Preachers all over the world have had plenty to say about the tornado that swept through downtown Minneapolis on August 19th, 2009. It was 2:00 p.m. when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathered to begin deliberations on a new sexuality statement that allows gay marriage and set the stage for the ordination of practicing gay clergy. It was 2:01 p.m. that the tornado touched down, knocking the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church, the largest ELCA Cathedral in North and South America, where the assembly gathered for worship. By the end of the afternoon the assembly endorsed the sexuality statement which prevailed with 66.6 percent of the vote. It was exactly 10 years to the day that the ELCA accepted the Historic Episcopate in their full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church- who also voted recently to accept gay marriage and the ordination of practicing gay clergy.
The leaders of the Lutheran reform movement declared confirmed confidence in their positions against the proposals and saw the tornado as a warning to proponents. Rev. John Piper agreed. An eyewitness of the funnel cloud, he was completely certain that the tornado was a sign of God’s judgment against the denomination.
But I disagree.
The votes taken this past week at the ELCA Church-Wide Assembly did not institute any new policy. Careful listeners to the debate would have discovered that sexually active gay pastors and “married” gay couples spoke often in support of the measures. ELCA congregations all over the country have been performing gay marriages for years with tacit approval from their bishops. 95 sexually active gay ELCA pastors, long known, “came out” during the convention, and there are many more. The votes only formalized what has been practiced in the ELCA and I imagine God would not waste a sign of such magnitude just to affect the outcome of a vote while ignoring the departure from scripture which has been commonplace and celebrated.
Secondly, careful listeners to the debate would have recognized that the proponents for the measures argued from positions of exaggerated anecdotes and heartfelt feelings rather than sound Biblical principle. Opponents of the measures argued from a rich tradition of Biblical scholarship, Christian tradition, Lutheran ethics, plain old common sense, and a commitment to the authority of God’s Word. This great schism on the authority of Scripture is also something we have known for years.
Had Jesus Christ himself come down from heaven and unfurled his white heavenly robe before the entire assembly to reveal all the secrets of the universe, and had he lovingly addressed the ELCA assembly, telling the pro gay lobby that they were mistaken in their interpretations of the scripture, that homosexuality should not be un-sinned, but that his death on the cross covers the sin of homosexuality, to repent and be saved, some learned theologians from an esteemed ELCA seminary would have interpreted Christ’s second coming in a manner consistent with the outcome they desired. In fact, after the tornado hit, one GLBT advocate rose to proclaim that the upside down cross on the cathedral steeple was a sign that the Holy Spirit was blowing through the assembly in big ways as they embarked to do a “new thing.”
John 12:37-40 says,
Though Jesus had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them."
No, the sign that day was not for those who are blind, but rather for those who stood firm in their historic faith and in witness to the truth.
There is now a tempest that has descended upon the ELCA. The signs God provided for the faithful on August 19th, 2009 were not just confirmation that they are good and faithful servants, but that this fellowship of congregations has irreparably torn asunder the covenant they swore to by the cross of Jesus Christ. It follows that continued fellowship with the ELCA invites similar judgment.
The Presiding Bishop calls leaders from both sides to acknowledge that their unity is only in Christ, but he now leads a marginalized denomination which has undermined the foundations of this unity by breaking faith with Christ himself. The empty calls to honor one another’s “bound conscience” not only is a novel and contrived proposal, but humanistically binds sinner to sinner. It places the Christian outside the realm of the Holy Savior because at its heart is the demand that the ELCA live out an identity that is couched in the very denouncement of the Scriptures which tell us of Christ’s saving work. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons insist their unity is in Christ also, but this doesn’t make them Christian.
No house divided against itself can stand. God spits out the lukewarm church from his mouth.
No truer words for a time like this have been spoken. The tornado atop the cathedral steeple was formed in the meeting of two polar opposite pressure systems. This irreconcilable difference alone - that those who believe in the authority of the Scripture, and those who do not, are being called into bondage to one another - is capable of creating nothing less than destruction, theological mayhem, and a dark tempest of fury which not only betrays the unified and universal witness that faithful Christians are called to give to the world, but that knows nothing of grace but only wrath.
Good Lutherans all over the country must decide now whether to seek the refuge of Christ and His Holy Church and be bound to Him, or to accept an identity that betrays all which Christ is and be bound to man.
Lutherans, their “Reformers,” and their churches all over the country have to decide whether to follow Bishop Mark Hanson who wants to beguile the orthodox to eternal conversation about decisions that will never be reversed, or to leave the ELCA and forge a renewed and Biblically sound Lutheran witness in America. Some may even be angered by the resounding cry: “As for me and my house, I will serve the Lord.”
Orthodox Lutherans highly value their place in the unity of the Holy, Apostolic, and Universal Church. It is because of this that they will see their exit from the ELCA for a new fellowship not as schism in the midst of a schismatic church body, but as the necessary choice of faithfulness - both in upholding their unity and public witness with the whole of Christianity and in opposition to a denomination that exists now on the ecumenical fringe.
The Rev. C.J. Conner is the author of Jesus and the Culture Wars: Reclaiming the Lord's Prayer.