Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The freedom of God, atmospheric activity and the ELCA

My thoughts are still in process regarding the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly adopting new ministry standards for lesbian and gay pastors. One topic of reflection I feel called to address because I have read it on numerous occasions: the notion that because of the Assembly vote, God sent tornadoes to Minneapolis. I may write more in the coming weeks about the decision and the fallout, or the connection between storm and judgment may amount to all I have to write.

Interesting how atmospheric activity is conveniently used by people to espouse their understanding of God. This kind of connection isn't confined to folks like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. I'm finding this kind of logic in many kinds of forums, from people in significant Lutheran leadership to local message boards (check out the comments in this article).

What does the logic of climatic activity being connected to God say about God? First, I think it's important to consider all of the tornadic activity in North America since 1900. Even this large sample involves a limited historical scope of atmospheric activity. Examine all of the people that were killed and all the property damaged in these storms. Can every storm be connected to God's judgment? How can anyone know in this limited sample of storms? If God's judgment were indeed reigning upon Minneapolis during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly for the decisions that it made for such an apparently egregious sin, wouldn't God have caused a lot more damage and death?

I do not know the answers to these questions. I believe that God has the freedom to act in any way God chooses--but I think it's dangerous logic to attach any storm to God's judgment based on an emotional response to a divisive issue.

Even though I am a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and I have heavily invested my vocational life to its ministry, I do feel some detachment from this kind of vitriol in the ELCA. The ELCA does not completely woven into my entire cultural life or all of my relationships. The ELCA may split--but I will always share kindred spirits in the Church who believe in "justification by grace through faith" what I believe is the crux of Lutheran theology. I do not find attachment to hierarchy, organization or ethnic culture that goes along with Lutheranism. I support Lutheran organization to a certain extent because it speaks to how we live together and work together, but I cannot work in the national church in this kind of relational climate. If this stance is a flaw on my part, so be it. My identity is in my baptism into Christ, not the church that did the baptizing.

The issue of contention to me does not appear to be about sexuality at all (though I think it has more to do with taboo than sex), but about how we read the Bible. When I first began examining Bible reading approaches I learned some things about biblical inerrancy. I found this discussion to be problematic in the congregations I served, and once the fervor died down, people lost interest. I think the inerrancy question was one of the things that was never solved when the ALC and LCA merged to form the ELCA, and that is coming home to roost at this time. In light of the present vitriol in public discourse and further proclamations of inerrancy and questions surrounding it, I had to dig a little deeper for writing and research on the topic. In my search I found some enlightening articles addressing philosophy, history and polity relating to inerrancy. What I found is that the inerrancy question is a relatively recent construct that does not trump "justification by grace through faith." I tried to bring out this idea in my last sermon, but I think people have reached a point of emotionality that has cut off the ability to work faithfully and well on this topic of human sexuality and church leadership.

I only hope that I have added a little bit of faithfulness and thoughtfulness to the discourse. Lord, have mercy.

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