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Wise as serpents? Matthew 10:16

by Norman P. Olsen (retired pastor, Starbuck, Minn.)

April 8, 2009

In the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies” (2/19/09), the Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality boldly suggests a clever process for dealing with the “lack of consensus concerning the rostering of people [ordained pastors and lay ministers] in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.…”(Lines 56-57)

“The task force recommends a process that begins with the assembly declaring its intention about what it wants to do.” (Lines 242-243, emphasis mine) If the assembly wants to move in the direction of recognizing and rostering people in same-gender relationships, the task force recommends four consecutive steps.

The four steps all lead to revising already tattered ELCA documents and standards to allow for the “blessing” of persons in same-gender relationships, and for those persons to be on the ELCA’s ministry rosters without the now required celibacy. The proposed social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” lays the ground work for this revision.

Take a look at their recommended “four steps” below. Advocates for change will readily approve them. But the question I’m raising is: would they approve this same four-step “process,” if they were rewritten to support maintaining the ELCA standards instead? See what you think. Here are the task force recommended four steps:

Step one asks: Is the assembly committed “to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, . . . same-gender relationships.” (Emphasis mine)

Step two asks: Is the assembly committed to “finding a way for people in same-gender relationships to be on the ELCA ministry rosters?

Step three asks: Will the ELCA commit to “respect the bound consciences of all”?

Step four asks: Will the assembly decide to replace the current ELCA decision-making system with “structured flexibility” (local option) in order to allow people in same-gendered relationships to be ordained ministers and lay ministers? (The intended outcome from the start, in my opinion.)

This is an invitation to chaos that will destroy “this church” by making it a house divided against itself. And in the end one side will win out over the other.

But, would those who advocate for change of our standards accept this same four-step “process” if it flowed the other way? Suppose the recommended procedure read:

Step one: Is the assembly committed to finding ways for congregations and synods to choose to stand together and affirm the current biblical and confessional standards?

Step two: Is the assembly committed to the current standard that only homosexual persons who have agreed to remain celibate may serve as ordained and lay ministers?

Step three: Will “this church” which bears his name, stand firm with Luther when he said that his conscience was “captive to the Word of God” and that “it is neither safe nor right to go against (one’s own, Word-bound) conscience”? Note: Luther never thought he was “bound to respect” the “bound conscience” of Eck, or Tetzel with whom he disagreed: Whence this silliness?

Step four: Then let us now reaffirm our biblical, confessional, and constitutional decision-making structure; namely, that Scripture is “the authoritative source and norm of [our] proclamation, faith, and life” (ELCA Constitution 2.03) binding all the Church as one in Christ Jesus.

Would the advocates who favor change in sexual standards, join us in adopting this “process” to find “consensus”? I think not. They would say it leads to an ambush that would deny their position. Then why would we want to follow their recommendations? Maybe it’s time that we be as “wise as serpents.”