Commentary

It’s time to close our Bibles for a few months

The early church refused to exclude people who were not ‘just like them.’

For more than a year now, as we’ve tried to “journey together faithfully,” we ELCA Lutherans have had our heads buried in Scripture [trying to discern] what exactly the Bible says — or means — regarding same-sex relationships.

Well, it’s time to close our Bibles for a few months. And, it’s time to ask a different question. The right question is not whether homosexuality, either in orientation or expression (and it’s just plain arrogant when straight people assume a distinction between the two) is sinful.

The church has only ever ordained pastors who have also been sinners. And don’t talk about “willful, ongoing” sin as the crucial distinction. We bless marriages between persons quite willfully devoted to conspicuous consumption. We don’t hesitate to ordain people who smoke — even while wearing their collar, even around children. So the “sin” question misses the point …
The real question is this: How should we as a church respond when persons come to us seeking full participation in our church — as they are, without becoming like us? … That’s the situation we face. And that’s the situation faced by the early church when the Gentiles sought full participation without the precondition of first becoming Jewish in diet and circumcision.

There are texts in Acts 10, 11, and 15 that tell us how the early church responded to that situation, but the Sexuality Task Force chose not to put those texts before us in the Journey Together Faithfully study materials. They chose not to offer us the one biblical model for constructively engaging our situation …

Though not without some fierce squabbling, the church ultimately decided to listen to the lives of the Gentiles who sought to join them. Rather than challenge them with biblical texts, rather than insist on always presenting “fair and balanced” opposing views, the early church simply listened to the stories of God’s activity in their lives. Then the church asked, “Is it possible that God’s Spirit is already active in the lives of these people in ways we would never have guessed? Is it possible that God is surprising us even now?” These are the questions that we must ask today. And we can only ask them by closing our Bibles long enough to quietly and respectfully listen to the lives of those gay and lesbian Christians before us now.

If we were actually to do that, I suspect that many of us — a majority, a two-thirds majority, I’d bet — would find ourselves saying, “I’m not sure exactly how to square up the biblical passages, but after truly listening to the stories of these people I have to agree with Peter (Acts 10:47), ‘How can we as a church withhold blessings and ordinations from these persons whom God has so clearly blessed with love and/or called to ministry?’”

We still have time before [the August Churchwide As-sembly] to create moments in which to genuinely hear their stories, to truly ask whether we hear evidence of the Spirit active in their lives. But we’ll need to close our Bibles for a few months if that’s to happen. And, according to Acts, that might even be the most biblical thing we could do.

Weiss directs the Reconciling in Christ Program in the Twin Cities and serves as Director of Resources and Education for Lutherans Concerned / North America.