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Equality - In Our Faiths

May 12, 2004 (Updated May 17, 2004)

Alberta's Lutheran Church & gay marriage
Questions raised about evolution of faith groups

"Moses' law cannot be valid simply and completely in all respects for us. We have to take into consideration the character and ways of our land when we want to make or apply laws or rules, because our rules and laws are based on the character of our land and its ways and not on those of the land of Moses, just as Moses' laws are based on the ways and character of his people and not those of ours."
Martin Luther's Works, Volume 46, p. 291


The movement for gay marriage has led faith communities around the world to question their position on same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and other issues that touch on core values and beliefs. Some faiths, like the Catholic Church, shut down discussion and silence priests and nuns. Others, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) have engaged in guarded, cautious debate.

The May edition of ELCIC's Synod of Alberta and the Territories' The Forum is dedicated to an in-print debate on the issue of same-sex marriage."But what happens when a pastor who is a non-celibate homosexual becomes Conference Dean or perhaps even a Bishop?"
Pastor Brad Everett

Editor Pastor Brad Everett writes in the introduction to the Forum: "In the ELCIC [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] two of the more pressing issues are (in order of importance), the understanding of the authority of Scripture and homosexuality. Homosexuality as a social issue came to the fore this past year when various court decisions altered the traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Homosexuality has been an issue in the church for some time now, with individuals and groups working to change the Church’s traditional teaching on this matter to allow for blessing same-sex relationships, and for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals."

Everett (and Pastor Karl Johnsen) attempt to ground the discussion in a fundamental Lutheran belief: "the place we begin with any matter like this is Scripture. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), the understanding that Scripture should be the sole authority for the Church in matters of faith and life ...The ELCIC Constitution follows this in Article II, Section 3:

"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."

In a previous issue of the Forum (Nov. 2003), Everett relied, once again, on strict adherence to the Scripture, to question whether the Synod should be exploring how to respond to the growing rights and acceptance of homosexuals. The Synod was wrong, Everett writes, to study homosexuality in a conference "giving sessions dealing with science and personal experience equal time with the discussion on Scripture."

Where will equality for homosexuals lead? If the Lutheran Church begins performing gay marriages, "one could assume," Everett writes, "that the ordination of non-celibate homosexual pastors would soon follow ... Some have said this would be analogous to the ordination of women, where congregations would still be free to choose whom they wanted as their pastor. But what happens when a pastor who is a non-celibate homosexual becomes Conference Dean or perhaps even a Bishop?""The Bible, more often than many would like to believe, is often just that: metaphor. This does not make it any less true ... I believe the Bible is absolutely 100% true. Some of it even actually happened."
Vaughn Roste

Everett almost has his rhetorical gay "non-celibate" Bishop on his knees, and not praying, in an effort to question how such a person can be one of authority. Everett sexualizes a minority group, fixated on this characteristic, and he looks to the Bible for support of ongoing discrimination based on Everett's favoured and selective Biblical sexual prohibitions and controls.

The Living Voice

Vaughn Roste, a writer familiar to readers of this web site, challenges an impoverished and fossilized view of faith in the Forum. Key elements of Lutheran beliefs, Roste argues, would be discarded under a regime of sola scriptura: the Creeds, the doctrine of the Trinity, the theology of Incarnation.

"I am not arguing against the use of Scripture," Roste writes, "only pointing out that those who claim to base their theology on sola scriptura are often unconsciously selective about which texts they would apply. They ignore the inherent errors and contradictions in the Bible and blindly pretend that the collection of books written in several different cultures and contexts all far removed from our own is somehow infallible. It leads to a "check your brains at the door" mentality in the church, where questions are not encouraged, only loyal obedience.""If we apply sola scriptura to slavery, I'm afraid the abolitionists are on relatively weak ground. Nowhere is slavery in the Bible lambasted as an oppressive and evil institution: on the contrary, the Bible tells slaves to be content with their position (I Cor 7:21), obey their masters (Eph 6:5, Col 3:22), accept their punishment from them (I Peter 2:18-21), and even to return to their masters if they've escaped (Philemon 12)."
Vaughn Roste

A close look at Biblical principles of marriage reveals that the Lutheran Church has long abandoned Everett's dusty Biblical Marriage - Why the Bible is a bad source for the same-sex marriage debate.reference to sola scriptura.

"Views have changed," Roste necessarily states the obvious, "as has our concept of marriage. Many claim that this is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our world ... Indeed, to rely solely on Scripture for doctrine is to ignore the possibility that the Holy Spirit has been active in the past sixteen centuries and indeed, may be actively encouraging us today to move beyond a literal reading of the Bible and to refuse to become modern Pharisees."

When it comes to homosexuality, Karl Johnsen writes that "People can be remarkably selective when it comes to which Old Testament injunctions ought to be set aside."

Maybe Johnsen is advocating we avoid all contact with menstruating women (Lev. 15:19-24), and that we stone to death anyone found working on Saturday (Exodus 35:2)?

"It is with no small irony that gay Christians are accused of cherry-picking their way through Scripture," writes Roste. "Every twenty-first-century Christian does - and what's more, we all should! It's unfortunate many conservatives conveniently ignore three decades of recent Biblical scholarship because it doesn't conform to their preconceived ideas about human sexuality. Literalists fail to hear the Word behind the words of Scripture ... Hear the truth of the Spirit behind the literal words of Scripture: mankind was not made for marriage, but marriage for mankind (see Mk 2:27).""Scripture can be compared to a stream of living water - some parts are eddies, standing pools, or tributaries, but there is a main current of thought from one end to the other - the story of God's love for all humanity, exemplified through mercy, liberation, and justice. The central current is what matters. People who insist on the contemporary relevance of the biblical texts pertinent to homosexuality are majoring in the minors; they completely miss the main point of Scripture."
Vaughn Roste

Roste believes that same-sex marriage helps to align faith communities to the "main current of Scripture": love.

"The God in whom I believe refuses to be constricted to a book, or even the revelation of God in a single human being. I cannot believe that the Bible is God's last and final word to humanity if I also believe that God still speaks to us today ... For Christians who believe that God is ultimately in control of the world, we always need to consider that the changes we see around us in society might be the hand of God at work. The Church should not have a strictly adversarial relationship with the world if God is speaking to us daily through it."

Vaughn Roste believes in his God's ability to share His word "afresh to each new generation". Roste's work, within the Lutheran Church and beyond, exemplifies how same-sex marriage can make a positive contribution within faith communities, when they are ready to accept the gift."The God in whom I believe refuses to be constricted to a book ... I cannot believe that the Bible is God's last and final word to humanity if I also believe that God still speaks to us today."
Vaughn Roste

"Our generation has one crucial question to ask itself," Roste says. "Are we going to be inclusive and exemplary of God's unconditional love - or not?"


What you can do

  • Write to, or phone, Canada's Prime Minister and Justice Minister, and Members of Parliament in support of equal marriage.
  • Write to homophobic leaders of faith communities in your area, denouncing faith-based bigotry.
  • If your faith community is homophobic, withhold your financial support. Instead of dropping money in the collection plate, leave a note explaining your position.
  • Support gay-positive organizations and faith communities.

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