Archived Sections, Commentary

What if…?

It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as reveries.
—Thomas Huxley
All great truths begin as blasphemies.
—George Bernard Shaw
In the December issue of Metro Lutheran, Merton Strommen and Al Quie offered insights and opinions about the decision of the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly’s decisions on human sexuality and the impact on the church. I would like to respond, and do so with some trepidation because both men are long-time and highly esteemed friends of mine. I can only hope that my contrariness will not damage our relationship.

David Valen

David Valen

The two men point out, rightly I believe, that there are two seemingly irreconcilable views of sexuality extant in the ELCA. One is based on traditional biblical interpretation and the other on non-traditional. The juxtaposition of these two views in the church makes it virtually certain that antagonism, and occasionally vilification, will persist until minds are changed. (I should remind readers at this point that there is no “official” theology in the ELCA that I am aware of. Furthermore, assembly votes do not “determine the will of God,” as Quie and Strommen aver. I thought God determined God’s will, and we disciples prayerfully seek to know and do it.)

What if the biblical references to homosexuality (of which there are few) are based on the biblical writers’ belief that everyone is heterosexual, as I believe was the case for them.

Most who approved the assembly vote have most likely already changed their minds from an earlier stance of opposition. Here’s how and why I did. I asked some “what if?” questions:
First, what if homosexual orientation is not a chosen reality for gay people? Of course, some will argue that it is a choice, but the preponderance of scientific opinion is that it is not chosen. In my opinion, this cuts the legs off of condemning the behavior.
Second, what if the biblical references to homosexuality (of which there are few) are based on the biblical writers’ belief that everyone is heterosexual, as I believe was the case for them. What if that is why the author of Leviticus 20:13a could call a “man lying with a man” an abomination? What if the Bible is not a “one size fits all” rule book for every age? I don’t see how Strommen and Quie could believe that it is. But their words suggest that they do. Here’s the problem with that view: If you read on to the last half of verse 13, you will discover that you are obligated to kill homosexuals. It says so, plainly, right there in God’s Word!
Third, what if homosexual people, like the several gay couples in committed relationships who were and are leaders in the parish I served, love God and serve Jesus as much as I do, maybe more? And, what if my friend who had to leave the clergy roster after coming out could once again openly live out his ordination vows? How could I ever seek to thwart that?

If in error, how would I prefer to err?

My friends Mert and Al are probably right that the adherents of “irreconcilable” theologies should go their separate ways. But they should be a little tentative about what will happen on Judgment Day.
What if, I ask myself, on that day the King says, as in Matthew 25, “I was gay, and, though you were always polite, you made me a second-class citizen in the congregation of the faithful”?
“When? When did we ever do that?” we might ask.
“As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me. Depart from me!”
I want to be on the other side.
David Valen is a retired ELCA pastor who recently served Christ the King Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minnesota. He lives in Plymouth, Minnesota.

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