paragraph.
The sentence above which begins, “I would suggest that this…”, ought to read as follows:
I would suggest that this can not be anything other than sin, even if we define sin as generally as possible: refusal to trust God’s Word (ie. God’s law concerning human sexuality).
As an openly gay Christian worshipping at an LCMS church (yes we do exist, following the Lord’s path wherever he may take us, even if it’s not so pleasant sometimes), I feel actually quite a level of calmness around this issue. Really pity and sadness for those who spend so much time and energy struggling to reconcile their cultural prejudices with their faith, as a previous religious generation fought so desperately against interracial marriage.
Do you know the feeling when you know something absolutely in your heart with perfect calm and strength? I know in my heart, absolutely, that God created me as I am, a gay man, and that I am perfect as God made me. That he had a reason for making me as I am. And I know equally that Jesus would have welcomed me (and my partner of 20 years) to his church to walk in his ways. Unfortunately many of today’s churches do not similarly welcome us.
You can keep squabbling about it until your last breath if you want, but I think there are really far more important issues to address. If all the energy that’s been put into fighting gay marriage had been put into education or fighting hunger, the world would be a much better place today, already. How much more time are you going to waste on this issue? I will continue to pray for you.
Amen. God bless you and your partner 🙂
I was thinking of trying a Lutheran church but I am pretty staunch in the fact that marriage between anyone except a man & a woman in God’s eyes would be an abomination. No, the people themselves are not abominations, but the bible specifically says that the act of men with men and women with women is.
So imagine my surprise when I looked up the word Lutheran & saw that the ELCA portion performs same-sex marriage rites but the LCMS portion does not. Regardless of the reason, I cannot be part of a church that cedes to the word of man over the word of God. There is no excuse whatsoever.
I can’t imagine how many lifelong Lutherans are disillusioned. What is that verse about Shepherds of the church & millstones around their neck for leading their flock astray? You may want to consider that.