The recent decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) to allow gays and lesbians in a committed same-sex relationship to serve in the ministry, rests on the theological reasoning found in "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," a document approved last week at the national meeting. For full text go here, then click on the link to the document. Adobe Reader required.

In the document, Christian duty is defined as loving God and neighbor. Ideal human relationships in all forms are defined by trust. In many ways this document is an excellant example of faithful theological reflection done at a high level. The problem with the document is not so much what it says explicitly, as what it implies, and its tone against "conscience-bound" thinking.

I see three major problems that led to the present ELCA position.

First, in Lutheran understanding, the Law of God (broader than the 10 Commandments and including all of God's commands) has two uses: the Theological in which Law convicts us of sin by making us aware of our shortcomings, and the Civil in which Law guides civil society by helping provide godly structure (e.g. don't murder). In Reformed understanding the Law (again understood as all God's commandments) has three functions: to convict of sin, to guide the Christian in living a life of gratitude to God for salvation, and as a guide for civil society. In the Reformed understanding we Christians are naturally clueless about how to love and trust unless guided by God's Law. It seems to me that the Lutheran document "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" does not allow sufficient Scriptural guidance on the specifics of loving and trusting. Years ago my seminary professor of historical theology noted that if Luther were pushed off-balance, he would fall an antinomian. And that while Luther kept his balance, his disciples have not always done so.

Second, I think the document does not follow traditional Lutheran concepts of authority in understanding the Christian life. Both the Reformed and the Lutheran understandings elevate the Word of God above all other sources of authority, including experience. We are to evaluate our experience on the basis of Scripture. Yes, we bring our experience with us to our reading, but, human experience always must stand under the Word of God, never be equal to it, or superior. "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" seems to me to elevate human experience, including the social sciences, to a determanitive position over clearly worded Scriptures.

Third, I think the document takes a too disembodied view of human life, opening the possibility of a proto-gnostic ethic in which bodily existence is meaningless. "Love" and "Trust" in sexual relationships become divorced from the physical reality of ovaries and testes. While human sexuality is more than the physical spect of our being, it is not less.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Pew Forum gives this summary of the positions held by various religious groups on same-sex marriage.
Worth reading are the essays by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PCUSA). Website here.

Especially helpful is his destruction of the argumentation of those who seek to set aside St. Paul's obvious meaning in Romans 1.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Pew Forum examines this question through a Q & A with Ira “Chip” Lupu, the F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School, and Robert W. Tuttle, the David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion, The George Washington University Law School.

There are reasons to be concerned. Can religious organizations, e.g. hospitals and colleges, be forced to hire, and to provide benefits, for those in same-sex marriage? Can churches refuse to host same-sex marriages on their property, including campgrounds? The article notes that concerns such as these have caused

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) to say he would sign legislation legalizing gay marriage in that state only if lawmakers add provisions giving religious organizations the right not to recognize such marriages. Another possible flash point involves private individuals and businesses that, for religious reasons, do not want to provide wedding-related or other services to same-sex couples.

A Clash of Rights? Gay Marriage and the Free Exercise of Religion

As one of the participants notes, so far the courts have addressed the relationship of governments to same-sex marriage. The relationship of religious institutions to same-sex marriage has yet to be tested.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Comparing gay marriage to pedophilia, polygamy, and incest is homophobic, right?

However, don't we often hear that the proponents of "traditional" marriage offer a selective history in which they conveniently forget how the definition of marriage has changed over time? What about the patriarchs of the Bible who enjoyed multiple wives? Society has a right to evolve and redefine its institutions.

I actually think that is a valid argument. But, if the definition of marriage is fungible and the product of community consensus, why is comparing same-sex marriage to other currently out-of-favor marriage variants a sign of bigotry? That is, why isn't gay marriage in the same category as underage unions, polygamy, and marriage between siblings?

Let's break it down:

Intrinsically Unique.

1. Any honest broker will admit that marriage between a man and a woman has a "natural" and historical advantage in this debate. Since time immemorial, societies have recognized this form of human relationship for reasons that are too manifest and lengthy to explain in this space. Hetero marriage is fundamentally unlike same-sex marriage.

2. I did not mention this category in the above listing, but let's dismiss bestiality as an unkind and irrelevant comparison. Bestiality belongs in a completely separate category of cross-species commingling as well as an abuse of animals. Equating homosexuality with bestiality is insulting and not at all constructive or illuminating.

3. Pedophilia, sexual engagement with children, is also a false comparison. Why? The question here revolves around our definition of children. If we, as a society dedicated to human rights, are to eventually rest our case on the concept of "consenting adults," underage marriage becomes a question that revolves around the age of consent rather than "unnatural" attractions. Less different--but not comparable.

Fair Comparisons.

Polygamous and Incestuous marriages, on the other hand, entered into between consenting adults, seem fully comparable to same-sex marriage.

Why would a proponent of same-sex marriage take umbrage at this comparison?

If it is proper to redefine marriage for homosexuals, why not extend the same tolerance to plural marriages and incest?
Provocative and well said from Francis Beckwith:

"On November 4, 2008, the people of California—in a 52 to 48 percent vote—placed in the state’s constitution an amendment that reaffirmed that marriage consists of one man and one woman. The amendment, Proposition 8, overturned the California Supreme Court’s May 2008 ruling that invalidated a statute that was passed in 2000 in a statewide referendum by a 61 to 39 percent vote. That 2008 opinion held that limiting marriage to one man and one woman, as required in the 2000 statute, violated the equal protection rights of homosexuals under the California constitution.

"Following the Proposition 8 victory, thousands of its opponents protested in a number of California venues including in front of the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County. The rage and anger exhibited toward the Latter-day Saint and Evangelical believers who were present during the protests was palpable. The protesters were clearly blaming their loss on the effort and organizational and financial support of LDS citizens as well as Pastor Warren’s vocal backing for Proposition 8.

"There is a certain irony in seeing those who speak so often of tolerance and understanding using the occasion of a political loss to unleash a torrid of vitriol that no one would ever confuse with tolerance and understanding if the perpetrators were burning crosses or Dixie Chick CDs. And yet the perpetrators in this instance, the losers in the Prop 8 election, do not see it that way. They see the absence of same-sex marriage from our legal regime as a grave injustice that must be remedied by any means necessary. For them, tolerance does not extend to injustice."

Read the entire First Things piece here.

Also, from Politico, "Gay leaders furious with Obama" over selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
Three states--California, Arizona, Florida--passed amendments to their state constitutions defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

We'll see how the inevitable court challenges procede.

Two lessons: first, social conservatism is not an electoral losing strategy; second, the majority of voters even in California are sick of activist judges imposing social change (the amendments are an attempt to reign in judicial activism such as seen in Massachusetts).

Therefore, political conservatism can be revived into a potent force in the United States with the right leadership and approach.

btw, Obama should be forwarned that nominating and appointing activist judges could leave him vulnerable in '12
One of my friends and former teachers, Gregg Frazer, shared with me this friendly response to a local Los Angeles-area columnist (a proudly liberal Democrat) with whom he is acquainted. Frazer's email offers a cogent summary of arguments against the recent California Supreme Court ruling in re MARRIAGE CASES.

Gregg Frazer is Professor of Political Studies at the Master's College.

1) Since marriage is NOT a CIVIL right, but a POLITICAL right (privilege granted by the govt., like driving) – how is it a civil rights issue? If it’s a civil right, it belongs to all persons and my 12-year old would have it and so would 2-year olds. Also, if it were a civil right, you could compel someone to marry you lest you be denied a civil right. I challenge to show where in the California – or U.S., for that matter – Constitution marriage is listed/identified as a civil right. One of the myriad of problems in our society is the claim that anything anyone wants to do is a “civil right.” Where do I sign up to claim that owning a Mercedes is a civil right – after all, some people get to do it!

» Read More

Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
This week our basic cable service is carrying a few days of Showtime to entice us to add this premium cable service. I have taken the opportunity to watch a few episodes of Penn and Teller's show B*LLSH*T (the show does not use asterisks). Much of the time the stage magicians put on a great show skewering some aspect of modern life or thought, such as a black academic at a university ranting about institutional racism at the school. Response "That's B*llsh*t!"

The other evening, though, they did a segment attacking right wing Christians, Protestant and Roman Catholic, who would limit marriage to a man and a woman. Penn and Teller brought out a couple of academics from obscure corners of academia to pontificate that there has never been a stable definition of marriage in human history. Now that is B*LLSH*T.

While there have been differences such as whether a man may have one wife or many, and whether concubines are allowed on the side, or whether divorce is permissible and if so under what circumstances, these academics did not cite a single example of a society recognizing marriage between two members of the same sex in past history.

Come on Penn and Teller, you are smart guys. Don't let your ideological agenda cause you to spew your own B*llsh*t.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
Very thoughtful essays well worth reading from Commonweal. Here.