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A column from Austin

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Charles_Austin:
This column appeared on the op-ed page of The Record, Hackensack, New Jersey, on August 21. The Record is a daily newspaper circulating in northern New Jersey. It is not to be reprinted without permission.
(And this is a locked topic; I post this for information, not for discussion, which rages elsewhere.)

Sexuality policy need not tear church apart
By Charles Austin [/size]
(The writer is a Lutheran pastor and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently interim pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Savior, Paramus.)

   I have watched my church – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – debate sexuality for 20 years. A key concern has been the role of gays and lesbians in the pastoral ministry. We allow gays and lesbians in our pulpits, but have expected them to abstain from sexual relationships, even if in a committed relationship comparable to marriage.
   This month, by a vote of 538 to 431, the highest decision-making body of our denomination urged bishops to exercise “restraint” in disciplining clergy who violate that policy. The action by our Churchwide Assembly did not change the policy, but clearly means that some of our pulpits will be open to gays and lesbians who are in committed relationships.
   There are those predicting this action will split our church. I disagree.
   The decision is new; the practice is not. In what has been a “don’t ask, don’t tell” practice, homosexual pastors have served Lutheran churches for a long time. Last week more than 80 pastors, including several from New Jersey with distinguished careers, officially announced that they were gay, some of them in long-term partnerships.
   Behind the vote lay years of Bible study and doctrinal conversations. We have discussed the experiences of gay and lesbian Lutherans and considered psychological and medical research on sexual orientation.
   Church leaders like Bishop Roy Riley of New Jersey see the decision as a “middle way,” allowing congregations who – with the approval of their bishop – want to call a pastor in a same sex relationship to do so. A difficult hearing in Atlanta this year defrocked a gay pastor against the wishes of his congregation, and churches have been ousted from the ELCA because they ordained a gay or lesbian pastor who was not celibate.
   We don’t all agree, but we have studied, debated and prayed. At last week’s meeting, discussion halted every 20 minutes for a minute of silent and hopefully unifying prayer.
   The suggestion that we not discipline all gay clergy has angered some in our 4.8 million member church who contend that homosexual acts are proscribed by the Bible. But discussions at the Chicago meeting stressed the need to stay for us to stay together in the church even if we hold differing views on sexuality.
  It is clear that some individuals and congregations may leave the ELCA because of the decision. Congregations have withdrawn for other reasons, such as the declaration of “full fellowship” with Episcopalians, an agreement that allows pastors to serve either Lutheran or Episcopal churches.
   It is also clear that acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy is growing in the ELCA. (Another denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, firmly rejects gay clergy.) While some of our regional units asked that the policy not be changed, 21 synods scattered across the country petitioned for a more complete acceptance of gays and lesbians in the pastorate.
   The central doctrine of Lutheranism is not biblical literalism, but the teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That teaching, rather than a particular interpretation of the Bible, is called the “doctrine on which the church stands or falls.”
   Some say our church will split or collapse into warring factions. But in Chicago, I saw people who disagreed holding hands and praying together each day and before each critical vote. I assume these people will go back to their local churches and do the same.
   And we seem to love our church. The more than 1,000 people in Chicago voiced strong enthusiasm for the work of the ELCA, re-elected Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson by a large majority, approved a sweeping statement on the church’s role in education, endorsed a new initiative for Bible study and opposed expansion of the war in Iraq. We want to increase our program combatting world hunger from $20 million annually to $25 million each year.
   As a pastor and journalist, I’ve watched dozens of Lutheran conventions deal with difficult subjects over the past 40 years. We have had serious disagreements before. But up to now we have usually been able to pray, sing, preach the gospel and serve the world together in spite of them.
   I think we can keep doing that.
                                                            -0-

scott3:

--- Quote from: Charles_Austin on August 23, 2007, 05:53:19 AM ---The central doctrine of Lutheranism is not biblical literalism, but the teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That teaching, rather than a particular interpretation of the Bible, is called the “doctrine on which the church stands or falls.”

--- End quote ---

Out of curiosity, why did you include these lines?  Are you intimating that people who say that homosexual behavior is sinful elevate "biblical literalism" (whatever that may mean in your usage) over the Gospel, the logical consequence of which is a belief that they are saved by following rules?

Eric_Swensson:
Doesn't seem to be locked after all! Nice bit of "having our cake and eating it too." That is, "sure, some people are going to leave (the small number of close-minded idiots will, but the majority will stay) so as long as we don't have an actual "split," a tearing-off of three or four hundred would be OK.

Eric_Swensson:

--- Quote from: Charles_Austin on August 23, 2007, 05:53:19 AM ---   And we seem to love our church. The more than 1,000 people in Chicago voiced strong enthusiasm for the work of the ELCA, re-elected Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson by a large majority, approved a sweeping statement on the church’s role in education, endorsed a new initiative for Bible study and opposed expansion of the war in Iraq. We want to increase our program combatting world hunger from $20 million annually to $25 million each year.
                                                       

--- End quote ---

Why did you not mention that for two-thirds of the people that was the first time they were there and most of them had no idea of what was going on, and half of th epeople speaking at the mics did not seem to know Lutheran theology?

Keith Falk:

--- Quote from: Eric_Swensson on August 23, 2007, 08:03:07 AM ---Doesn't seem to be locked after all! Nice bit of "having our cake and eating it too." That is, "sure, some people are going to leave (the small number rof close-minded idiot will, but the majority will stay." So as long as we don't have an actual "split" a tearing-off of three or four hundred would be OK.

--- End quote ---

All though I disagree with Pr. Austin's positions, we need to remember that it is an Op-Ed piece he has written, not a general reporting article.  He's offering his opnion to the public.  Whether or not we agree with that opnion, of course, is another matter.

However, I think the sentence "While some of our regional units asked that the policy not be changed, 21 synods scattered across the country petitioned for a more complete acceptance of gays and lesbians in the pastorate." is spun a bit more than I would prefer, since over 40 synods scattered across the country did NOT petition for a more complete acceptance of gays and lesbians in the pastorate.

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