Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"The Bible Tells Me So"

As the church that I am rostered in continues after many many years to wrestle with the matter of sexual orientation, I read many blogs and articles and posts every week expressing many different views and reactions and opinions. Some of them are well-reasoned and articulate. Others less so. Some are written from a personal perspective trying to reconcile what Scripture says with their life experiences. Others are written from an academic or scholarly distance, but with no less concern or seriousness.

A leader in the ELCA recently posted an editorial found here in which he attempted to distill the current controversies down to three simple questions. While I respect his effort and in due regard to his leadership in the ELCA and our predecessor bodies, I believe that he missed the boat. In his attempt to express his own clear and basic thinking about this issue, he missed the fact that larger issues have been raised. I wish that this controversy was only about sex. But of course it is more complex than that. The authority of Scripture has been brought into question.

There are bumper-stickers that say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." If only it were that simple. Instead, we have been given scholarly, analytical and critical tools that help us in our understanding of Scripture. Among these are the ongoing learnings about the society and culture in which Scripture was written as well as the understanding, common at the time, of how writers then understood specific words that they used in their writings.

Thankfully, this is not the first time that the authority of Scripture has been questioned.  So we, as a Lutheran church, have grappled with slavery -- we have come to realize that the New Testament writings are not authoritative and normative for the practices of the 18th and 19th centuries (nor for that matter for the human trafficking of the 21st century). The ELCA addressed the matter of ordaining women by considering the gifts women bring to ordained ministry in light of and in apparent contrast to a few select verses in the New Testament but in continuity with others of New Testament Scripture. Sixty years ago, a pastor who married a woman who had been divorced was not permitted to serve as a pastor for a stated period of time, based upon New Testament teaching about marriage and divorce.

In each of these situations, a "plain read" of Scripture would have brought about a result that would conflict with current practices and understandings. And, undoubtedly, the "authority of Scripture" was raised in objection to abolition, ordaining women, permitting men and women who were divorced to serve as ordained ministers. One of the strengths of the Lutheran church is our ability to read and interpret Scripture and apply it fully to our lives today in light of what we understand to be the truth of the Gospel. Reasonable and faithful minds can differ -- that does not mean that either side or view is heretical or apostate.

So, today I am grateful for the Church and all who are a part of it. I am grateful that we can disagree and that we can state our disagreement. I pray that Jesus' prayer may be realized -- that we may all be one as we live in disagreement.


(photo taken on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; Copyright Pamela Smith, 2010)

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