Friday, June 18, 2010

“ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality”: A “smoke screen” or an “end run”?

As I read the first draft of the proposed “ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality”, it seemed to me that the task force is envisioning a very different church than the church I have served as a pastor for 43 years. The Scriptural and confessional basis on which the ELCIC was established has been abandoned for assumptions which are more appropriate to the social and political realms.

The proposed social statement begins with a host of general social and cultural observations. It concludes with the bland observation: “The church is divided on how we read and interpret the Bible” (p. 5, “Encountering the World in Which We Live”). The statement makes a similar vague observation in the next section (p. 8, “Facing God and Being the Church”).

I would have expected that the writer(s) of the statement would eventually identify the Biblical passages concerning the issue of human sexuality that argue most directly against the revisioning of those passages (e.g. Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Genesis chapters 1-2; etc.). I would have expected the writer(s) to acknowledge their reasons for abandoning the understanding of those passages that have served the ecumenical test of time. But the statement does nothing of the sort.

The second section, “Facing God and Being the Church”, makes a reference to a number of theological perspectives that have been important in Lutheranism: “Saint and Sinner”, “Law and Gospel”. It seems that the overall objective of this section, however, is to argue that our highest goal as a church should be to maintain “unity”, in particular, to maintain the unity of the ELCIC.

The section reminds us that the early church eventually learned to accept certain differences in viewpoint and practice. And the church was greatly enriched and prospered.

The statement suggests a parallel for our own day. It points out that our contemporary Canadian political and social realms tolerate all sorts of different attitudes and behaviours. The statement argues that the church should be equally accepting and non-judgmental. The goal among us should be “unity-with-diversity”. However, the statement conspicuously avoids acknowledging or addressing those Scriptural passages which explicitly condemn some of those behaviours.

The final section, “Doing ministry”, comes to a curious conclusion. It contends, “Opportunities for ministry will be maximized by permitting congregations to engage in practices that more fully enable persons of various sexual orientations to live as members of the body of Christ and as co-workers in ministry.” There is little indication as to how the task force arrived at that unsubstantiated conclusion. However, that statement seems to summarize the underlying objective of the ELCIC social statement, “unity-with-diversity”, or “the local option” under a different guise.

I would therefore contend that the “ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality” is a “smoke screen”, masking its stated intent. It does not honestly acknowledge or address the Scriptural and Confessional basis on which the ELCIC was established. It masks its arguments behind all sorts of cultural and political assumption and generalities. If adopted, the social statement contravenes Article II of its own constitution, namely,
  • This church confesses the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks, and as the only source of the church’s doctrine and the authoritative standard for the faith and life of the church.

I would also contend that the social statement is an attempted “end run” around that constitution. The writer(s) of the statement know full well that altering or even eliminating Article II would be a very unpopular and a much more difficult goal to achieve politically. The writer(s), it seems to me, are therefore attempting an “end run”. They know full well that the adoption of the social statement will ultimately force the elimination of Article II in the constitution.

The Rev. Dr. Peeter Vanker
May 31, 2010