Friday, May 24, 2019
Lutherans and. . . Lutherans
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.