Recommendation 3:
The irreversible phase-in

by Dr. Frederick W. Baltz (WordAlone board member, and Pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Galena, IL)

January 21, 2005

Luther directs us to place the most charitable construction on all our neighbor says and does (Explanation to the 8th Commandment, Small Catechism.) That is a point well taken, especially in the church at this moment as we contemplate what the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality’s three recommendations might mean for the church. Many right now are livid because of the third recommendation to continue with Vision and Expectations, but to enforce it only selectively. The report rightly has been called “misleading,” whether the report was misleading by intention or not. But let us remember that “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20) Without any evidence to the contrary we should attribute to the members of the task force the best of motives and a desire to do what was right, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

They are not the issue. It is imperative that we now move ahead and deal with the third recommendation in a productive way, and not stay stuck in “disgusted mode.” There is a difficult road ahead for the WordAlone Network and other like-minded Lutherans over the next eight months. It is time to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

What we must help the members of the Churchwide Assembly realize is exactly this: a decision not to discipline gay people who for whatever reason violate Visions and Expectations will result in a situation that cannot be contained. Not only will the church have allowed a practice that is in conflict with Scripture, but also it will have begun an irreversible phasing-in of active gay clergy. Much as the task force might want their recommendation to be thought of as a compromise, we must make clear the fallacy of that reasoning.

Some years ago I was invited to be part of a panel that would debate Called to Common Mission. An Episcopal diocese invited me, and I was warmly welcomed, especially by an elderly priest who shared with me that he believed this particular diocese had about 30% gay clergy. I have no doubt it all started with a few exceptions, but the exceptions evolved into a homosexual subculture. Something similar may well be the eventual state for those congregations remaining in the ELCA if this recommendation is adopted.

Really, though, this is a penultimate issue. The ultimate issue is reflected in the words of the first recommendation: “Because the God-given mission and communion we share is at least as important as the issues about which faithful conscience-bound Lutherans find themselves so decisively at odds....” In other words: The unity of the church is at least as important as the matters we are disagreeing about. So says the task force. Well, most issues are certainly less important than the unity of the church. But whether we will be faithful to Scripture is not one of them. Listen carefully. It is a soft and compassionate-sounding voice that asks us please to compromise for the sake of the church. Erasmus of Rotterdam spoke in much the same way to Martin Luther, pleading with him to agree that the unity of the Roman Catholic Church was more important than Luther’s doctrinal issues. Luther knew the truth and stood for it.

So, did the task force craft a subtle plan to bring active gay clergy onto the ELCA’s clergy roster? Let’s not answer in anger or with resentment. It doesn’t matter anyway. Here is what matters: If the task force’s third recommendation is adopted, the irreversible phasing-in of active gay clergy will have begun in what is left of a denomination that clearly values unity above Scripture. That will be a denomination likely doomed to accelerated failure in the mission God has given it.

There is so much at stake! Pray for the church, and for all who will be hurt by this process as it unfolds. It certainly looks like a win-lose situation, despite the task force’s attempt to provide a compromise, for the reasons given above. We must be faithful, honest and forthright come what may. Please do your part.