Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland, President of the Word Alone Network, a Lutheran grassroots network of congregations and individuals committed to the authority of the Word manifest in Jesus the Christ as proclaimed in Scripture and safeguarded through the work of the Holy Spirit, has written an interesting piece about the present debate in the ELCA over homosexuality.
In "Forgive sin or un-sin it?" Pastor Egland expresses some thoughts that I have had about the issue of homosexuality. Pastor Egland writes:
Though it is not popular or palatable the church needs to ask, "Is homosexual behavior a sin or not?" The sin question is ours to ask and ours to come to a position of clarity on. To avoid asking it serves no one, especially not God.
Turning to the Word of God first and then to our history as a church, our tradition, our past and present policies and then further considering society's historic understanding and its current conversations, opposing sides may be able to come to agreement that what the church is being asked to do --in blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining practicing homosexuals --is something completely new and without precedent or support biblically, historically or traditionally. I would proffer that the new thing the church is being asked to do is to "un-sin" sin. The church is also being asked to accept an alternative to where we find our identity. Is our identity in Christ alone or in something or somewhere else like one's sexuality?
A quick glance or an intense study of the scriptures reveals that Jesus was all about the recognition of sin and sinners and the forgiveness thereof. We are reminded that even in his healing ministry Jesus did not say, "Take up your mat and walk" but rather "Your sins are forgiven." Jesus did not ignore sin or embrace it; he forgave it and embraced repentant, forgiven sinners of all kinds. What happens if the church that bears his name goes into the business of un-sinning sin rather than forgiving it? Is it any longer a church at that point? What happens to the confession of sin and absolution? Are some required to confess while others demand theirs be accepted and even embraced? Why not just un-sin them also? Though the questions may sound harsh and are by nature difficult to deal with they need to be asked, and soon.
We face the possibility this August of a few more than 1,000 voting members representing only their own consciences making a top-down decision that unravels the entire tapestry of biblical and historical ministry of healing, forgiveness and salvation that makes us a church of Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified, died and was raised from the dead to forgive us of our sins and give us eternal life with him. Jesus didnt die to embrace your self-identity or redefine or un-sin your sin. Though we are tempted to identify ourselves today as enlightened, post-modern and advanced in every way -- beyond the first disciples, the early church fathers and the reformers of the past -- we need to reconsider our identity within the limitless nature of the cross and the empty tomb as life-changing events on every level, for all people and for all time. Changing lives through forgiveness, healing and the promise of life eternal is Jesus' "business" and the only reason for the church to exist.
Before I go any further, let me clearly make a disclaimer: when I am talking about the homosexual issue, I am not in any manner speaking for every member of the Christian CADRE. While I know that some members agree with my views, others don't and what I say should be attributed to me (BK) only.
I think that Pastor Egland makes a great point. I don't think that the language of the Bible can point to anything other than a clear, unequivocal condemnation of sin. At the same time, it is clear that Jesus interacted with sinners and did not (to my recollection) tell anyone that they could not be welcomed in the kingdom. Thus, there will always be a tension in the church about dealing with sinners of all types. Some, focusing on Jesus' forgiveness ("God's radical love" as my present pastor would say) argue that we are to preach God's love and forgiveness to all and not tell others that they are sinners since that may separate them from God. Others say that until a person recognizes and confesses their sin, they are the type of unrepentant sinner that Jesus condemned in the persons of the Pharisees, and to not preach sin first is to condemn people to remaining in their sin.
Regardless, both sides should be able to agree with Egland's perspective on the history of the Christian church. It has been a church that has a ministry of "healing, forgiveness and salvation." If we un-sin sin, isn't that taking away the very basis of the Gospel?
Of course, I have so far begged the question of whether homosexuality is a sin. But I have done so purposefully because I think that if we were talking about any other issue other than homosexuality that the church has historically understood as sin, there would be little question that Pastor Egland is right. If the church suddenly started saying "okay, you steal for a living and think there is nothing wrong with that -- that's okay because we are no longer going to recognize that as a sin," almost everyone in the church would find that ridiculous. Thus, Pastor Egland's point is valid if homosexuality is a sin.
Is homosexuality a sin? Personally, given the Biblical texts and 2,000 years of church history as a guide, I have never heard a convincing argument that it is not. But the issue is still being debated so I will not make a dogmatic assertion here despite strong feelings that my position is correct. Regardless, I agree with Dr. Egland that this issue needs to be hashed out soundly rather than buried under a pile of rhetoric (as the ELCA has done in its "Journey Together Faithfully" series). And above all we must all recognize that regardless of whether homosexuality is a sin, Christians are called to love all people and share with them the good news of the Gospel.