Welcoming: A Work in Process

A few nights ago, while attending a holiday function with my wife, I met two wonderful, attractive young ladies.  While my wife had met them before, I had never had the pleasure of their acquaintance.  Now, I must preface this with a statement that I was not attending this gathering in an official capacity.  In fact, I’m sure few in attendance knew that I was a pastor.  I was simple my wife’s husband in the midst of her colleagues celebrating this season of joy.  But I digress.

As I was saying, these two young ladies were very pleasant I enjoyed talking with them.  To my surprise, both seemed quite comfortable talking about matters of faith, in fact, they brought the subject up.  It seems these two have been looking for a church where they could become members, a search that has proven to be difficult.  Their desire has been to find a place of welcoming, non judgmental people.  I had to laugh when they told me this.  I have been Christian all my life, active in my congregation, and I am still looking for this very same church.  Naturally I thought we were speaking the same language.

Imagine my surprise when I realized they were looking for a congregation that would accept them as they are, two attractive young ladies in a loving relationship with one another.  They were not shy about telling me about this as well.  Whether they were comfortable telling me about their relationship, or they just didn’t care what I think isn’t really clear.  But I hope they found me receptive and non judgmental as I certainly hope this is the case (God help me).

They told me about the congregation they have been visiting; how the people don’t seem to mind that they are “together.”  It doesn’t seem to be an issue at all during their worship and people are always glad to see them.  As I listened, I hoped this to be the case at the church where I am pastor.  I pray that as we welcome strangers in our midst, we welcome them for who they are, and pay little attention to what they may be.  But there is difficulty in this, a point of struggle if you will.  I struggle with the false perception that, being one who acknowledges homosexual behavior as sin, I am therefore unwelcoming and judgmental of gays a lesbians.

True, I do believe in traditional and orthodox teaching of the Church.  I believe that God gives us the gift of sexuality as an expression for humans to show deep affection for one another, and that this expression is to be lived out in marriage between one man and one woman.  On this issue there can be no compromise for it is God’s intention, not of human design.  Yet, I do not condemn persons such as these two women because they are in a same gendered relationship.  I do not believe they are excluded from God’s grace because of their sexual orientation, nor do I believe their relationship to be a barrier standing between them and a welcoming congregation.

No, I would not bless such a relationship, nor would I lift up such a relationship to be a model for Christians to follow.  Yet, I cannot deny that their feelings for one another at this time are real.  Herein lies the rub.  This is  a point where the ELCA has given in to emotional pleas for social justice with regards to same gendered relationships.  This is where the ELCA’s decisions of August 2009 skew God’s commandment to love one’s neighbor.

Loving our neighbor begins with loving God with all our heart, soul and mind.  This means striving to live according to God’s intentions first, while forsaking the ways of our sinful world.  Loving our neighbor, at its most basic level, means helping them strive toward this same goal.  Making normative any relationship that is contrary to scripture does not show love for our neighbor.  So what do we do?

It is not my job to beat those in same gendered relationships over the head with the hammer of scripture; I am not their judge.  It is not my intention to “convert” anyone to a life of heterosexuality, mine is not their standard.  It is; however, my duty and my joy to give thanks to God for his love and grace through Christ Jesus.  It is my responsibility and calling to proclaim the salvation of God in Christ for all who know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And it is my pleasure to welcome the strangers in our midst, nurturing them in faith and love, and helping them strive to live a faithful and godly life.

This, my friends, is a work in process.

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7 Responses to Welcoming: A Work in Process

  1. I can’t help but wonder what you might speak out against from the pulpit now, and do you do so if you know that there are faithful members of your congregation that do commit specific sins. Obviously, we all sin and in the Lutheran church, thank God, we have a time for confession. I always like to think that I am totally clean at that moment, and just for that moment, until I think some judgmental thought, etc. So we know about sin, we confess sin, and there are specific verses that talk about sin, specific sins. And yet, and yet….we accept people into membership in our congregations that live in some of these specific sins. And I’m sure not talking about homosexuality. So I am asking sincerely, how do you, how do we as Christians, deal with these other issues that are now so common in our culture but are said to be sin in the Bible? In the Romans (???) passage that some people say points to homosexuality, I read, in the same paragraph, one of my most grievous sins, something I have committed my whole life, but not one usually talked about. That brought me up straight. I’m not saying that I’m liberal on the issues of gayness, nor am I suggesting you should be. I’m just saying that there are a lot of issues in the Bible that we tend to ignore.

  2. heartofapastor says:

    “A work in progress”…so true. I also hope the congregation I serve would welcome such a couple without judging them. I know that is easier said than done.

    Thank you for your thoughts. Have a Merry Christmas!

  3. revdw1 says:

    PS wrote – “So I am asking sincerely, how do you, how do we as Christians, deal with these other issues that are now so common in our culture but are said to be sin in the Bible?”

    Sin has always been sin, and as we read in Romans 1 26-32, the wages of sin is death. This is why we need a savior. How do we deal with sins that are common in our culture? We condemn them as sin, call for the sinner to repent, and assist one another in seeking God’s will for our lives rather than applauding (approving, uplifting) the sinful behavior. Just as homosexuality is sinful behavior, so too are all of those listed in the Romans passage. None of these are to be lifted up as desirable or God pleasing. To do so would be, as Paul writes, applauding those who practice them.

    Again, notice I said “condemn the sin” and not the sinner. All of the behaviors listed in Romans are displeasing to God, and we have all given in to at least one of them at one time or another. The issue is repentance, turning away from sinful behavior and seeking God’s intended purposes. True, we all fall short, but the repentant sinner strives for what is good.

  4. Obie Holmen says:

    What is at issue is a paradigm and what is required is a paradigm shift in thinking. When one starts with an assumption and that assumption is an unquestioned baseline, even in the face of facts to the contrary, then cognitive dissonance results.

    Homosexual behavior is wrong. That is the unquestioned assumption. After all, that’s what Paul said, didn’t he? So, despite the mutually supportive, loving relationship between two women that revdw1 encountered, the assumption prevails in spite of the facts. The lives of these two women, and millions of other gay men and women, are fuller, richer, and more meaningful because they have found someone to share love with. Should that not be a Christian ideal despite Paul’s culturally conditioned words? Do not Pauline epistles also support slavery? Submissive women?

    The issue is deeper than simply suggesting we all sin, which is true, of course, but which sours the discussion because it again postulates the assumption that this loving relationship is sinful. Why should that be so when all the evidence suggests that, on balance, this relationship produces more good than bad?

    No, the issue is much deeper. Christian ethics are much deeper–and harder than many would acknowledge. The question is, what is sin in the first place? How do we probe such questions? Agreed, we start with the Bible, but are Paul’s words the end of the discussion? Are there not deeper streams to Holy Scripture found in a gospel message of inclusion? Do not the words of Christ and the two commands offer a balancing test for determining Christian ethics, rather than understanding the Bible to be a mere cookbook of moral recipes? Don’t think, don’t ponder, don’t wonder, don’t wrestle–just look it up. We do the Bible a disservice by making it less than it is, and then we compound the error by accusing others who dare to probe deeper of being unbiblical. Less simple, yes. Willing to wrestle with the text, yes. Willing to question and apply God’s gift of reason, yes. Unbiblical–thank you, no.

    It’s hard mental gymnastics, but try putting the assumption aside for the moment. Consider the issue of the sinfulness, or lack therof, of the relationship of these two women without allowing a preconceived assumption to control. Don’t use the assumption to prove the assumption.

    There is a paradigm shift underway in the ELCA and much of Christendom. Instead of dismissing this seismic sea-change as unthinking, uncritical, unbiblical, and unchristian, consider the possibility that this is a situation analogous to the Copernician revolution, which the church long resisted. Based on the unquestioned assumption that God’s earth must be the center of the universe, despite evidence to the contrary, Copernicus and Galileo were hounded by the church of their day. Hopefully, it will not take the church of our day as long to come to the realization that the capability of loving another, of supporting another, of encouraging another, of uplifting another is as much a gift of God to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as it is to me and my wife of nearly 40 years.

    Are we not being selfish by claiming such a relational gift to be ours alone?

    Thanks for listening, and I encourage all to listen to the voice of change. Perhaps it is not merely the clamor of popular culture, as some would claim, but the restless and roiling Ruah, Pneuma, and Espiritu Sanctu of Pentecost. Let all who have ears to hear, hear.

  5. revdw1 says:

    Hello Obie – Thanks for the comment and for contributing to the conversation. While you and I are certainly looking at this from two different perspectives, I believe we both desire the same result, that being faithful to what God calls us to be and to do.

    I disagree that what is at issue is a paradigm, and what is needed is a paradigm shift, unless such a shift is to stop the encroachment of societal norms from becoming the norm for the Church. Those within the ELCA calling for reform since the passage of 2009 CWA policies base the argument not on the assumption that acting upon homosexual tendencies is sinful behavior, but rather that it is sinful behavior. Scripture clearly defines such behavior as sinful, it is not assumption.

    You ask the question; “What is sin in the first place?” Sin is the result of human disobedience and failure to live according to God’s intention. It is the deep chasm that separates us from God, made deeper as we continue to strive for things of human origin rather than things of God. God’s gift of human sexuality is intended to be expressed through the loving relationship of a man and a woman in marriage. Any other sexual relationship is contrary and therefore sinful. Married heterosexuals are not being selfish, as you suggest, they are living within the gift for God.

    I won’t debate this further, mostly because I know you will not agree with me, and to be honest, I respect your position. I have not called anyone heretical or unbiblical, nor will I, God help me. You (and many others) are trying to be faithful as am I.

    For me, the most regrettable part of this disagreement between ELCA church members is that folks who speak from the traditional perspective are automatically seen as unwelcoming. I see this as a huge road block, especially because it is certainly not the case (I speak only for me at this point, but I know there are others who feel the same.) As I welcome two women into our congregation such as those in the post above, how am I guilty of exclusion? No, I will not bless such a relationship, nor will I publicly affirm such a relationship. But I do love them and welcome them graciously to be a part of our community in Christ.

    We have some hard work to do in the ELCA, and it is going to be a struggle. My prayer is that we find a way to be faithful, loving and welcoming people of God. Regrettably, the decisions of 2009 CWA, in my estimation, will not serve this purpose.

    • Obie Holmen says:

      I respect your sentiment that neither of us is likely to persuade the other so that we should each say our piece and not debate endlessly. Yet, please allow one closing comment in response to your response (make it two).

      First, it is not popular culture that drives folks like me. Although it is changing, popular culture is still homophobic (that’s so gay).

      More to the point, you state “scripture clearly defines such behavior as sinful” as a fact and not merely as your opinion. Even if that is the majority and traditional opinion of Christians, it is an opinion nevertheless. Your statement proves my point, which is that your point of view postulates an assumption, ie “scripture clearly defines such behavior as sinful” and then uses that assumption to prove your assumption.

      It is my opinion that scripture does not clearly define a gay couple in a loving, mutually supportive relationship as sinful when the culturally conditioned words of Paul (New Testament) or the Levitical priests (Old Testament) are considered in light of the cultural preconceptions of their day and when the utilitarian, balancing test offered by Jesus in his two commands is utilized to weigh the beneficial effects of such monogamous same gender relationships.

      Enough said. Good luck and blessings in your continued ministry.

  6. revdw1 says:

    As you and I, with so many others continue striving for faithfulness within the ELCA, I pray that we will be able to put aside those issues that divide us and celebrate the things that bind us; chiefly the love of God in Christ Jesus.

    Again, thanks for commenting Obie. Blogs are difficult when trying to fully convey sincerity, but I do recognize it in your voice and your blog. God’s peace be with you as well.

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