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A Libertarian Looks at President Obama’s Same-Sex Marriage Proclamation
Our president’s views on marriage have “evolved” and now he has come out in favor of “same-sex marriage” (hereafter named “ME” for “marriage equality” in this essay).
This comes on the heels of a crushing defeat to ME advocates at the hands of the citizens of North Carolina who voted 61% to 39%, the previous day, in favor of a state constitutional amendment defining only “traditional marriage” (hereafter named “TM” in this essay) as legal.
The two Billys (Clinton and Graham) weighed in with full-page ads in North Carolina newspapers advocating ME and TM, respectively.
America is not of one mind on this issue.
I am writing this in an airport, about to fly to Mammoth Lakes, California, to perform a marriage. Fitting that I write this now.
Let me lay my cards on the table. Please don’t jump to conclusions based on this short list. My conclusions from this essay are going to surprise you:
- I am a strong advocate for TM (traditional marriage).
- I am also a strong advocate for a free society, where coercion is only used to stop aggression.
- I operate from the assumption that our government’s natural tendency is a “benevolent drift toward a total state.” Our government and leaders generally mean well and end up growing the government and its control over our lives in order to help us. Of course, I believe this generally does more harm than good.
So. On to the discussion…
I am amazed that the advocates for TM and ME are operating under an unhelpful assumption: That the government (federal or state) has the power to license adult relationships.
Marriage licenses are a relatively new thing. For most of our history marriages have been a contract (formal or informal) between individuals and/or families. A religious sanction has been seen as helpful and/or optional in most societies. A “priest” or someone of similar social standing often (but not always) presides.
For much of American history, because we are such an under-populated nation (the topic of another essay), men and women have simply found one another and moved in. They would start referring to each other as husband and wife. Priests/clergy were scarce (perhaps an occasional circuit rider) and the magistrate may well have been the equivalent buggy distance away and expense (in today’s travel time and real cost) of flying to India.
This was also true in Bible times. “He took her as his wife” is a common phrase. The main “social marking” event was a feast/reception and no mention is made of a “judge” or a “priest” showing up. Most Bible people more or less followed the pattern of Adam and Eve and just started the marriage up at their own discretion.
Marriage licenses, unfortunately, came into widespread use after the Civil War, in an effort by racists to control or end “mixed marriages” with newly freed slaves (which in fact had been happening constantly throughout our entire history going back to Jamestown).
When people perceive a “problem,” government is always all too ready to dash in and help “fix” things, and they typically end up with more control over our lives in the end. Just think of the TSA if you want an example.
Thus the widespread custom of marriage licenses was born.
Fast forward to 2012. The culture wars have latched on to the TM vs. ME battle, reinforcing Caesar’s (my favorite term for government power) hold on the role of “decider.”
Both sides, in feverishly trying to get their view adopted by 100% of the public, are playing a gigantic chess game of “Mother May I” with plebiscites and court cases.
Truth is, the opponents are taking their partisan case to a “casino” where the house (government) always wins.
It’s as if two kids get into a playground argument and, unable to settle their dispute, take it up with the school principal. After generations of this appealing to authority, the principal eventually would control all playground activity at the smallest level of detail.
Free and unsupervised playgrounds (think basketball on the public park courts of the South Side of Chicago or sandlot baseball in the Dominican Republic) always produce better performers than over-managed and over-parented suburban youth sports (think Little League dad syndrome). Liberty works.
So back to the TM/ME debate. As a strong supporter of TM (I think of it as the Creator’s “plan A.”), you may be surprised with what I am going to say.
In short, get rid of marriage licenses. Altogether. While you’re at it, get rid of equivalent licenses for barbers, real estate agents and the like. Even business licenses. I pay $100+ a year to the City of Huntington Beach for my little private S-Corporation license and $800 annually to the State of California so they can keep me on some “register.” I get nothing of value in return for either payment. Yet no one questions the right of the government to demand/coerce such money from us. We obediently write our checks.
So, what business does the government have in registering and charging for voluntary adult relationships? What’s next, a friendship tax?
The whole TM/ME argument is base on a false premise; that the “school principal” is the decider. Both sides seek exclusive permission to define marriage aligned to their opinion and then impose that opinion on the other side, with Caesar’s blessing.
Let me suggest a better way.
In a truly free, non-coercive society, people can do as they please as long as they are not aggressing against others or their property. In a state of liberty, all would be free from physical, social, legal, economic, and intellectual aggression.
Picture a society where adult citizens could live with whomever they wanted and enter, freely, into any covenants they choose with others, on whatever terms they should select.
Any attempt to hinder free people from doing so is a restriction of their liberty.
It is also, and this is often left out, a restriction of intellectual liberty to impose a viewpoint on others. Unfortunately, “liberals” often don’t see their shortcomings in this area. In pushing for marriage equality (ME), they see themselves as the defenders of liberty and forget that they are aggressively redefining marriage and hoping to force this new definition on those who hold to TM (traditional marriage) views. It is not enough, for liberals, to have ME become the law of the land, they fully intend for TM supporters to embrace it, or label them as bigots.
In a free society, we would not be free to foist our definition of marriage on those who choose to think otherwise. This goes both ways.
In other words, requiring someone who strongly supports TM to call same-sex marriage a “marriage” is a form of intellectual aggression and has no place among free people. People have a right to their own viewpoints, definitions, and opinions.
Conversely, TM supporters like me have no right to tell ME folks that they cannot consider same-sex marriage a marriage. The truth is, they already do consider it same sex “marriage” a marriage. And I don’t get to vote on what other people think. And ME supporters don’t get to vote on what I think.
Appealing to Caesar is inappropriate among free people who disagree. We need to work it out on the playground for ourselves. No one has to play jump rope. No one has to hang on the monkey bars. No one has to play tetherball.
Respect for the freedom of another person does not require validating his or her opinion, just his or her right to have that opinion, and agreeing not to aggress against it.
Let’s make this more personal. I am a staunch supporter of TM. However, I realize that there are tens of millions of people who have their minds made up that ME is the way to go. If they want to call same-sex marriage a marriage, that is up to them. I, however, do not have to consider it a marriage or call it one. I can find polite ways to avoid that word (marriage) when discussing the issue. Much as atheists in a free society do not have to believe in God, name him, or pray to him, but they are obligated to let others do so.
First of all, however, we have to get the government out of marriage. Adults would be free to enter into any contract with each other. A new private business would spring up: relational contracts. There could be standard and custom-made contracts. It would be similar to the wills and trusts business so common today—no judge or priest is needed to make it so. These contracts could be cheaper than current marriage licenses, and much more customized to suit the needs of the contract parties. It could be notarized, and you could even get a little card for your wallet designating next of kin if you are found (God forbid) in an accident.
This contract can be updated or cancelled at any time. It’s not like our current way of doing things (with a huge divorce rate) is working all that well….
Next of kin can be designated by anyone. Caesar has no right to decide who your next of kin is. Can be a blood relative, can be a spouse, can be a best friend. Sexual intimacy (or lack thereof) should play no role.
All this being said, one’s Facebook status (single, married, in a relationship, it’s complicated, etc) carries more weight these days than paper from the court house.
These adult, free-will covenants could be celebrated by a reception, a party, a religious ceremony, or whatever they like. They would be free to call it whatever they like. A marriage. A partnership. And those of us “looking in” would also be free to call it whatever we like.
Faith communities would be free to craft their own values on the marriage issue. Some would practice only TM. Some would be open to ME. The congregations or denominations could decide for themselves. Coercion would be absent.
My own Lutheran tradition, with its “two kingdoms” has already paved the way for a dual-voluntary system when it comes to marriage. A tolerant public sphere and a voluntary church sphere. We also teach that marriage is not a sacrament (as opposed to Roman Catholic teaching), and does not need clergy present to make it “real.”
The truth is, I insist on being free to hold exclusively to the TM view, and have the right to congregate with others who agree. We have the right, as a congregation, to live accordingly, just as Orthodox Jews are free to restrict themselves to a kosher diet and set their own voluntary community standards.
A same-sex couple would have every right to call their relationship a marriage. But they would not have the right to force others to call it a marriage. They would be free to try to convince and persuade others, but not to coerce them. That would violate the free thought of others.
Free societies are not “winner takes all” societies. They are truly tolerant and non-aggressive, at every level. Valuing liberty does not mean we have to like what others or doing or to approve of any opinions or behaviors.
What about taxes?
Our tax code would have to be changed to “filing individually” and “filing as a legal collective.” Much as the tax code is free of religious labeling, it would have to be neutral on this issue too, so as not to side with a partisan group. And the truth is, coercive income taxes have no place in a free society anyways. But that’s another story.
Caesar has become such a huge part of our lives that we have forgotten the ground rules of liberty.
Let me be clear. I am not advocating ME. I am advocating for my right to hold to TM within a (much) freer society which is neutral on the subject.
Let’s move toward living freely. And thinking freely.
We US Lutherans are weathering a scathing season of debate on sexuality.
Don’t want to pick that scab and re-kindle the same tired scripts on both sides of the debate.
But I am fascinated by how little mention (during the debate) has been made of Martin Luther’s landmark essay on this very topic.
In German: Vom ehelichen Leben
English (Click on for Text) Translation: The Estate of Marriage
Never the legalist, Luther sees (in crushingly potent typically Luther-esque prose) the establishment of marriage in the Genesis order of creation.
Far from being an idle academic treatise, Luther fully intends to re-make Europe around his new non-monastic ideas. His essay is an ideological invasion.
And he succeeded.
You don’t have to read the whole thing; but a few pages will give you the idea.
We have somehow lost the idea of to-be-promoted biologically generative procreation within covenant Adam/Eve marriage families with earthly non-disposability.
We have bought into the myth of overpopulation (i.e. more people is bad), and have embraced the overuse of birth control and abortion (1/3 of conceptions in the US) as corollaries.
Luther is earthy, alive, and strident in his essay. Vintage Marty. Seriously, I dare you to read it, no matter where you stand on things.
Meanwhile, we (and most Mainline Christian groups) are dying out, only to be replaced by more biologically assertive faith families, who actually believe enough in their way of life to see it thrive.
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A HOUSE DIVIDED
The ELCA; Post-Assembly-Vote (hereafter referred to as “PAV”)
9.5 Theses (a mini tip-of-the hat to Martin Luther)
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
-Jesus (and Abraham Lincoln)
This is not a diatribe, nor is it a list of grievances. It is an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly. Please join me in this exercise.
I bear no hard feelings on the vote or anger toward the denomination or my faith family of origin (the ELCA). It is what it is. Bless us all. Bless them all.
This essay is an answer for many of you who have asked me to pick up my fountain pen and help define the issues for your congregational use. From the beginning, I want to say, humbly, that although I am theologically (very) conservative and deeply committed to the renewal movements, I do not speak for either group, just for myself.
I am surprised by the decisiveness of the Assembly (many of us expected something fuzzier) and the ferocity of the reaction among conservatives. This changes the game.
Please hear me that I am not attacking anyone. I just believe that the truth is true and that seeking after it is a good thing.
There has been a sea change in the ELCA, “PAV.” (Post Assembly Vote)
THESIS ONE: The Really Big Picture
Trends on society’s view of human sexuality are not as clear as they seem.
I live in California. A bill to ban same sex marriage in this (very blue) state passed just this past year. This constitutional amendment passed, not in the church, but in the (arguably) most “liberal” state in the West.
It is impossible to predict the future, but the trend in California may be pointing in the direction of traditional marriage.
Everyone in the media predicted that gay marriage would survive the election. But then, most of the media is Anglo liberal white.
And most of the voters are not. Asians and Latinos came out to the polls in droves. They, and conservative Anglos, have about twice as many kids per family as liberal Anglos.
What will this demographic wave do to the assumed, liberal-sliding trends?
Gay marriage may well pass in some places and fail in others. But it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a broad consensus for it. There will always be a majority or large minority of conservatives that are simply never going to accommodate it.
Liberals just don’t reproduce in big numbers. Neither do gays and lesbians. The future is owned by those who have the most babies; look at the Islamification of today’s Europe for a striking example of birth rates producing political power.
People talk a lot about emergent/emerging Christianity. There are actually two emerging Christianities (please note that I am not talking about “postmodern theology” here, but rather about emerging demographic trends).
One “emerging Christianity” is a postwar liberal movement with roots in the 19th century social gospel, liberal German theology from that same era, and flavored with a shot of very resilient Marxism.
This faction has firm control over most mainline Protestant North American denominations, colleges, and seminaries.
Their piety is cool and understated. Public teaching/preaching voice is reflective and nuanced. It is detached from the immediate heart of the speaker and objective in tone. E.g.: “Let us then go forth brothers and sisters to renew our efforts to establish justice and peace throughout God’s creation. For the sake of the greater Gospel and the Christ who was crucified.” The Christ is an archetypal figure central to their worship and thinking. Personal conversion language, however, is avoided. Ask a liberal pastor how many people got saved in his/her church last year, and you will get a funny look.
The other emergent stream was born around campfires on the mission field and the songs of slavery. Its piety is “warm to hot,” expressive, potent, and unpredictable. There is a supernatural vibe to the body language and speech. It is a high-touch world of prayer and laying on of hands. It can be found in storefront churches full of immigrants in any major world city. I describe it in my book: Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down (available on Booksurge.com and Amazon). Also, see Harvey Cox’ Fire from Heaven. Conversion is embraced and baptism is a full-bodied experience.
These two emergent streams, like two poles to a magnet, repel each other. In some ways, they gain identity by not being like the other, and see their own movement as an upgrade over and against the other. Mutually patronizing comments about the other are the rule, not the exception.
Sexuality has become the poster issue between these two groups. They take virtually 180 degree opposite views on the topic.
The fault line between these two emerging Christianities was so clear at the Church wide Assembly (hereafter: CWA). They lined up at opposite microphones and their “gut feelings” were simply in a different place with little emotional common ground. It was hard to watch. The immigrant Lutherans at the microphone looked like they were in shock.
The truth is, the old Protestant consensus has broken down. The CWA vote was the loudest rip in the North American Protestant fabric to date.
The old consensus between the two emerging streams ran like this:
The liberals (first stream) can control the apparatus and the seminaries and the renewal people (second stream) can control the Bible camps, missionary efforts, and most youth ministries. The non-negotiable lynchpin: Traditional Family Morality will be upheld by both groups, at least officially.
Without this lynchpin, the grand Protestant consensus, which we have had for at least a few generations, is unraveling. The grand freight train un-couples and cars coast in opposite directions on the same rails.
The liberal Protestant establishment is exhorting, begging, and even threatening (Episcopal-Anglican rift) the renewal-conservative people to stay. But without the lynchpin agreement, the core of the Protestant Covenant, they are not going to stay.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
The Protestant consensus has been dissolved; with it will dissolve the grand coalition of North American Protestantism.
Grand coalitions take decades to build but can be unraveled in a week. Roosevelt and Reagan built formidable political “great coalitions” in the 20th Century. Neither exists today.
The liberals will retain control of the mainline denominations. But I doubt they realize the damage they have done in pushing through the sexuality vote. They could have won this vote long ago, but they understood what was holding the broad consensus together. They used to appreciate the fact that Traditional Family Morality on the books made for the possibility of a grand Protestant coalition.
Renewal/conservative folks will, PAV, be left with three options:
1) Stay and submit to a “new covenant” without a Traditional Family Morality contract. Those who stay will be playing a permanent “away game” from now on. I have already been shouted down, PAV, by liberals (and I was being irenic and peaceful) when I even dared mentioned that I am not OK with the new morality and won’t accept the new contract.
2) Leave the mainline world (as individuals or churches) and join the growing world of non-denominational Christianity.
3) Do something visionary and creative. This remains to be articulated and executed. Perhaps you will craft it!
More on this later. For now, suffice it to say that we conservative/renewal folks have been voted off the island.
THESIS TWO: Sex is Complicated
Human sexuality is way more complex than extremists of any political-theological stripe would concede.
There may be no more nuanced and complex animal behavior on planet earth than human sexuality.
Virtually no one sexual label fits even a handful of people, let alone a whole population group. Most humans have a unique individual sexuality based on tiramisu-like layers of experience, pre-disposition, feelings toward parents, early courtship successes and failures, and of course, hormonal levels.
Our sexuality is like a constantly morphing fingerprint, individual, but not fixed. I was at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and out came “sexy” women covered in feathers. They have been doing this for 100 years. Many, many men, for generations, have paid to watch this and obviously (I was looking around) enjoy it. I cannot think of anything less sexy than scantily dressed women in feathers. We are all different in our sexuality.
I am complex sexually, and so are you. And my sexuality continues to evolve the longer I am married. It becomes more focused on my wife of 28 years, over time, and to say that I was born the way I am now is silly. Of course my wife has had a huge effect on my sexuality. And on everything else about me, by the way. Had I been married to someone else, my sexuality would have evolved in a different direction.
Three phrases are common among gay and lesbian persons:
1) I was born this way.
2) I don’t ever remember being attracted to the opposite sex.
3) Why would I choose this path, given all the persecution of gays and lesbians?
The first phrase is a gross oversimplification of sexual behavior. No one is born with a totally developed sexuality any more than they are born with grammar and vocabulary. Our sexuality develops and changes well into middle age.
Besides, no one even remembers his or her first 2-3 years at all, let alone what they were thinking and doing, sexually, when they were born. I remember my first fuzzy sexual feelings (attraction for my best friend’s sister) around 6th grade. And even these thoughts were complex, the more I think about it. I am looking back at the past through a glass, darkly, at best.
The second phrase above, truth be told, is un-verifiable and can be politically self-serving. And no one can argue with it because no one can access your memories. And besides, memory is funny stuff. If you don’t believe that, spend some time listening to witnesses in a courtroom. “What actually happened” is vague, at best, with even the simplest events, let alone remembering the pedigree of our sexuality as it was forming.
And the third phrase borders on comical. The truth is, people choose crazy, destructive lifestyles all the time, for bizarre reasons. People give up jobs and marriages for beer! Why would I choose this? Who knows? People are very capable of doing whatever they feel like, regardless of the consequences for them, socially.
In conclusion, sound bites on sexuality, which most people accept without thinking, are philosophically wobbly at best. Hardly a foundation upon which you want to build a philosophical skyscraper.
But activists use such sound bites, all the time, to end critical debate and to put us, theological conservatives, on the defensive.
THESIS THREE: The Bible and Sexuality
Guidance on sexuality is trickier than it appears, if you use the Bible as your guide.
Much has been made over biblical authority in this debate on human sexuality.
For the record, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I believe in biblical inerrancy; it is not logically possible for you to be theologically to the “right” of me on this issue. That may put me to the right of many of you, theologically speaking, but please hear me out. Making a case for biblical inerrancy is the subject of another essay.
I just wrote the Galatians Bible study for Augsburg Fortress, which they published. The tension between law and Gospel in this Galatians is palpable (the big issue was circumcision).
The truth is, we all, liberal and conservative, pick and choose which rules we want to hold as still valid, in light of the cross:
-We don’t eat kosher
-Women go to church without hats on, and some wear their hair short
-We skateboard over the Sabbath rules
-We ignore the commands to keep festivals
-You are wearing blended fabrics right now, forbidden in the Bible
We still hold that the Ten Commandments are somehow really important, even though they are part of the Old Covenant.
We, according to Galatians, are to be led by the Spirit, not by the law.
So it doesn’t work, when we conservatives are trying to convince moderates and liberals, to quote the usual prohibitions against gay and lesbian sex in Leviticus and Romans (although Romans has a lot of bite to it and just sent a chill up my spine this evening). Besides, there’s a trap door at the end of the Romans passage (Romans 2) that should give us pause in using it at all against anyone else.
The only argument that “has legs” in circles outside of our own is the biblical argument from the Order of Creation. It’s an argument with which even the most secular common sense 15 year olds can resonate.
It goes like this:
1) God created the world and created humankind in his own image: male and female.
2) His first command to us (over and over actually) was “be fruitful and multiply.”
3) Adam and Eve were a reflection of himself and a prototype for life-giving sexuality.
4) Jesus and Paul affirmed this Order of Creation by saying that “a man shall leave his family and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus, implicitly, and Paul, explicitly, commanded the single life for those who can’t, won’t, or feel led not to carry out this traditional plan.
5) Jesus was a hardliner on marriage: “What God has joined together let no one put asunder.” He saw marriage as God’s plan.
6) Thus, this is God’s best plan for our sexuality, and we ought to raise our children to live out God’s best plan for their sexuality.
7) All of our leaders should, as best they can, teach and model this central creative impulse from the very heart of God. Being celibate and single (e.g. like Paul) is the other option.
This is taking the “Main Street” approach to the Bible and sexuality (God’s original plan), rather than getting lost on side streets.
The common sense nature argument, even if you never saw a Bible, resonates with this Bible ueber-theme. Any fifteen- year old can tell you what part goes where (sexually). Physiologically, it is beyond debate that one of the main biological goals of the sex act is to bring sperm and eggs together; as Dr. Strangelove would say: “It’s the whole idea!” Certain things don’t belong in certain places. Even we Protestants would have to give the Catholics some credit for seeing the importance of letting biology take its course in their allergy against birth control.
And economically, one of the biggest causes of crime and poverty in America is single parents raising children without a partner (although many do it heroically and well). Thus the importance of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman who generate the births in the first place.
Traditional Morality encourages having children, lifelong marriages to support and nurture the family, and long-term economic mutual aid between family members of many generations.
The two opposing views on this issue (human sexuality) are heartfelt and incompatible.
I use a Mac. Mac users are insufferable for their missionary zeal. I could digress…
In any case, a computer cannot have two operating systems; or at least, it shouldn’t.
The opposing views on sexuality are incompatible.
Either a full sexual relationship is limited to traditional marriage or it is not.
Conservative view: Although we live in a broken world and often fail to live up to it, the ideal should be for full human sexuality to be expressed within the boundaries of a life-long marriage between one man and one woman.
Liberal view: Human sexuality can be a great blessing between any two committed, consenting adults (some would add: in a life long committed relationship).
The problem is: the only “compromise” is to adopt the liberal view, and then it ceases to be a compromise.
Logically speaking, there is no compromise (either way) without collapsing the opposing view.
PAV ELCA Lutherans just shifted from the former (conservative) to the latter (liberal) view, very decisively. Mutual respect of bound conscience means nothing to the party left holding the short straw.
In fairness to them, this is how liberals have felt all along—that they have been holding the short straw. And they did.
I studied Philosophy as a Fulbright Scholar and just don’t see a way around this impasse.
This may be the most intractable social issue since slavery (where there was also no compromise possible—although many were attempted). Either it was OK to have slaves, or not.
In these kinds of issues, someone has to carry a short straw. For PAV traditional folks, it’s our turn (if we choose to stay in the denomination).
Even with the abortion issue (and I am actively and heavily involved in the pro-life movement) there are lots of places for constructive compromise with pro-choice folks (parental notification, 24-hour waiting, rape and incest, required counseling, no late term abortions, etc.). I have actually enjoyed conversations with activist pro-choice people, where the discussion went in a very constructive direction, because we could find some areas of agreement.
Now that hurdles have been removed for blessing same sex unions, our conservative view becomes irrelevant.
And what about us who believe that homosexual activity is always sinful, no matter how committed the partners are? Are we still allowed to say this, print this, and write books about it that Augsburg Fortress will publish?
Are we to give up on prayers for healing for those who want to be released from the gay and lesbian lifestyle? Can we have official booths at ELCA gatherings urging people to leave the lifestyle and staffed by those who have left the lifestyle (I have a dear friend in this camp)?
Is it a sin or not? If we no longer, unconditionally, say “yes,” then the answer is “no.” A community cannot be held together with two sets of rules on the big-ticket issues.
In the logical-philosophical world, there is such a thing as a winner-take-all game.
This would be one of them.
THESIS FIVE: How then shall we live?
Without basic unity in answering the question: “How then shall we live?” there is no longer one faith system, but two.
A faith system (“religion”) rests on twin pillars:
1) Love and community.
2) Teaching, purpose, and direction.
If we fail in one or both, then we have a multiplicity of faith systems, not a unity.
There have been a lot of appeals to love and for community to hold the ELCA together. But those appeals are ignoring number 2 above.
Granted, there will always be smaller disagreements in any community.
But the church offers an ideal lifestyle, an alternative to the prevailing culture, as an answer to the question: “How then shall we live?”
A big part of human lifestyle is sexuality, and what to do with it (and what not to do with it). Primary relationships are formed out of sexual relationships, and these bondings form families.
What constitutes the “goal” family we are “shooting for” simply is a big deal.
As noted above, there are philosophically coherent conservative and liberal views on sexuality.
As PAV Christians, we conservatives, it would seem, would now be required to teach the liberal view in all official capacities. Or at least to keep our mouths shut.
Simply put, our denomination no longer teaches the conservative view. So what happens to those of us who do?
A “religion” teaches a path for one’s life. A “calling,” if you will.
Some of that path is intended for all people (think: Ten Commandments).
Some of it is intended for individuals (e.g. “Go to med school.”)
Conservatives believe that human sexuality teaching belongs in the former, and liberals believe that its center of gravity can also be found in the latter (this is an over-simplification, but you get the idea).
We simply can’t teach both views at the same time.
Lutherans have called lesser-charged issues as “adiaphora” or things that don’t break fellowship.
To theological conservatives, human sexuality, and the Christian community which is literally formed out of it (bonding and birth), is simply not adiaphora. It is central to the lifestyle teaching of our churches. We conservatives have a clear answer to the family part of “How then shall we live?” and it’s not negotiable.
Simply put, we can’t as a denomination, shoot at two different targets at the same time. As Jesus says, we can’t serve two masters.
A faith system, much less a faith community, cannot survive without a basic shared ideal about how human life should be lived.
It’s all about life together. And life together has a shape.
We can’t hold up opposites as equal ideals and survive as a church.
THESIS SIX: Convergence and Divergence.
The ELCA is diverging, internally.
Perhaps you have flown over the Mississippi delta. There you have, not converging but diverging streams.
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for embracing and a time to refrain from embracing.
There has been a saying: What belongs together stays together.
Perhaps the ELCA was born under a “bad star” (I don’t believe in astrology, so don’t send me letters) and there were constituencies in the ELCA that did not belong together in the first place.
The ELCA is a synod. You have heard of the Missouri Synod. Synod comes from two Greek words: “syn” (together) and “hodos” (path). We get symphony (sounds that go together well) and odometer (path measurer) from these two root words.
You can be together in love but moving in different directions. The PAV scenario will resemble the Mississippi delta. This is neither good nor bad. It is the way it is.
I have always advocated a “big tent” ELCA with room for everyone, conservatives and liberals. And everything in between. I have been a tireless advocate for people “staying in.”
Having a tent (which is a mobile shelter) only works if you are carrying the tent down the same trail or have it pitched at one spot.
If you go in different directions, even a big tent rips. I’m not sure if I can continue to hold my “big tent” views, although I’d like to. It may not be possible.
THESIS SEVEN: The Cost
The ELCA will pay a much higher cost for the CWA vote than liberals believe and/or hope.
Polls and statistics can be spun to back up almost any opinion.
But it’s clear to me that a large minority of clergy/leaders and a majority of lay people do not want the blessing of same sex unions or practicing gay/lesbian clergy in the ELCA. The vote will not alienate a fringe of the ELCA; it will alienate the core of the denomination.
Christians are an authority-following, codependent lot, and many who disagree with the new PAV scenario will just go along with things because they don’t want any conflict.
But for many of us, the PAV world is unacceptable.
Many churches are going to cut off unrestricted benevolence to the ELCA and its synods. Completely.
Pastors are in a difficult spot, because virtually none of their congregations are 100% made up of either faction. Many moderate and conservative pastors will lack the courage to lead, and the following will happen:
1) Hard line conservatives will leave their congregations immediately.
2) The leadership “buck” will be passed to councils or congregational meetings which will bring the fault line of the assembly to the middle of the congregation, resulting in intractable conflict for the reasons stated above. This will be distracting and counter productive at best.
3) The decline of the typical mainline congregation will be hastened by internal bickering.
The social and economic cost to the ELCA may be larger than anyone anticipated. The new center of the denomination may not hold.
THESIS EIGHT: The GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender—the order of the letters can be different) Agenda
This is not the end of the issue; it is the beginning of the implementation of the GLBT agenda.
Tolerance and blessing was the rallying cry of the movement that resulted in the CWA vote.
Where does it end?
This is just the beginning.
If sex can be “holy” and “blessed” with any consenting adults, why not a return to polygamy? Why not group marriage?
Why not bisexual pastors who are sexually practicing both ways? As long as all the partners are in lifelong committed relationships. Because, after all, they were “born bisexual” and have to be able to live that out…
Gay pride week at our seminary chapels and colleges, supported by your offering money?
There will be a new term appearing: Queer (and Queer Folk). You don’t have to look far on Google to see that Christian GLBT activists are thinking of imposing this term on the rest of us, with missionary zeal, as the next step. Do you really think that this activist term will not be used in written prayers this year in some ELCA congregations? Do you really think that synod assemblies are far behind? Have a look at an official ELCA congregation in San Francisco: http://www.HerChurch.org. Goddess rosaries, you can buy them at HerChurch on line now! “Maybe you’re gay” booths at the ELCA youth gathering? An office for GLBT affairs at ELCA headquarters in Chicago? If this sounds way “out there,” think about people a generation ago seeing the CWA vote we just had.
Once sex has been de-coupled from traditional marriage, the sky is the limit. Is this something in which you want to take part?
It starts with committed, life-long gay and lesbian relationships. But what is committed? And what is lifelong? Are we easier on gay divorce because it is less “real?” Where does it end?
Who will be in charge of the storytelling? Will the Stonewall story be elevated to the Selma bus story or even to that of the Pilgrims? Will we be able to push back?
The toboggan ride down the icy slope has begun. Do you want to ride it all the way down?
THESIS NINE: Breaking Fellowship
It is possible to love people and break directly supportive fellowship with them.
I keep getting told by liberals, even scolded by them, that this is not a big deal. That sexuality is not as important as Jesus or the Gospel.
Well, to me, it is a big deal. And no one else gets to vote on how I believe about that.
There are small things, which the Bible tells us to overlook, and then there are big things.
Human sexuality is one of a tiny handful of “big thing” issues in our culture right now.
There are lots of churches and denominations. And there are “whole other religions.” We can love them all without having to support or pay for them.
If part of the body of Christ moves in a 90-degree direction to the way you are headed (think “syn-hodos”), you can bless them, pray for them, but you don’t have to pay for them.
I can love Hindus and Mormons too. But I don’t have to send them money. Or pray that their message prevails. Not that our Lutheran brothers and sisters on the left are Hindus and Mormons. But to realign the faith system from forgiving sin to blessing sin is a structural change, not a cosmetic one.
New sound bite: Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
Financial support for a PAV organization (the ELCA and its synods) that allows for the blessing of gay and lesbian unions/marriages and/or elevates practicing gay and lesbian people to exemplary leadership is optional, at best, for conservatives.
We can love them but we don’t have to support or subsidize this new direction.
Let the liberal wing of the church pay for its own decisions.
I’m not saying leave the denomination; that’s up to you. But money reinforces and rewards behavior. Time to stop sending it until we find a new way forward.
An entire redefinition of the human condition, sin, and atonement/blessing is a big deal to us. In fact, you could argue that to do so is to create a new religion. That, of course, is endlessly debatable.
Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
THESIS 9.5: The Options
Two of the churchwide organizations, which conservative Lutherans ought not to abandon, are Luther Seminary and Augsburg Fortress Publishing. There are others, of course.
Both have sizeable Evangelical presence in their leadership. Their CEOs (Rick Bliese and Beth Lewis) are very comfortable among us and value us. These operations may not be spotless in their conservative-evangelical résumés, but they are very important to us and we ought to stay connected with them, if only for the sake of the many Evangelicals who are a big part of what they do.
When conservatives complained about the liberal bent of the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress apologized and changed the text! Rick Bliese, the president of Luther Seminary is a frequent worshiper at ELCA conservative/renewal congregations and is valued by their pastors.
There are some good options for conservative churches and leaders looking to find healthier associations:
1) The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Plusses: Bigger, broader group. Great global missions, LWR activity
Minuses: Limitations on women in leadership; seriously crabby factions
2) The Lighthouse Covenant (see Facebook Page)
Plusses: More outreach-focused and not as theologically athletic, broad appeal
Minuses: Not an actual denomination with full-service pensions, etc.
3) LCMC (some unofficial family ties to Word Alone)
Plusses: Full service. Thoroughly Lutheran. Done their homework.
Minuses: Some still have an axe to grind, some factional issues
Plusses: Super young demographic, and their spirituality is winsome and warm
Minuses: Association with old-school Charismatic movement hard for some, not hyper-Lutheran
Plusses: More confessional, “smartest” of the groups, very Lutheran
Minuses: Same as the plusses.
6) Additional Groups, including AFLC and AALC, etc.
They are sprouting up all over the place. Keep an eye out for them.
This is just my view; I don’t speak for others. I appreciate all of the groups, and my plusses and minuses are more anecdotal than anything else.
Let’s support one another. As Ben Franklin said: We can all hang together or we will all hang separately. Please start supporting them financially with redirected funds. You can adjust the “mix” as your relationships develop.
We all agree on a high view of the Bible and on traditional family morality. Let’s start with that.
And let’s be gracious with one another.
Some helps for your deliberations as a congregation:
1) Think both/and rather than either/or. Consider a good handful of groups to be a part of. Re-think the idea that you can only belong to one group.
2) Think “Copernican Revolution” and diversify your associations for the benefit of your congregation. Give benevolence money to those groups that most move your congregation forward and move the Kingdom forward.
3) Get good legal and business advice from someone who understands non-profits.
4) Consider redirecting benevolence money now. Think of ways of protecting money that goes to global missionaries, disaster relief, etc. Spread it around until it becomes clear to you which relationships feed your church and move the Kingdom forward most clearly.
A word (to you clergy) about your next call: You may be tempted to backpedal on your convictions because of potential disfavor by a bishop should you seek another call in the future.
Please consider spending some time in prayer on this and ask the Lord to remove any fear you might be feeling over this.
We clergy are a notoriously codependent group and we need to get past fear of what others think.
These are times that try our souls. I believe you will pass the test.
PRACTICAL STEPS FOR THE CONSERVATIVE/RENEWAL PASTOR/LEADER IN THE P.A.V WORLD:
1) Remember that you are on the right side of history. The Lord gets his way with creation (Isaiah 9:7, Psalm 110:1). Never, ever get discouraged. Elijah got discouraged at Mount Horeb, but the Lord encouraged him, told him to pull his socks up and go back to work.
2) Do not submit to intimidation on the part of officials or those who, as Paul said, “seemed to be in authority.” You have every right to hold your view. You have every right to speak it publicly in all official gatherings. Love everyone. Perfect love casts out all fear. There are already reliable reports of conservatives getting shouted down in discussion groups, PAV. Don’t let it get to you.
3) Remember that you did not create the disunity of which everyone is accusing us. The grand coalition, and its contract (based on an affirmation of Traditional Family Morality), held us together for generations. We did not dissolve it. The other side did. Intentionally.
4) Join the Lighthouse Covenant on Facebook (search: Lighthouse Covenant). Encourage all of your leaders and members to do so. Explore LCMS, LCMC, Lutheran CORE, and the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARCusa.org). Many churches are broadening and diversifying their relational “portfolio.” No matter what anyone says, you can stay in or leave the ELCA and join any or all of these groups. My personal preference would be that you join all of these groups and see which relationships mature.
5) Refuse to be lulled into complacency. These issues are big issues. They are a big deal, to us. The other side does not get to vote on how big we think this is.
6) Do not fall for the “it’s no worse sin than any other” sound bite. The purpose of this phrase is to stop discussion and to devalue your opinion. Answer with “So you agree that it is a sin? Then why should we bless it?”
7) Do not let your church drift in the Sargasso Sea of theological weeds because of a few families with gay/lesbian family members. Love them. Love all of them. But teach what the Bible teaches. You can do both.
8) Do not fall for the “they were born this way” sound bite. Answer (and it will shock them) that your sexuality is not that simple and neither is anyone else’s.
9) Refuse the idea that “all young people” are going to be for gay/lesbian ordination and blessings in the future (so we may as well vote for it now). There are tons of conservative young people, especially among immigrants, who are going to make up a majority some day. The trends are ambiguous at best.
10) Don’t re-hash the ELCA debates in your congregation. Lead. Moses didn’t ask the Israelites to vote on whether or not to go back to Egypt. Be willing to lose people in order to remain faithful to the Bible. Love them, but let them go. Beg, borrow, or steal some spiritual backbone. Remember that you are at the helm, and the shepherd (Latin: Pastor) does not report to the sheep. Don’t let your church become a House Divided!
11) Don’t let anyone tell you that this issue is adiaphora (a side issue). It is one of the great issues of our day.
12) Pray for Mark Hanson, your local bishop, and the ELCA, without any bitterness or unforgiveness. Refuse to use bitter language if you are challenged by others. Operate out of love. Be firm in the truth as God gives us grace to understand it.
I am not going to tell you whether or not to leave the ELCA. I want to say very clearly and explicitly that this is not a call to do so. The Lord will tell you what to do. But whatever you do, remain committed to an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly.
Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.
The truth is true.
You can lean on it.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God remains forever.
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