The CWA 2009 set the tone for a ground swell of debate as congregations and synods try to discern the path each will follow. Last weekend here in South Carolina our synod took part in what our bishop called “A Day of Holy Conversation.” This day was set aside for South Carolina Synod Lutherans to gather and respectfully discuss our differences as we acknowledge one another as fellow members of the body of Christ on earth.
Hundreds gathered together, listened together, ate together and worshipped together as if it were any other day in our synod’s history. Friends on opposite sides of one issue or another remained friends, hugs were exchanged in lieu of handshakes, and our synod family had all the appearances of one still knit closely together in the bonds of Christian love. For this I am glad and give thanks to the one who calls us to live in community through our baptism into Christ.
During the morning session, seminary professors Dr. David Yeago and Dr. Susan McArver gave presentations with regards to their thoughts concerning the decisions of CWA 2009. Dr. Yeago spoke to the lack of biblical, traditional and theological support for these resolutions, describing the ELCA as a church of “impaired communion” with itself. Dr. McArver provided historical perspective as to how the church has handled divisions in the past and advocated for the CWA 2009 changes through the lens of history and personal reflection.
Following a brief luncheon and then worship with Holy Communion, the body discussed possible resolutions for our upcoming synod assembly in June. As with the morning session a format was followed to allow voices from either side of the debate to be heard. The debate (I can’t call it conversation) was respectful, and each resolution was discussed in polite manner. As I listened to each person, a common theme became evident; one that I have noticed so many times before in such debates. The ELCA seems to be suffering from a disappearing theology.
Since August there have been many meetings and forums on the schedule, and most allow a time for people to voice their views. As people from either side of the disagreement speak, the refrain of “I am not a theologian or a pastor, and I’ve had no theological instruction, but I feel in my heart…” Another oft heard remark seems to be, “I haven’t read Leviticus or Romans, but I believe…”
Now please hear this, I am not saying one side is biblically uninformed as compared to the other. The truth is, I hear these remarks coming from both sides of the issue and this concerns me. Our church is in the midst of a great struggle with one side claiming biblical authority and the other claiming the scriptural authors’ lack of knowledge concerning sexual orientation, yet we have many willing to speak out who have not read or studied the disputed texts in their context. Many others do not take the time to read the essays published by our church’s theologians or enter into focused Bible studies. Understanding this, I fear we are becoming a church that makes decisions based on our experience and emotions rather than on biblical study and theological reflection. We ask, “Where is God in all this?” but we largely answer the question without studying God’s Word, hearing the teaching of our theologians, and listening to the witness of the saints.
I am convinced that the debate surrounding CWA 2009 is going to be long and painstakingly exhausting. I am also convinced that those who enter and remain in the discussion will do so out of their love for God, the church and their neighbor. It is my prayer that as we go forward in this “Holy Conversation” the church rediscovers it’s rich tradition of teaching and learning, while we strive to love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength.