Sorry Rob Pollnitz and the CSBQ. You are much nicer than i portrayed :) But the Council of Presidents are a bit of a worry :(

A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, gay, Lesbian and LGBT stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

Remember my post “Who says Rob Pollnitz knows what he is talking about”?…..Well, it turns out that the statements and articles on the web are not the most recent work of the Lutheran Church’s Committee on Social and bioethical Questions (CSBQ). After my post i recieved a note advising me that the committee have moved on from the original 2003 article that I used as the basis of my critique. I contacted Rob and he did remind me that the article WAS from 2003 which is, after all, a fair while ago.

Fair enough. I confess that I am very glad that MY views on this matter from 2003 are not written down anywhere for my nose to be rubbed in them. At least, I hope they aren’t. There’s prolly  some retired seminary lecturer somewhere with a 1988 essay i might have done on the subject just waiting to make it public and embarrass me terribly. Please God! Dont let it be so…  :(

Anyway, Rob sent me a copy of a much more recent paper prepared by the CSBQ on the church’s view on homosexuality. The paper was prepared and presented for as a discussion document . He acknowledges the scholarly assistance of Seminary lecturer Steve Haar in the preparation of this paper.

The Paper is below for any who want to read it. It presents a much more balanced approach. it is not the paper I would write on the subject but, then again, im a raving radical from the lunatic fringe. I admit, therefore, that it is a fair presentation of where we are as a church on this matter. We are a church who have acknowledged the need to review our statements and we have undertaken that process. In so doing, we acknowledge that there is more than one side to this story and we acknowledge a need to be much more compassionate in our approach.

Having said all that…. i just gotta wonder…..why was THIS paper the LAST one I read on the subject? Why do I only come across it and make it available to you because I made some noise about the previous completely inadequate and incorrect document? Why was it hidden away in the minutes of some committee. Why isnt THIS paper on the web? I wish that this was the first paper that my gay friend had read. This paper would have been much more helpful for the family than the arguments, hurt and confusion that arose from their reading of the other documents.

I asked Dr Pollnitz.  He explained that the paper is a discussion paper only and is not an official statement of the church. he also advised that while the CSBQ would like the paper to be made more widely available, the Presidents are “cautious” on the issue.

Cautious? HA! thats a kind way of putting it.  Their “caution” on this matter is a real problem.  The church’s attitude and statements are under review. Therefore they should do one of 2 things. Take down the statements that the church have agreed are inadequate and lacking in compassion and have nothing. OR…publish the papers that represent where the church is actually at…today…. not nearly a decade ago (in the case of the “Lutheran” article)….or three and a half decades ago (in the case of the church’s 1976  Doctinal Statements of the LCA) What  possesses a group of intelligent and reasonable men to choose to continue to publish and therefore promote what are acknowledged by everyone to be outdated statements, and yet be “cautious” about publishing a recent, much more fair minded and compassionate document?

But, why should I be surprised. Immediately after the vote on Women’s Ordination at the LCA’s 2006 national synod exactly the same slavish adherence to the letter of the law was on full display. The vote showed that over half of the Pastor’s of the LCA disagreed with the church’s statements on women and the ministry. The vote, however, did not reach the required 2/3 majority. In answer to the question…”what do we do now?”, The president said that the church has its existing statements that the pastors are “sworn to uphold”.  Never mind that most of the LCA pastors don’t agree with it. Thats the church’s statement. End of story.

It seems that the same rule applies to the statements on homosexuality.  Never mind that they are acknowledged to be outdated and lacking in compassion. Never mind the hurt that these statements continue to cause every day. Never mind that the 2003 article is incorrect and could lead a gay or lesbian reader into harm. They are our statements. End of story.

I think we need some serious and very open discussion and clarification on the nature of these documents within our church. I think we need to look very critically indeed at how reasonable it is to slavishly stick to time bound statements when they no longer serve the best interests of the people in our church.  I think we need a much more reasonable and pastoral approach when we as a church attempt to work through statements that are in question.

And jesus said. Woe to you experts in the law. Yopu weigh people down with heavy burdens yet you will not lift a finger to help them.

And jesus said…Laws were meant to serve the people, not the other way around.

Thankyou Dr Pollnitz and the CSBQ for helping us a little further along the path. I fear we still have a long way to go.

Here is the more recent CSBQ statement.

Homosexuality

March 09

CSBQ

Preamble 

In 1975, when the Lutheran Church of Australia [LCA] released its statement on homosexuality, the church was facing a different context and a different set of questions than is now the case; homosexual behaviour was still a statutory offence and community standards were generally opposed to homosexuality and its expression. There is no longer any legislative prohibition, same-sex relationships are accorded recognition within Australia for a variety of legal purposes, and the homosexual community has become more socially accepted. There is also growing community support for the civil recognition of committed same-sex partnerships and their right to receive the same entitlements that are currently available to heterosexual couples in de facto relationships of more than two years.

Many families within the LCA face issues regarding homosexuality. Attitudes are changing in the church, however it can still be a difficult place for Christians that are attracted to people of the same sex, for those confused about their sexual orientation, and for homosexual people seeking acceptance by the church.

This revised statement attempts to provide some pastoral guidance for our life together, and is framed with a view to helping people better understand the complexity of the issues involved.

The context 

Some people of our church identify themselves as homosexual, or are parents, children, relatives or friends of people who identify as homosexual. There are a range of responses to sexuality. Some people are quite open about their sexuality and carry a high degree of acceptance and pride in who they are; others may be less open, uncertain and even ashamed of their sexuality. Some homosexual people carry stories of shame, vilification, rejection, and attempts to change their sexuality in an effort to resolve the pain and contradiction they are experiencing both within themselves and society. Then there are some Christians who experience tension between their desire to accept and welcome homosexual people as children of God, and their belief that homosexual behaviour is contrary to the will of God.

The historic position of the church is that homosexual behaviour could not be condoned because of the scriptural prohibitions against same-sex conduct.  The 1975 statement could assume basic consensus around this position without the need for argument.  We now need to acknowledge the existence of alternative positions within the global Lutheran community and our own church.

The LCA is committed to faithfulness in its interpretation of Scripture on this, as in other issues. In addition to the historic position of the church, this statement outlines alternative understandings. Their inclusion signals that the church is aware of alternative readings and explanations of key texts and will continue to engage in honest and open discussion with all who take seriously the authority of Scripture.

Sexual orientation

Research suggests there are multiple factors that contribute to the formation of sexual orientation: genetic, hormonal, environmental, social.  Each of these factors may contribute in varying degrees to the sexual orientation of a particular individual.

This statement is not concerned with why people are homosexual, but accepts that there are people who experience themselves as homosexual.

The Bible and Homosexuality

The LCA’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations [CTICR] has recently begun a study of homosexuality.  The proceeds of its work will inform further conversation within the church.  This statement therefore does not seek to argue a particular theological or Biblical position but briefly summarises current scholarship.

The Bible makes very few references to relations between same-sex partners, but every specific reference is negative. Language used to comment on such relationships includes ‘degrading passions’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘shameless’. This has led to the conclusion that the question of homosexuality is clear and closed: the Bible condemns it as sinful and against God’s will, so the church should not sanction homosexual behaviour.

Many Christians, however, claim the question is neither simple nor closed. At the time when the Bible was written there was no concept of ‘sexual orientation’ and many scholars believe the very biblical passages quoted as condemning homosexuality actually censure homosexual acts by heterosexual people; and, or, both exploitative and violent forms of homosexual behaviour such as rape, sex with minors, prostitution and promiscuity. Further, it is claimed the Bible is silent on the morality of same-sex relations characterized by lifelong commitment; at least, no biblical text makes specific reference or comment on such a pastoral situation. So what guidance does the Bible offer the church in dealing with this and other related questions?

Lutherans believe the Bible is the Word of God and what it reveals about God’s will is authoritative for our lives. At the same time, Lutherans approach and study the Bible to discern its true meaning and not simply to find words or phrases taken in isolation to support an opinion or argument. For example, in the past the Church has expanded basic biblical teaching to cover matters not explicitly addressed in the Bible (e.g. many Christians today condemn slavery which was permitted and accepted in biblical times), and agreed on exceptions where previously accepted Scriptural instructions no longer seem to apply (e.g. women pray in Church without head-coverings in spite of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; and, Christians today save for retirement in spite of Matthew 6:19-21).

In the traditional view of the Church, the Bible presents God’s original design for human sexual relations as being a monogamous, lifelong, childbearing union between men and women. Yet while the Bible continues to be read this way, there is no basis in Scripture to claim every deviance from this design is to be prohibited or rejected. Indeed, the Bible itself recounts without condemnation instances of polygamy, childlessness, divorce, and of people choosing a life of celibacy. Some of these examples may be considered exceptional, unavoidable, evil, still others as an example of higher calling. Yet, at the very least, this wider biblical witness suggests the traditional view of God’s original design does not itself rule out the possibility of the Church recognising the legitimacy of other relationships. Some Christians argue, for example, that the public commitment of homosexual couples to a lifelong monogamous union, while deemed ‘unnatural’ or even ‘non-design conforming’, ought to be viewed by the Church as possible, even permissible. The problem facing the Church is that the Bible never articulates such an allowance and those references which condemn homosexual behaviour make this argument difficult to substantiate.

There are seven passages in the Bible that mention same-sex relations. Inner-textual similarities have led most commentators to discuss these texts in four groups: Genesis 19:1-9 and Judges 19:22-25; Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10; Romans 1:18-32.

The stories found in Genesis and Judges make reference to homosexual rape and not consensual sexual relations between people of the same sex. It is generally agreed that these stories have little relevance for the discussion and decision of current issues facing the Church. In Leviticus there are two texts that prohibit sexual intercourse between male partners. These commands are specific and clear, even though some scholars argue these prohibitions were originally intended to forbid participation in pagan fertility rites. Also, many ethicists and theologians have a problem with the Church naming these two passages from Leviticus in deciding theological and pastoral issues with regard to homosexuality. Both texts appear in a section of the Bible known as the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17–26), which describes how the nation of Israel is to remain pure before God. Traditionally the Church has consistently taught that the Holiness Code is not determinative for Christian behaviour. Why should the Church, then, embrace now the command against same-sex relations on the one hand but ignore on the other hand, for example, the ban against heterosexual intercourse during menstruation (Lev 18:19; 20:18)? In determining the issue of same-sex couples a common practice by theologians and ethicists is to quote both Leviticus passages in support of other biblical texts, but never to establish a moral position on their own.

A number of English Bibles use the word ‘homosexual’ to translate certain Greek words in the original texts of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy [arsenokoitai and malakoi]. These passages contain lists of people regarded as sinners who need to repent of their evil ways. There is no common agreement, however, about what these words mean. The words arsen (male) and koitai (bed) are both used in the Greek translations of the Leviticus passages, but the compound word arsenokoitai appears nowhere else except in two verses of Paul’s writings, and later literature probably dependent on them. The word malakoi means ‘soft’ and sometimes is used as a slang word for males considered weak or effeminate, and sometimes for those who willingly engaged in sex with other men.

Many scholars think Paul has carried over the bans listed in Leviticus into the New Testament; arguing that they do apply to Christians. People who actively (arsenokoitai) and passively (malakoi) participate in same-sex relations are identified as sinners who need to repent. Others urge caution and question both the wisdom and validity of the Church basing moral teaching on an uncertain interpretation of Scripture. They would argue that a condemnation of homosexual activity in a particular context does not imply a necessary rejection of every homosexual expression in every context.

There are some people who quote Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:11 as a proof text that homosexuals can be healed and transformed into heterosexuals. While the verse speaks of the transforming power of God it seems to refer to changes in behaviour rather than sexual orientation. What is undisputed is that God helps all who repent and strengthens those who want to stop and avoid past sinful conduct; for example, idolatry, addiction, abuse and misuse of sex, adultery, greed, slander, extortion, injustice.

In Romans, Paul lists same-sex relations to illustrate the distortion that occurs in human society as the result of idolatry. In his letter, Paul is not primarily concerned about the question of ‘Homosexuality: right or wrong?’ Instead, Paul’s greater purpose is to proclaim that all people have sinned and, accordingly, his readers have no excuse  to pass judgment on others (2:1) but should admit their own need of Christ’s forgiveness (3:9, 21-25). Paul considers ‘unnatural’ sexuality is a consequence of people rejecting God; they no longer understand creation and are confused about God’s original design for sex.  Paul identifies excessive desires and behaviour as the litmus test of idolatry, and same-sex activity as an expression of excess; labeling homosexual acts as ‘shameless’ and ‘unnatural.’ Paul goes on to argue that those who live according to the Spirit, instead of excessive passion, put to death the deeds of the flesh (7:5,6; 8:13). Today many Christians would agree that when life is not orientated to God, both heterosexuals and homosexuals are vulnerable to idolatry and excess. Yet, at the same time they would argue, on the contrary, that sexual orientation is determined early in human development and that, excessive passion is no more prevalent among homosexuals than heterosexuals. In differing from Paul, they do not reject his authority in general or deny his wisdom. Instead, they argue Paul adopted the common views of his time and that these views are not binding for Christians today.

Describing what the Bible does or does not say about homosexual behaviour, together with the comments of current scholarship, however, does not immediately result in guidance for the Church in the matter of homosexuality. Even those who agree on what the Bible says may disagree on the meaning and application of texts for shaping the Church’s attitude towards same-sex relations today.

The guidance Scripture provides the Church to discuss Christian sexuality and review pastoral statements on homosexuality comes in at least two ways: first, through specific commands that may be more broadly applied to other matters in other contexts; and, second, references that might allow for exceptions to what might usually be expected. For example, the fifth commandment ‘You shall not kill’ is applied more broadly by some to prohibit participation in war or the practice of abortion. Yet even those who want to claim war and abortion are wrong recognize the possibility of a ‘just war’ and circumstances (such as when a mother’s life is endangered) when abortion should be allowed.

Discussion about the application of Scripture can be controversial. Merely to raise the question of whether there can be exceptions to what the Bible and Church teach may sound irreverent if not heretical to some. But the question before us is not ‘Should the Church allow homosexuals and heterosexuals to gratify urges and sexual desires and to practice same-sex sexual acts?’ That would be a simple question to answer. The Bible never says it is God’s will for people to gratify all their sexual desires; indeed, as Christians, the Bible urges us to control our desires and to deny ourselves anything that leads us to commit sin.

On the other hand, the Bible says that it’s not God’s will that human beings should be alone but should live their life in community with others; the most intimate form of community being the union of a man and a woman in marriage. Where this has not been possible, the church has encouraged people to remain celibate. However, Jesus himself acknowledges that not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given (Matt 19:11).

Today, however, fewer and fewer unmarried people feel that they are either able or willing to make this commitment. While pastors generally will encourage heterosexual de facto couples to marry, that option is not open to homosexual couples. The church therefore is facing a crisis as it comes under increasing pressure to reconsider its stance on the blessing of same gender partnerships. The question that is now before us is whether the church can hold two conflicting ethical positions without threatening its unity in the gospel?

Pastoral Care 

Because each of us is united with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection (Galatians 2:19-20) we share our baptismal identity in common.  We are the body of Christ, with each individual a valued part of the body (I Corinthians 12:12-26). We are called to bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  All of us are called to pray for one another, to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13), and to accept one another, just as Christ has accepted us, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7).

We will, therefore, exclude no one from attending services in God’s house on the basis of their sexual orientation.  Homosexual people will be welcome participants in the worship life of the church and assured of God’s love for all people.  As baptised members of the body of Christ, we meet together to hear God’s Word and receive the body and blood of Christ, which reassures us of the forgiveness of sins and brings healing and wholeness through the work of the Spirit.

We pray for grace to keep listening to the Scriptures, including those words that seem to voice God’s disapproval of same-sex behaviour, and to hear all Scripture in the light of Christ who is the embodiment of God’s love and the fulfilment of God’s commands.  The church will listen to the Spirit’s guidance as it attempts to discern which of the traditional attitudes to homosexual expression should still apply, and which belong to cultural values of a former time.  Studies have raised new questions about where homosexuality fits within God’s creation.  As we walk with people wishing to discern God’s will for their lives we will therefore need to exercise caution so that we do not espouse stances which are unjust, oppressive or excluding.  We will need to continue to listen to each other in a spirit of mutual respect and goodwill.

The traditional teaching that sexual expression has its proper place within heterosexual marriage and that outside marriage abstinence is expected, guides Christians, both married and single, who seek to live by it and to teach it to their children.  The church must also minister to those whose lives do not conform to this view of marriage and human sexuality, in situations that are often painful and complex.

It is clear that the church must condemn behaviours which are destructive or exploitative perversions of God’s gift of sexuality, including promiscuity, exploitation of minors, rape and sexual abuse.  This applies to all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

People who identify as homosexual continue to be victims of violence and discrimination. The Church is called to show understanding to homosexual people and empathy for them in their struggles, to engage in mutual service in Christ in the congregational setting, and be ready to give help and encouragement to them as Christian people in whichever ways possible.  We are entrusted with the proclamation of God’s free gift of grace in the forgiveness of sin to all people who repent and believe, and new life through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

We pray that God the Father would give the church the mind of Christ and the illumination of the Spirit to know how best to minister to people who both identify as homosexual and share a common identity with all baptised Christians.