Friday, May 24, 2019

Lutherans and. . . Lutherans

So often people on both sides insist that the differences among Lutherans in America are not that great, that it is a matter of degree more than substance, and that it is a matter of time, some being slower and others being quicker to embrace change.  All of these are true, to a certain degree, about some aspects of those differences.  Nowhere is that made more clear than in the recent Forum Letter when Editor Richard Johnson chronicles the sad story of the evolution of Visions and Expectations to Trustworthy Servants of the People of God.  Now you may expect me to jump upon the obvious -- that the ELCA ordains GLBTQ folks without question and Missouri does not.  Though this is a clear and profound difference, that is not what I wish to reference.  Instead, hidden in the language of the new document is a radical shift in understanding marriage and divorce.  I wish I could say that this is isolated to the ELCA, and, at least officially, it is.  In reality the soft underbelly of any Lutheran congregation is the fact that divorce is no longer treated with sadness, regret, or entered into with the greatest reluctance.  It has become normal.

In V & E (of clergy), marriage is the normative relationship, established by God, and divorce is a reflection of sin, to be reluctantly allowed in some cases.  That evolved into an understanding in which divorce happens to the best of marriages.  In other words, any sense that divorce as something of great reluctance or regret is replaced with the simple reality that, hey, it happens.  Now, regardless of how often divorce happens or of who gets divorced, under it all the Church must maintain the Biblical model of family in which divorce is never normal but always met with the greatest regret and reluctance on the part of all.  When clergy no longer strive for or attempt to hold to the Biblical model of marriage and divorce, then they no longer reflect God to the people but all the brokenness and failings of the people to God.  It becomes like a threat to God.  This is the way things are so what are you going to do about it.  This is one difference between Lutheran groups.  Do the clergy strive to fulfill the Biblical model or do they settle instead to reflect the state of things about them?  Trustworthy Servants is clearly tilted away from the idea that clergy have a higher calling or that their marriages or divorces or have a duty or responsibility to reflect the Biblical shape of marriage and family.

One word is notably absent from the replacement for Vision and Expectations and that word is chaste (though to be accurate it appeared only twice in the previous document).  According to this new document (sent back for review but due out again by 2020), cohabitation is not good but there is no expectation or suggestion that sexual intimacy should be resisted or restrained until marriage.  Oh, to be sure, deepening levels of sexual intimacy should be accompanied by deepening levels of commitment (whatever that means) but it is clear that the idea that any clergy could be expected to restrain their sexual impulses is not only quaint but unrealistic.  That is the point.  The document to replace the 1990 version of that churches expectations of pastors was rejected not because it went too far but because it did not go far enough.  The first casualty of this war on Biblical morality is the word chaste.  Now Missouri has kept the word (at least in its catechism) but we do not talk nearly enough about the expectation of chastity to single and fidelity to married.  Though this is uniformly applied to straight and gay, the ELCA clearly finds it not only sexist but impossible.  In Missouri, we tend to avoid such blunt talk simply because it offends.  It is not that we no longer believe it but that we are not sure it will sell in the pews and so we pay lip service to this truth without actually raising up these standards for actual consideration and practice by both clergy and lay.

While I do not believe Missouri's future will involve following the ELCA's example in regularizing GLBTQ relationships within the clergy and the church, I cannot but notice that when it comes to fidelity and chastity and the idea that clergy should be held to higher standards than lay, we are behind the ELCA in time and degree but we are heading in the same direction.  That is something worth noting and changing so that our practices reflect more consistently our confession.


Unknown said...

I've known divorced pastors in the LCMS. Why are they still ordained? Do the instructions to Timothy in the pastoral epistles no longer apply or are they only for the 1st century church? Another thing that has appalled me is that Lutheran pastors are ordained even before they are married. Ask yourselves an honest question: Do you really want your pastor at your church to be worried about his dating life while trying to guide his flock? And whom is he going to date? Some woman from the congregation? And if that doesn't work out, what happens to them? Does she leave that church because it's awkward or maybe even leave the Church? Is he asked to leave because of a perceived breach of trust? Do you really want a pastor hitting on women in the congregation? I hope the answer is no. Perhaps, the LCMS can look to the Orthodox as examples. Let the pastors marry, but only before ordination. If there is a divorce, laicize him.

Anonymous said...

While I do agree with the sentiments in this post, please let me offer another perspective. My daughter married a man who convinced her, and us, that he was utterly moral, Christian and very much a faithful man. Upon marriage, his true self came out: a raging alcholic, who abused her physically and emotionally terribly. After many horrible months of this abuse, she divorced him. And to add to this horror, he had convinced over a year of engagement that was very much a committed Christian, devoted to the same faith, eager to be her faithful husband, as an icon of Christ to her.

After many efforts to get him into counseling and solutions for his raging alcoholism and drug results. Only more abuse.

Would anyone be willing to tell me should have remained in marriage, suffering abuse?

Would you dare tell me that divorce was not in this case justified?

If you do, I will will simply invite you to the gates of hell itself for your idiocy.

Anonymous said...

In response to unknown who said some truly stupid things, a few years ago, when I was a single pastor, my District President said to me, "why is it always the married pastors who get caught in sexual misconduct? In all my years I have never been called to a congregation to deal with a single man who messed up sexually. It's always the married ones." I didn't really have an answer for him.