The Yahnke Tapes and Losing our Lutheran: Sin is Sin.

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

You have heard that a picture is worth 1000 words.

I saw such a picture (well, 2 pictures ) a couple of weeks ago.

But, you KNOW that I’m gonna add my 1000 (or..2000…or more… sorry :/)  words as well, don’t you? NO? Then, man, you don’t know me at all!

Concordia College is an ELCA university in Minnesota. Each year some of the students show their support for the LGBT members of their community by wearing T-shirts.

This year, another college senior, a member of the conservative Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church designed and printed her own T-shirt.

The T-shirt is reported to have had 3 verses about truth and evil printed on the back.

I don’t identify with all these people that say homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable way to live; that’s not me,” she said. “So the reason I wanted to do this T-shirt was… to stand up for God’s word because I feel like it’s getting completely trampled in this place thats supposed to be Christian.

So, fair enough? She is just standing up for the truth. Christians believe that there IS such a thing as sin and some Christians believe that those who support loving and committed same sex relationships are ignoring the reality of sin. Dr  Yahnke (from The Yahnke Tapes One, Two, Three, and Four) put it like this in a the recent Clear Conscience Courageous Living seminar at Mannum Lutheran Church, South Australia.

Did you recognise the ultimatum she sets up?  The gay person in question either “accepts the boundaries that (are) established Biblically” or he “denies Christ”.   No wriggle room. No possibility that he might love God and be actively worshipping and serving in some church but believes, after studying the scriptures, that there is no prohibition for loving committed same sex relationships? Nope! Open and shut case. They have denied Christ. And if they go to a church that supports their love then it is “tragic indeed” and they are “lost”. She calls it “speaking the truth in love”.

I think it is ignorant, sectarian, divisive and hurtful.

She describes such a church as preaching a “law free gospel”. Another term that has been used to disparage or even accuse those who are non-judgemental of  homosexual relationships is Antinomianism. The word means “anti-law” and refers to a controversy that arose in the Lutheran Church in the mid 1500’s.  The word has been thrown my way on occasion. The accusation is that those who are non judgemental of homosexual relationships have rejected God’s law. If God’s law is rejected in this case then God’s law can be rejected in every case. Therefore humanity is not guilty of anything and there is no reason for God to judge us. Therefore Jesus died for no reason.

Ok. Lets have a look all of that.

The Augsburg Confession is one of the foundational confessional documents of  all Lutheran Churches. The Second Article of on Original Sin states the following…

Since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear (respect) of God, without trust in God, and with  concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.

Condemned are  the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

Here the need for Christ is made clear. ALL human beings are born with sin. Sin  is defined first and foremost not as stuff that we do but as something that we lack. We are born WITHOUT the ability to fear and trust God. This original “lack” means that we are inherently idolatrous. Left to our own devices humanity will always come up with a wrong picture of God. Humanity will never come up with a clear picture of the God who loves us and the God who saves us. The other thing that is made clear in this statement is that there isn’t a thing that humanity can do about it. There is nothing that anyone can do by their own strength or reason to win Gods favour, approval or salvation.

Every Christian acknowledges this sin, this “lack” and their need for a saviour, a rescuer, one who will bring them out of this  state that the Bible describes as lost, dead, and blind. The Christian repents and simply trusts in Christ and receives life, sight and a sense of being “found”, a home in God’s family. That is the centre of the Lutheran understanding of sin and salvation.

Luther was stubbornly unbending on this point.  No human effort can bring salvation. as Romans 3:28 says

“We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Luther, in his German translation of the Bible was even willing to stretch this verse a little to read “…faith alone…” to emphasise the fact that it is all about  Jesus and not about what we do. Nothing should be said or done to weaken this fundamental principle. Those that do cease to be Confessional Lutherans.

The Augsburg Confession also talks about concupiscence. This word indicates that there is a type of activity that results from our fundamental sin, our “lack” of ability to respect and love God. We have base desire which cause us to act in ways that do not honour God and which bring harm to ourselves and to those around us. These desires and actions that bring harm are also sin but I would describe them as derivative or secondary to the core of sin mentioned above. .

I guess I would use the image of water to describe it. (I know that the Bible uses flowing water imagery to describe good things that come to us but allow me to use this mage of water to describe sin.)  I see the original “lack” that we have… that we are lost and blind and dead … without the ability to respect and love God… as the head waters, the dam or the source. Our desires and actions that do not honour God and that do harm to those around us are the streams that flow from that source.

Now here is the important bit!! That means you should read it twice.

While the headwaters are fathoms deep and constant and  unchanging, the trickles and dribbles and streams and even some rivers that flow from the source are not constant. They do change from person to person, culture to culture and age to age. What is sinful desire and action for one culture or age is not always sinful for another.

Slavery is a perfect example. In the time of Paul it was culturally acceptable to own a slave. Paul’s Christian admonition was that slave owners  should be kind to their slaves and treat them well. To be angry and take out that anger on a slave with a beating would, in Paul’s mind I’m sure, be considered sinful desire and sinful activity.

In our time however, things are very different.  We have introduced the concept of universal human rights. Slavery has been rightly  condemned. it is universally agreed that it is a great evil for one person to own another, to control their movements, to own their children, to restrict their right to marry etc etc etc. Today, it would be considered sinful to desire to own another human being and to set about fulfilling that desire even if (and get this) I did promise to do what Paul said and treat them kindly. It would still be sin. That which wasnt sinful, that which the Bible sanctions as perfectly OK, is now considered to be sinful and (considering the nature of the slave trade that still exists in the world today) horribly sinful at that.

The flow has changed. As it always has and it always will.

I guess that might raise a problem for some people.

“How do we know what’s right and whats wrong then?”

Luther had a particularly useful way of looking at this. I have described in a  previous post  how Luther in the confessions uses Jesus’ law of love, mixed with a good dose of common sense to determine how we should read the law and apply it to our own cultural context. Margaret Farley a member of the Sisters of Mercy and a professor of Ethics at Yale University  expressed similar thoughts in her book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

Like Luther, she had little time for the medieval understanding of moral law and looked rather to the principles of justice and the law of  love as outline by Christ.

Like Luther, she has been condemned and disciplined by her Church.

Like Luther the truth of what she says stands regardless of official condemnation.

Common sense and the Law of Love should be our guides today as we seek to understand how to live in the light of God word. When i say common sense  I include those ethical principles that are common among us. Universal Statemnts of Human Rightsd and basic principles of justice would be important considerations.

Ok,. so much for the theory. Lets see how that works out for a person who is gay.

My Summary: Using Common Sense and the Law of Love. 

Homosexuality causes no harm. Conservative Christians have asserted otherwise and have likened homosexuality to incest, pedophilia or even other criminal tendencies like kleptomania. But the simple fact is homosexuality is not a crime. Unlike incest or pedophilia it is not abusive or coercive. It does no harm to anyone.

The only people who believe that harm is done to the community by a homosexual are conservative Christians who promote a message of fear and ignorance …

The gay lobby is trying to convert straight kids to be gay

Gay marriage will undermine and destroy western culture.

The simplest check on these accusation show them up for what they are: nonsense statements based on fear.

Medical professionals have stated that it is not a disorder of any kind, mental or otherwise. There is no pathology. Unlike disease, genetic or otherwise there is nothing to fix. There is nothing wrong. In fact, health care professionals the world over have expressed their concern that attempts to change ones sexuality does cause real psychological harm.

Conservative Christians have attempted to show the wrongness of homosexuality and its  social cost by pointing to the greater prevalence of certain diseases and psychological problems within the homosexual population. These claims do seem to be based in fact. But it is also true to say that there is a greater prevalence of certain diseases and a shorter lifespan on average within the Australian indigenous community. Surely no one would be so racist and ignorant as to suggest that  ones aboriginality was the cause of such problems.

While homosexuality does no harm to society or the gay person it is not true to say that they are not harmed. They face real harm but it is harm that is done to them by the words and actions of a prejudiced and unjust society.

The harm done to young gay people in particular is real, documented and attested by health care professionals the world over.  They suffer depression, anxiety, self harm, and attempt suicide at a much greater rate than straight young people.  Young gay Christians have an ever harder time. Their social rejection and sense of isolation from their families and communities of support means that they suffer harm at a greater rate than the rest of the gay population. The  psychological and resultant physical harm that comes to gay people is caused by the stigma that society places on them. Conservative Christian Churches are the prime offenders.

There is no doubt that many members of the general population hold prejudiced attitudes and speak and act in ways that continue to isolate and harm young gay people. But only the conservative Christian Church expresses those same anti-gay attitudes in a way that is organised, co ordinate and designed to sway public opinion against the gay people in our care.

Now, back to Dr Yahnke and her accusation that an openly gay Christian “denies Christ”. Back to our “Sin is Sin” T shirt wearing young conservative Lutheran.

Neither of them are trying to remind my gay friend  of the universal nature of sin, that all of us are in need of forgiveness.  Neither are they  pointing to the source , the big deep dam, the original “lack” and our universal inability to respect and love God. Neither of them  are highlighting that we are lost and blind and dead in our sin so neither of them are pointing to the sense of home and sight and life  that comes through faith in Christ.

They are ,however, at pains to point to one particular group of people that they deem to be sinners.

They are pointing at one of the trickles. (I know that they would like us to see it as a gushing raging watercourse . I know that they do whatever you can to paint it as such but…, its a trickle and for the rest of civilised society its a trickle that is fast drying). They play the pharisee and point the finger and  say

“There is sin! It is evil and it is wrong and it is harmful”.

But there is no crime, no wrong and no harm other than the harm caused by their pointed finger. And behind that pointed finger lies nothing but a few disputed Bible versus more than a trickle of fear.

Slavery was always wrong and always did harm to people. it just took us a while to wake up to that fact. But, human reason, a growing understanding of human rights  and the law of love eventually got us there. Prejudice and discrimination against homosexual love has always been wrong and has always done harm to people. . It is just taking us a while to wake up to the fact.  But, human reason, a growing understanding of human rights and the law of love will get us there in the end.