I celebrate with my colleagues in the ELCA the momentous decision your denomination has made in accepting gay and lesbian clergy for pastoral leadership in your church. Finally, these folks can now openly fulfill their call to pastoral leadership. I believe that in doing so you honor the biological reality of creation as well as the message of the Gospel.
At the same time I encourage you to be patient with those who are opposed or undecided about this decision. The experience of the United Church of Christ is that it takes time to make a major shift in one's thinking about such an important issue. Our denomination provided well-documented papers and study guides to pastors and church members and encouraged study and discussion in order to make a well-informed decision. It sometimes took years before some congregations could reach a decision that was adequately influenced by Scripture, tradition and reason. Good information is available on your elca.org, as well as the Episcopal and UCC Web sites.
As a pastoral counselor, I believe the Gospel message is all about relationships. This issue is about relationships. Can we be in relationship with our pastor or church member whose sexual orientation may be different from our own without insisting that they change or leave? Two pieces of Scripture have become increasingly important for me as I approach the end of a career that involves the study and application of both behavioral health and theology. Both are relevant to the gay/lesbian/straight issue.
The first is 1 John 4:16, "God is love." If God is love, and if love is about relationship, then God is about relationship. I believe we make the very image of God visible in how we function in every relationship, in the quality of all our relationships. To judge another based on sexual orientation is not a loving act.
There is an often-repeated argument that goes, "Of course gays and lesbians are welcome here - as long as they remain celibate. Certainly, I accept the person but I cannot accept the sexual act." That is a limited partial acceptance, not acceptance of the whole person.
The second is Matthew 22: 34-40. When asked, "Which commandment is greatest," Jesus responded that we should love God and love your neighbor as yourself, this is the very heart of the law. Beyond loving God, I suggest this passage carries two important considerations for all of us. Love neighbor as you would yourself. I will respect the sexual orientation of my neighbor as I expect my neighbor to respect mine. Respect does not include "cut and run."
The second consideration of this passage is that Jesus appears to be rethinking the law, just as many are being called to re-think the issue of sexual orientation. He narrowed the number of commandments from 10 to two. In his time, to re-think the law, the very core of the Jewish faith was an unheard of high-risk venture. He made a decision as to just what the heart of the Gospel is all about, love/relationship, in order that we might move toward the well-being of all creation.
For many, to shift one's thinking on this issue challenges "the very core of their belief" regarding human nature. Jesus provides a model here. I suspect his process for arriving at this conclusion was not simply an emotional one. He would have had to search the Scriptures, many containing conflicting statements, consider tradition, and use prayer and his intellect to reach such a conclusion. I believe we are all called to do the same.
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