A Dangerous Prescription for a Slow and Painful Death

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may become the next church to allow the ordination of self-affirming homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, pending the upcoming votes at the denomination’s church-wide assembly this Friday.

Statistics show most members of the ELCA, like most American Christians in general, oppose both openly gay priests and gay unions. But sadly, the denomination as a whole may officially give its stamp of approval to such acts.

There is much to be said regarding “the issue” that has nearly split the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and the United Methodist Church, to name a few.

However, in the case of the Lutherans, the most frustrating thing is not the moral repercussions of gay sex for the church’s supposed pulpit protectors. Rather, it’s that most ELCA members – including many who will be voting this Friday – will not even know what they are backing, since the wording and intent of those resolutions are so contradictory and vague.

In essence, the first recommendation on “the issue” urges the church to stick together despite difference. The second one says the church should abide by a 1993 Bishops Statement that tells its members to not endorse homosexual unions. However, at the same time, the recommendation leaves a crack open for ultra-liberal interpreters of the statement to bless gay lovers under the guise of “pastoral care and responsibility.”

The third – and most confusing – recommendation keeps intact the church’s ban on self-affirming, sexually active priests. But in cases where the candidate is faithful to his or her lover, exceptions will be made, since homosexuality, after all, is only bad when it involves many lovers – or so the argument goes. In addition, there will be no policing going on in the ELCA and Bishops won’t carry around big sticks to make sure the candidate really is faithful to just one partner.

The point is, the recommendations are so confusing, neither activists on the left nor right are supporting it. Even Judy Biffle of Houston, a member of the church council that approved the recommendations, admitted the statements are “ambiguous somewhat intentionally,” and Margaret Payne, who led the sexuality task force, said the whole issue became "are we going to work it out together or split?"

In other words, the recommendations are nothing more than a watered-down, middle-way attempt to sacrifice Scripture and clarity for unity. But what good is unity if everyone is blind, fighting, and unaware?

When the recommendations come up to the floor this week, voting members of the Lutheran Church should tell the denominational heads to address the issue, face-front. The recommendations must be amended to say one thing or another – is the ELCA in favor of gay marriages and ordinations or in support of the Scriptures? If it is that the church will follow the doomed path of the United Church of Christ or the United Church of Canada, there is nothing more to be said that has not already been spoken.

Contrary to what the leadership is thinking, the middle ground is not a safe place to be. When waves come, you should either head for land or for the ocean – not waddle in the sand, waiting to die, slowly and painfully. Therefore, voting members must demand of their leaders greater clarity in thought and wording and amend the middle-way recommendations before the historic ELCA finds itself stuck in the sand.