Category Archives: Spirituality
After the church I was involved with fell apart a couple of years ago, a group of us from the music team continued to meet and play together. Occasionally, we’ll get calls from other churches asking us to fill in for their Sunday service and give their worship team a chance to take a break (playing week-in / week-out can get tiresome and often strain volunteer musicians to an emotional breaking point).
One church we recently had the pleasure of subbing for is in the middle of a church split due to the recent vote by the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) to allow for those in “life-long, monogamous, same-gendered” relationships to serve in leadership positions (find out more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082103343.html). For those who don’t know, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States and has classically been a bit more liberal than other Lutheran organizations. The provision does not require churches to accept homosexual ministers but allows for churches that desire integration of same-sex couples into leadership to do so.
To be clear, I’m not Lutheran. However, observing all of this has impacted me fairly heavily, perhaps bringing back some difficult memories of the demise of our faith community in early 2007.
One of the reasons I believe Christianity has been able to survive as long as it has revolves around its ability to adapt to cultural shifts and maintain relevancy. For example, there was a period of time when the church strictly forbade divorce, but it has largely moved away from that stance and has welcomed divorced individuals into fellowship. In fact, studies show the current divorce rate among Christians is very similar, if not identical, to the national average.
It’s hard to imagine a time when a church would split over an issue like divorce, but it did happen (part of the reason for the creation of the Anglican Church) and many people held passionate views one way or the other. I see a mirrored situation currently taking place as Christianity struggles to find a place for homosexuals in both fellowship and leadership.
The interesting thing about this decision by the ELCA is that it did not require member congregations to appoint gay elders and even allowed congregations to reject the practice internally. The fact that church splits are taking place over an issue that will probably have little pragmatic impact on them serves to show just how heated and difficult it is.
I’m not writing to weigh in on one side or the other. I am writing, however, to encourage those on both sides to try and find common ground and avoid splits if possible. Speaking from experience, the destruction of a community has a severely negative impact on those involved and should always be considered a last resort of sorts. There is lots of room for discussion and debate on the matter, but I think it is important that the issue is placed in a historical context. The church has flexed to allow for lifestyles in today’s modern day that it would have never even considered hundreds of years ago. As charged as the fight for or against allowing women into leadership was at the time, it seems rather petty in today’s modern world. The same goes with a host of other issues such as the allowance of tattoos or the orbit of the planets in the solar system.
My opinion is that none of these are worth the destruction and heartbreak that a division has both internally in the community experiencing it and externally to those looking in at the faith. If there is a way to maintain unity, I hope they can find it regardless of the perceived cost!
It’s pretty easy to see that:
- Marriage has not been defined as “one man and one woman” since the beginning of human history
- The definition of marriage has always been based on culture
The Bible has some historical elements and, while the actual authenticity might be in question, you can glean a lot about ancient values from some of the narratives. People often got married during that time for political and economic reasons more than anything. It makes a lot of sense to have as many wives as possible so you can get as many children (hopefully males) as possible in order to gain an economic and strategic advantage over other tribes.
It was cultural.
If we can admit that this sort of definition is not objective but based on current cultural conditions, why would it be so hard to simply extend that definition to include homosexual couples?
My marriage is not based on some fundamental definition of what it’s supposed to look like. It is fluid; looking a little different every day. There was a period of time in our society where a marriage looked like a man as the bread-winner and the woman as a home maker. That definition has changed fairly dramatically over the last fifty years. Despite that shift, I don’t hear people trying to push a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as “a male earning the family’s money while a female takes care of the home.” If this did actually make it up for a vote, there would be a public outcry eerily similar to that of many homosexual couples.
Again, I encourage those on the social right to try and be intellectually honest about this issue. There are far more important problems to be dealing with right now than what relationship is more legitimate based on something that is, by nature, subjective.
During lunch today, I fired up the old Tivo and watched the first fifteen or so minutes of Letterman. He often gets on joke “themes” that he continues to reiterate during the course of the broadcast, and this one centered around Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s “Client 9” prostitution scandal. Letterman, albeit a funny guy, kept repeating something rather serious and fairly close to home: Gov. Spitzer is guilty of more than prostitution. The real problem is his abuse of power (see part of the Letterman’s rant here).
The reason this event strikes a chord with me revolves around the ordeal that took place a bit over a year ago regarding the pastor the church I was attending. While proclaiming that the church was going to be a beacon of hope and light to the “world” (and all the other rhetoric that pastors with illusions of grandeur like to repeat ad nauseum), he secretly conducted multiple extra-marital affairs while happily taking our “tithe” money to support this lifestyle.
When all this came out, he was rather indignant about the whole situation and, for whatever reason, did not see his abuse of power as a significant problem. He also continued to rail about his “calling” and how the “mission” was far more important than his personal faults. Ummm … yeah.
Look, it matters. If you can’t control yourself and continue to have sexual affairs outside the bounds of normalcy and legality, don’t become a public servant. This is not something new: in both my ex-pastor’s case and Gov. Spitzer’s case, it was a pattern of behavior that lasted over a period of several years. This may have shocked us, but it was only a matter of time before a person in that sort of limelight would get caught. Both gentleman could have simply decided to do something else and limit the collateral damage of their abusive behavior. There are lots of jobs out there for plumbers, programmers, electricians, small-company owners, etc.
There is a higher standard of expectation for public servants than for, say, a car mechanic because they are quite literally paid to not do bad things. If you’re a pastor, part of your job is being an example and leader on moral issues. Same with politicians. A mechanic is paid to fix a car. If a mechanic ever got caught with a prostitute, most customers probably wouldn’t care as long as their car runs. That’s what they paid the mechanic for. I didn’t pay my ex-pastor to sleep with other women while simultaneously espousing the ideals of abstinence and monogamy, and the people of New York didn’t pay Elliot Spitzer to crack down on prostitution while simultaneously spending thousands of dollars for the services of a prostitute.
What do you think?