graphic website title banner

A declaration of independence?

by Jaynan Clark (WordAlone Network president)

July 10, 2009

photo of Pastor Jaynan ClarkI am hopeful that everyone reading this had a fun and safe celebration of the 4th of July, Independence Day. It has historically been a day when accidents happen and people are injured, fires are set and often all the damage was without intention but still severe.

This year we as a family experienced a dangerous close call while entertaining our friends' small children. Their two small boys were in awe of my two large boys' ability to pull off quite a fireworks display with a rather small bag for an arsenal. One tightly packed firework after being ignited was met with the exclamation of an innocent 9-year-old boy, "That was the coolest thing I ever saw in my whole life. This is the most fun I've ever had."

My exclamation was, "Thank God for a thick dock and a large lake." The firework in question, once lit, continued to blow and entertain until it tipped off the edge of the dock into the water. Approaching the now submerged "bomb" to check it out, I was met with glowing green water and a sequence of repeated explosions that blew water through the dock and into the air in a variety of colors. A potentially very dangerous accident. No one was hurt but all were surprised and—moments later than the 9-year-old—even entertained.

It is quite common knowledge that we celebrate our independence as a nation with explosions, fire, noise and smoke. Why is not such common knowledge. I suppose one could parallel it to the wars that seem to always precede independence or just the need to entertain and do it with a flare. Regardless of the reason, the parallels to our current situation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are not a stretch.

The nature of everyone's sin in the wake of the fall can be described as our declaration of independence from God. In order to be our own gods and run our own lives, we act out in many ways that are all covered by the Ten Commandments. There is nothing new about sin. We want things to be our way according to our own desires and to be lords of our own lives. It doesn't take an explosion of intellect to see how destructive that is in the larger context of community and society. If everyone wants to "have it their way," then what about the other? It is the definition of irresponsibility resulting in anarchy.

Our situation as a Protestant church along with other floundering denominations is a testimony to exactly this. When the leadership of these churches declares independence from the authority of the Bible, from the history of the church and its teachings, from the age-old social and cultural norms for the family as the foundation of society, then we can expect nothing other than anarchy.

The issues before us regarding human sexuality are mere firecrackers contributing to the much bigger, out-of-control firestorm that is burning down the very forms and foundations of Christian faith and its teachings. To fail to recognize the present devastation and not to acknowledge the embers that have taken flight, advancing the wildfire, is to contribute to the disaster.

June 30, a pastoral letter was released by the presiding bishop of the ELCA. It "exploded" on my computer screen and I was less than entertained.

The bishop rightly turns to the biblical text, repentance and forgiveness of sins and the promises of baptism. However, I am more than a little confused by his latest release. The ELCA churchwide's treatment of the authority of Scripture in relation to human sexuality, in all of its studies and drafts and social statements, has thus far avoided the language of sin, sinful behavior, need of repentance and forgiveness and instead talked about tolerance, acceptance, inclusion and blessing.

We in the WordAlone Network have tried to talk about the issues of sexuality in light of the church's historic understanding of sin, repentance, forgiveness and newness of life. We have been criticized for applying such categories, for in so doing, we are said to be self-righteous, judgmental, fearful and archaic in our expressions of the faith. Likewise, others ask, do we not realize that "god is doing a new thing" in the lives of those practicing a variety of sexual expressions. To not accept that new work of god is to be accused, consequentially, of apparently standing in judgment, fear and being destructive of the church's progressive role in society and mission.

For the young and innocent, a variety of sexual expressions may be viewed as cool and new and even freeing, for they don't realize the danger and impending destruction. Those who are crying out—in warning to the young and uninformed not to approach the explosion, but to stand back and not get too close—appear to be fearful or over protective or just unable to relax, and go with the flow.

But appearances of celebrations are deceiving and what is blowing up across the Christian church are the sights and sounds of independence as declared from the one true God and Father of us all. We are not witnessing a celebration, but a dangerous and destructive phenomenon that is sweeping across not only the church but also all of society, fueling a firestorm that mistakenly is identified as the fire of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.

Do not be deceived, for the one Holy Spirit of God does not move apart from and contrary to the Word of God no matter how high-ranking are the voices trying to convince you of such. This is a matter of sin, repentance, forgiveness and new life—old language—rightfully applied to an old sinful world in need of holy reform and renewal.