LCA Theologians Release Paper on Homosexuality- 7 Years in the making.
A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.
In 2006 the Lutheran Church of Australia undertook a review of its statement on homosexuality. Now, after 7 years of study by the keenest theological minds in church… This is what was presented at the recent General Synod, less than 2000 words…presented without references, footnotes, links…. or anything else to back up their highly questionable statements. Perhaps it would have been better if they had presented nothing at all.
Those who were waiting on this document in the hope that it would present some form of balanced argument presenting two sides of the debate or even a reasonable analysis of the traditional view will, no doubt, be disappointed. It is nothing more than a superficial defence of the existing position.
In my discussions with senior members of the CTICR I realised that it was never going to be anything more than that. No one on the CTICR has put a substantive case opposing the traditional position. The only change that was considered was the inclusion of statements in an attempt to make the existing statements *more pastoral*. In other words…. THE GAY is still considered sinful, disordered and diseased…. it*s just that the church wants to find a nicer way of telling them that.
The statement is presented in RED. I couldn’t resist adding a word or two of my own (not in red)
BTW… this whole sorry blog adds up to over 3000 words. Wayyyyy to long I know. But I post it just so that no one can say that they didn’t have a chance to view the churches most recent anti-gay diatribe. For those of you who are not into all these words… have a look at the other post I’m putting up… just for fun.
The Bible does not speak of sexual orientations in the way that contemporary society does. But there are a number of passages that address the matter of same-sex behaviour, and all of them present a consistent message that it is not in accord with God’s intention (Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26,27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11). This interpretation has remained undisputed in the church until the last decades of the 20th century. On the other hand, since the Bible does not speak of homosexuality as an orientation, Christians should not judge those who are attracted to people of the same sex.
No… we wont judge them. We will however tell them that any expression of their sexuality is *not in accord with Gods intention*, or as the church*s official statements put it… sinful, disordered and diseased. We will tell them that they must run from every feeling of romantic love that begins to grow within them . We will condemn them to a life of enforced celibacy…. but we wont judge them.
Sigh…anyway… that aside…
The central thought of this opening paragraph (and those following) while presented as a simple statement of fact is actually highly questionable and readily collapses under scrutiny. I will contain myself to a few sentences of argument. Hopefully these will encourage any new readers to look deeper into the questions. Most of the issues raised have been addressed elsewhere in this blog.
The paragraph states…
This interpretation (homosexuality is not in accord with Gods intention) has remained undisputed in the church until the last decades of the 20th century.
The reality is that the word *homosexual* as a designation that did not exist until the late 1800s. It was first presented in a German periodical in the 1860*s. The word *homosexual* first found its way into an english translation of the New Testament as late as 1946. It was used to translate one highly disputed greek word (arsenokoitai) and was applied to the passages in 1 Cor. and 1 Tim. Previously the KJV translated the word as *defilers of themselves with mankind*. It was commonly understood to refer to masturbation. The CTICR assertion that these passages were always understood as a prohibition of homosexuality is a plain misrepresentation of the facts.
A key biblical witness regarding same-sex sexual activity is found at Romans 1:26,27. The argument of Romans 1 is that the unbelieving world worshiped the creature rather than the creator. God therefore passed judgment by delivering humanity up to its own desires and hence to futility, foolishness and self-degrading behaviour. The first consequence is sexual impurity in general (Rom 1:24). Another consequence is unnatural sexual relations (vss 26,27). The apostle Paul writes, ‘God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse (Greek: the natural use) for unnatural (what is against nature); and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error’ (1:26,27). Paul employs the words ‘males’ and ‘females’—usually translated ‘men’ and ‘women’—echoing the words of Genesis 1:27 that God created humanity in the image of God, both male and female. Thus when the apostle speaks of ‘nature’, he means nature as God intended it. Therefore same-sex conduct, including that of females, is ‘against nature’, out of step with God’s design, and part of humanity’s rebellion against the creator. The apostle then goes on to mention many other manifestations of human rebellion against God (Rom 1:28-32).
The Romans 1 Passage has always been held as the *clobber* passage for the traditional anti-gay view. It certainly deserves a close look. This one paragraph commentary is, however, superficial to say the least. I have already presented my views on this passage here, here , here and here. I have since developed that initial exegesis into a 90 minute audio-visual presentation which includes a much more comprehensive look at sexuality and worship in the ancient near east. (Anyone interested in hearing it? If you live within a car trip of Perth and you are willing to get some friends together, I’m happy to present it for you.)
Same-sex behaviour, characterised by the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai, is one of the lifestyles said to be inconsistent with the new life in Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and 1 Timothy 1:8–11. The word malakoi, used at 1 Corinthians 6:9, had the general meaning of ‘soft’. When used of men it was a pejorative term meaning unmanly or effeminate and was used of the passive participant in a male-male sex act. The other word, arsenokoitai (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10), means literally ‘males who lie [sleep] with males’. This word draws on the Greek translation of Leviticus 20:13 where the phrase ‘lying with a male’ (meta arsenos koit!n) appears. Thus Paul affirms the Old Testament prohibition of male-male sexual acts.
As mentioned above these translations of the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai are highly questionable and there is no agreement among theologians as to their meanings. The key word arsenokoitai is particularly disputed. It is used very rarely in ancient Greek literature which makes its meaning difficult to pin down. As mentioned above, the KJV originally translated the word as *abusers of themselves with mankind*. More recently, a good argument has been made that it actually refers to traders of male sex slaves.
The next 1000 words consist of answering questions that challenge the traditional view.
1. This is the same problem that infects this whole superficial document… The few sentences do not even begin to address the matters at hand. Seriously?! A single paragraph devoted to questions that in recent years have filled books and consumed hours of serious theological debate!!?? The answers come across more as a patronising pat on the head to any serious enquirer.
2. The CTICR*s presentation presupposes an approach to Biblical interpretation that has never previously been employed within the LCA. The approach involves splitting scripture up into sections that are considered binding for all people for all time and sections that are not. This method of interpretation contravenes the principles for interpreting scripture outlined in the LCAs foundational document, The Thesis of Agreement. I have written more about this here and here.
Engagement With Other Views.
The LCA has consistently taught that same-sex activity is contrary to God’s will. In recent decades, however, a number of questions about this teaching have been raised which deserve to be addressed.
1. Is the Old Testament prohibition of homosexual activity addressed only to ancient Israel, so that it no longer applies today? It is said that the laws of ancient Israel have to be understood in light of the concerns they sought to address. Maybe the prohibition of homosexual practice (Lev 18:22; 20:13) had to do with Israel’s concern that nothing stand in the way of the Lord’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ (Gen 1:28). Maybe the levitical legislation reflected a priestly concern for the integrity of creation and a well- ordered life in community. It is claimed that ancient Israel drew up its laws out of a concern for purity to secure a healthy and disciplined community in a fragile world. Therefore, it is said, if the concern behind the prohibition can be met in different ways, the prohibition itself may be removed.
However, even though the laws and decrees in Leviticus 18–20 are addressed to Israel, they are intended for all people. This is made clear by the use of the term ‘humankind’ (h”’”d”m, Lev 18:5) for the addressee of the legislation. The earlier inhabitants of Canaan were expelled from the land for breaching these laws (Lev 18:24–30). Furthermore, the prohibition of homosexual activity is surrounded by sanctions against practices that the nations and religions of the world have shunned from time immemorial, because prohibitions based on natural law are deeply embedded in the human heart. Finally, the prohibition relating to homosexual practice at Leviticus 18:22 is written in the form of an absolute and permanent prohibition, the same form that is used for the ten commandments.
2. Does the death penalty for homosexuality (Lev 20:13) indicate that the indictment of homosexuality belongs to a bygone age? For the sake of consistency, it is said, if homosexual practice is to remain an offence, so must its punishment, capital punishment. You can’t have one without the other. Both belong to a bygone age. But the fact that certain practices referred to in Leviticus no longer attract the death penalty in most countries in no way mitigates the offence. The New Testament church is not bound to Old Testament case law such as capital punishment, but it is bound to the prohibition of homosexual behaviour because that belongs to the natural law written on the hearts of all people (Rom 2:14,15), and that law was not revoked by Jesus.
3. But isn’t this how God made me? Doesn’t that make it natural? When Paul talks about acts according to nature or contrary to nature in Romans, he has in mind nature in the sense of God’s original and ongoing purpose for creation, not nature as it is tainted by sin. Sadly we must all face the fact that, even though Christ has broken the power of sin, we are still subject to the effects of sin. Thus the fact that we desire something does not automatically make it morally acceptable. Therefore, even if it could be proved beyond dispute that same-sex attraction is genetic and that people are born that way, this would not automatically make the behaviour right. God expects us to take responsibility for our actions and to refrain from sexual intimacy outside of marriage. As God’s children by rebirth in baptism, we are called to lead a holy life even as Christ has made us holy.
4. Don’t the biblical writers only speak against unequal, abusive and promiscuous relationships, rather than loving committed relationships? It is true that many male-male sexual acts in the ancient world occurred in unequal relationships. However, Paul may have avoided the normal terminology for specific behaviours, like pederasty (that is, relations between a man and a boy), to ensure that his prohibition was as all-encompassing as possible. The terms he used are broad enough to cover all same sex acts. Although the term ‘homosexual orientation’ is of recent origin, a wide range of sexual activities was practised in the Greco-Roman world and not all of them were coercive or promiscuous. There were also loving committed relationships between same-sex couples in Paul’s day. He would have been aware of this, and yet he still writes the way he does in Romans 1. Therefore we cannot say that the New Testament prohibition of same sex behaviour is aimed at something altogether different from the loving committed relationships that we know of today.
5. If homosexuality is wrong, why didn’t Jesus speak against it? Jesus did not have to speak against it since he could take the Old Testament prohibition as a given. More than that, Jesus affirmed God’s original design in creation: ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”’ (Matt 19:4). There are also other forbidden things that Jesus did not need to speak against (Lev 18:21), because people knew they were wrong. In general, Jesus could assume that his listeners shared the typical Jewish aversion to same-sex conduct. If he had wished to abolish the Old Testament teaching on this matter, he would have made his intention clear and his new teaching would have been recorded in the gospels.
6. But why does all this matter anyway? Aren’t we freed by the gospel? The gospel does indeed free us—but not to do as we like. It frees us to lead holy lives in accordance with God’s commandments. The law remains as a beacon in the life of the believer, describing what life under the power of the gospel looks like. After proclaiming the gospel powerfully in Romans 3–5, Paul then asks in chapter 6 whether it is possible to go on sinning. He replies, ‘By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?’ (6:2); and he concludes, ‘So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions’ (6:11,12). The gospel cannot be used to trump God’s commandments; rather, it empowers us to lead our lives in conformity with them.
This next section is written as an explanation/ defence of the LCAs existing statement and an attempt to present a compassionate face to the churches teaching. It is written for the Average Str8 LCA Member who is willing to cast a cursory enquiring glance at the issue but basically believes that their church and their theologians have things in hand. They need reassurance that their church is not the homophobic, injury causing organisation that this blog and others accuse them of being. I have little doubt that such an audience will be satisfied with the CTICR*s next 475 words. They will point to them as proof of just how pastoral, loving, compassionate and Jesus-like the LCA really is.
But… the test is not how these words are received by the Average Str8. The test is how these words are received by a marginalised and hurting gay member of the church. If you are one of those Average Str8s , walk for a moment in someone else*s shoes.
Pretend for a moment that you are a gay teenager in the LCA.
You know you are gay. You have tried to date the members of the other sex but for you it is the same as a straight guy dating another guy. It just doesn’t work. Like all of your teenaged friends you look forward to the rest of your life. You look forward to falling in love, to building a life together with someone you love. You look forward to the special form of companionship and intimacy that can only come from committed love given to and received from a life*s partner. You look forward to exploring life and love with all of its joys and sorrows, terrors and excitements.
But, while the church tells all of your straight friends that they should consider their sexuality a gift from God and that they should celebrate the way God has made them, that while they should avoid sexual promiscuity, they should feel free to explore their sexuality and what it means to fall in love. For you, however, the church says that any feelings of attraction that you have, any time you feel a particular connection with someone that has the potential to grow into something more…and those feelings are reciprocated…
…that you should consider those feelings as evil temptations, ungodly, sinful , distorted, diseased… that you should run from that ungodly temptation and… that that will happen time and time again for the rest of your life… celibate and alone, not by choice (as priests, nuns and others have done) but forcefully, against your will and against your natural desires…Imposed celibacy and a life where you are forever at war with one of the deepest and most important parts of your own humanity. (Sorry about the longest and worst constructed sentence…ever!)
OK, Average str8 . Now that you have started to identify with one of the most hurting and marginalised groups in our community, now that you have been given a slight glimpse into why they suffer self harm, depression and attempted suicide at a far greater rate than the rest of their peers… now read the Pastoral Statements…
This interim report concludes with some brief guidelines on pastoral care with respect to human sexuality, for all Christians irrespective of their sexual orientation. Christ is the first pastoral carer for his people and leads us to renewed life in mind and body (Rom 12:1,2). The LCA seeks not only to teach in accordance with the scriptures, but also to care for and guide all people as they seek to bring their sexuality into conformity with their Christian faith.
The Church has a special responsibility to care pastorally for those whose desires, circumstances or orientation make them especially vulnerable to sexual temptation.
Pastoral carers will encourage their communities to welcome all people and advocate on behalf of those who suffer discrimination. No-one should be excluded from the Church simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Pastoral carers will uphold each person’s God-given identity as someone who is made in God’s image and as a co-heir with Christ through the gospel. They will help people to remember that it is their relationship with God, rather than their sexuality, that is the basis of their identity.
Pastoral carers will be intercessors. They will welcome honest conversation about the realities of people’s lives, listening compassionately and praying for them persistently.
Pastoral carers will help Christian people turn away from all kinds of sexual immorality. They will use the Bible as the basis for teaching and they will trust that God’s word will do its work. They will refrain from making hasty judgments in the often complex realities of life. On the other hand, they will lovingly seek to discern the appropriate word of law and gospel, challenging the hard-hearted and comforting the repentant. They will not give people the impression that before God some sins are worse than others. They will assure people that experiencing temptation is not the same as giving in to it. They will help those who are not yet ready to hear God’s Word at least to order their lives as well as possible according to reason. This could include counselling them towards fidelity in relationships and away from any actions that are exploitative or that present serious risks to physical health.
Pastoral carers will speak God’s word of forgiveness through Christ. They will proclaim Christ as the one who joyfully receives sinners in mercy, remembering that the Spirit-filled absolution has power to transform lives. They will encourage people to attend worship and receive the means of grace.
Pastoral carers will understand the need for social support for those who feel alienated. They will ensure that people enjoy the friendship of the body of Christ. They will assist in finding particular help and services for those who need them.
This interim report is presented with the prayer that it will contribute to a loving and respectful conversation under the authority of God’s word. We hope that it will serve the Church as together we listen to this word, with the prayer that the Spirit would transform our personal and corporate lives to the glory of God.
So… my young, gay, Lutheran friend. How do you feel having read this pastoral epistle?
(The section on homosexuality forms a part of a larger paper on sexuality. the full document can be viewed here from page 283)