The year 2009 has already been momentous enough in the world of faith, what with both the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church taking decisive left turns on sexuality issues. The Episcopal Church essentially ended its self-imposed moratorium of electing a lesbian/gay bishop, after the existence of out gay Bishop Gene Robinson set the world’s conservative Anglican into a firestorm of indignation.
Then a month later the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America did something almost unthinkable for a mid-America-dominated outfit of good decent folks: it lifted the 20 year old ban on the ordination of partnered lesbian and gay people into the Lutheran ministry. Since that momentous day in August, everybody seemed to threaten to stop talking to the Lutherans, including other Lutherans, Catholics, etc.
Every denomination of Christians knows full well that they already have lesbian and gay clergy in their ranks. But most of them have preferred the continuous hypocrisy of plausible deniability – that they are unaware or even sincerely believe that they do not have lesbian and gay clergy because, well, they don’t allow such a thing. (By the way, the word “plausible” has an interesting history of its own.)
At any rate, the outrage and indignation over the reality of sexual variation even among decent and God-fearing people, is at least the flashpoint for a lot of upheaval in the Christian world.
Upheaval is usually caused by a lot of light material being tossed around by stronger forces. (I imagine the example of, say, a card table full of champagne glasses is upset by a fast-moving house pet.) There is far less upheaval of any sort when something is built on bedrock, and I always thought that the Christian faith was built on bedrock. I was brought up to believe that. More on that later.
But upheaval there is, and many well-respected commentators have been suggesting now for years that what we see emerging is an enormous realignment in the world of religion. Breakaway groups from mainline Protestant denominations, for example, may simply team up and form new unions.
So as the CORE Lutherans announce they are moving ahead to form their own little churchbody, we can’t help wondering if they will eventually converge with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod if that latter can trust their conservatism, or even the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (which is really not evangelical and not Lutheran in my humble opinion).
As a side note, I will watch with enthusiasm mixed with amazement to see how many ELCA congregations actually do go with the CORE movement. My count today on their web site is that 87 congregations are moving in their direction. Keep in mind that somewhere between 300 and 400 ELCA congregations have signed on with the Lutherans Concerned Reconciling in Christ program to publicly welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. So at the moment this doesn’t look like a serious realignment of apocalyptic proportions.
But the this ecumenical thing popped into the news, the so-called Manhattan Declaration which came out three days ago, that attempts to put up a barricade to the enormous social change of recent decades, over the signatures of Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christians.
(It seems more than a little odd this group would grab the title from the climate change people who in 2008 issued the Manhattan Declaration in Manhattan. This month’s 7-page religious moratorium was actually released in Washington D.C., not New York. I suppose now anybody could just write up his or her own version of truth and issue it under the title “The Holy Bible,” and it would be okay, huh?)
But this seems to fit the pattern of that “strange bedfellow” coalition of Mormons and Roman Catholics who donated huge sums to “defend” heterosexual marriage in California and again in Maine.
Bruce Garrett, of Truth Wins Out has written a cogent piece (“Statement Of Conscience: Just Give Us The Money”) on the Declaration and warns of its blatantly anti-gay political agenda.
Is there a real Christian realignment going on? Realignment is hard to detect for certainty when things change at glacial speed. And you know how the media loves to exaggerate, hence the word “upheaval” when 87 out of 10,000 congregations pick up their marbles and leave the ELCA’s game.
Personally, I doubt that there is a grand realignment that will abide for very long. The Mormon/Catholic alliance over Proposition 8 was a marriage of convenience. Both, as I have said, did their best to take the moral heat off of their own houses (a wild history of plural marriages, and a current pattern of sexually-abusive priests and pedophiles) by amping up their indignation over same-sex marriage.
Even in the current Declaration, there is so little holding Evangelical and Catholics together theologically that I doubt it means a massive or fundamental realignment. There are still plenty of evangelical Christians who think the Pope is Antichrist, for example. And Benedict XVI hasn’t done anything to dispel that age-old antipathy. It was more than amusing to see the Catholic News Agency identify some of the writers who put the Declaration together as including “renowned Evangelical leader Charles Colson.” Charles Colson, of Watergate notoriety? Charles Colson, who wrote “Born Again” in 1976 after serving time in prison for obstruction of justice? Well, I guess so, because he got into bed with ex-Lutheran convert to Roman Catholicism (the late) Richard John Neuhaus to publish “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission” in 1995. (You can get your used copy from Amazon right now for 59¢.)
And I suspect the Orthodox are not about to cave into Roman Papal authority any time soon, especially in light of its astonishing resurgence in post-Soviet Russia. The ecumenism of recent years on that front has Orthodoxy being cordial but not really trusting the Papacy. And Benedict is not likely to suggest parity with the Patriarch. His recent”generous” offer to welcome disaffected Anglicans back into the Roman fold, for example, smacks of canon law machinations: an Anglican bishop can become a Roman priest, keeping his wife but forfeiting his episcopate. Gee thanks, Ben.
If the Christian faith and witness is built on real bedrock, it is not the bedrock of Christian history nor a unified view of the divisive social issues in any era. It could only be the bedrock of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the historic creeds and confessions of what it means to be Christian. (So there go the Mormons, who hold to some very odd beliefs about God, Jesus, Adam, and human beings becoming Gods, and who turn up their noses at the ancient statements of faith.) Clearly, the bedrock of Christian faith, and the “core” of Lutheran theological teachings, are about what God does for humanity in Jesus Christ. Those core believes including nothing about who is Pope or whether one needs a pope, a bishop or a priest. the core believes including nothing about human sexuality, homosexuality, or marriage, for that matter.
You can appeal all you want to tradition, and loyalty to the real Holy Bible, but unity of faith is grounded on a great deal more than widely-held prejudices and a quickly assembled outrage and bluster promulgated to grab the attention of the media. And most important, a 7-page statement drawn up by indignant traditionalists does absolutely nothing to make reality go away. And a significant part of reality is that there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning human beings out there, many of whom were raised in Christian homes and in spite of all the conservative bluster still acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We’re here, we’re queer. We’re Christian. Get used to it. Do I have to say that into Latin?
— Pastor Dan Hooper