From the Toronto Star (reg required). Peter Mikelic is a Lutheran pastor in Toronto.
Given its secular cultural conditioning, the Church is always in jeopardy of losing its spiritual direction and prophetic voice. The current conflicts over the vast gamut of human sexuality, homosexual rights, and new meanings of marriage for same-gendered persons, has Christians praying that these divisive issues will only temporarily wedge and weaken, but ultimately season and strengthen the Church.
The intensity of the debate over these and other related questions not only reflects an enduring homophobia, but an appalling disdain for the church as a human institution with all its frailties and liabilities. I mean, the Church dissipates and almost destroys itself over issues of human sexuality, as it once did over the equality and ordination of women, the acceptance of blacks, slaves and Gentiles into the church, the rotation and roundness of the earth, and the like. The Church argues over sexuality as if divine dogma and century-old positions were the sole determinants in a seemingly pre-determined outcome.
As in the past, today’s struggle is less over the unfathomable mystery of who and what God is, than over the inability of the Church to genuinely listen and change in order to meet human need and alleviate suffering. For many denominations, human sexuality is not simply a matter of faithfulness to biblical teaching, but primarily one of scriptural interpretation and compassionate application.
There has been much attention to how the world-wide Anglican Communion, especially here in Canada and United States, has wrestled with same-sex issues over the last few years. Given the action of two diocese, New Westminster, B.C., to bless a same-sex union and New Jersey to elect a gay bishop, that a recent gathering of the global Anglican Communion in Northern Ireland requested the Anglican Church in Canada and The Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) to voluntarily withdraw from participating for a time from the church’s highest international bodies.
Meanwhile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), the largest denomination of Lutherans in this country with some 182,500 members, has also been debating these issues.
In fact, at last week’s (March 2-5) meeting in Winnipeg, the National Church Council of the ELCIC voted unanimously to bring the following recommendation to its National Convention this summer: “to allow pastors to perform blessings for same-sex couples who want to make [their union] a life-long commitment to one another in the presence of God and their community of faith.” Authorization to perform such blessings (following a “civil marriage”) would be based upon what’s called the “local option,” in which the consent of the pastor, a two-thirds majority agreement by the congregation and consultation with a synodical bishop would be required.
That there will be controversy and conflict ahead for the lay and clergy delegates at their July 21-24 Assembly in Winnipeg may be an understatement. While the “local option” is a compromise—an accomodation for those on both sides of the issue—the ELCIC also faces the shrinking of resources, which leaves some questioning the church’s ability to remain viable in its present structure.
It may be that delegates vote to defer the recommendation for more study, as Canadian Anglicans did last year, or they may bite the bullet in its defeat or acceptance and then face the consequences. But whatever the decision, the Church must always be subject to God’s Truth. This means that the Church needs to be much more modest in the claims it raises on God’s behalf, equally reticent in the declarations it makes when it speaks for God, but especially reserved in the judgements the church imposes upon others in God’s name—particularly if those others are different in sexual identity and behaviour.