Monday, October 27, 2008

Clergy say "Vote NO on prop 8!"

Last week, clergy and religious leaders from a variety of traditions came together on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to speak out against California proposition 8, a proposed constitutional amendment which would alter the state constitution to strip the right of marriage from same-sex couples. The reasons for opposing proposition 8 varied from making a clear moral and theological argument, to simply stating that there is more than one religious perspective on this issue, to rejecting the government's attempt to tell religious communities who they can and can't marry.

I was particularly pleased to see a strong Lutheran turn out, both among seminarians, laity, and ordained clergy. Perhaps most uplifting was seeing ELCA Bishop of Northern California and Nevada Mark Holmerud (the guy in the purple shirt) boldly denouncing proposition 8 and declaring his support of same-sex couples.

Lutheran clergy in southern California also speak out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Response to the Draft Social Statment on Human Sexuality

Last week about a third of the PLTS student body met to discuss the proposed sexuality statement. We had small group discussions, after which I spoke to many individuals. A common sentiment that I heard was that while people were comfortable with the theology of the statement, they felt it was poorly applied. In fact many people felt that this document should focus solely on the theology and refrain from attempting to apply it for every context in the denomination. As such, I have drafted a possible response. Please read it and comment on whether you feel it reflects the desire to separate the core theology of the document from the application. Also please comment on the language and phrasing used in the response.

A Response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

from the

Student Body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Having gathered together in communal discernment, the student body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary offers this response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality. We affirm the Draft’s foundational theological and ethical framework found in sections I-III as well as Section V’s call for people of faith to foster social trust. However, we feel that much of Section IV failed to follow from the framework set out in other sections of the document. Furthermore, having applauded the Draft’s insight that human sexuality is deeply shaped by social contexts (528-578), and its awareness that this country’s conventions of family structure and marriage were historically created (673-4, 1151-2), we were disappointed that much of Section IV attempted to define currently dominant standards of sexuality as normative for all people, particularly in the topics of commitment and sexuality, marriage, intimate sexual relations outside of marriage, and same-gender committed relationships.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America contains within it a multitude of social contexts with vastly divergent pastoral needs. Just as the one gospel of Christ inspires different communities to respond in praise in different ways, so too will a common theology of sexuality manifest itself differently in different communities. No one document will be able to adequately, or even responsibly, attempt to apply a theology of sexuality to every context. Instead, local communities should be encouraged and resourced to discuss and apply the theology to meet their own contextual needs. Section I seems acknowledge this, saying that the document offers “a foundational framework that will help [this church] discern what it means faithfully to follow God’s law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality” (27-9). We therefore propose the following changes to the Section IV of the Draft in order to separate what we see as the foundational theology from attempts to create a blanket application for that theology.

Section IV

  • Remove lines 950-990a. This subsection attempts to prescribe how trust should grow in relationships. We feel it is presumptuous to set out how something as personal is trust is developed in individual relationship, particularly by reducing it to what is essentially a mathematical formula. Furthermore, what is described did not speak to the experience of many members of the student body. We recommend that, just as for families, what be emphasized is not what form relationships take, but whether or not they provide safety, shield intimacy, and build trust (682-686). The manner in which this occurs will vary from context to context; the social statement should encourage individuals to discern how best to achieve this with the support of their communities.

  • Remove lines 996-1178. These subsections have two underlying problems. First, they universalize the particular cultural understanding of marriage as a life-long, legal, heterosexual, monogamous, and emotionally intimate relationship. Second, after stating that sexuality is fundamentally relational and an indelible feature of our very being, these sections imply that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is inappropriate, thereby making marriage the telos for all people (831, 840). Once again, we recommend that relationships be measured their ability to foster trust, not the form they take. Individuals should be encouraged to find communities of support and discernment for their relationships.

As communities apply this theology, we wish to emphasize two more aspects to guide their discernment.

  • Though these statements are already present, we recommend that the social statement further emphasize that this church will not tolerate any form of abuse or exploitation, as well as discrimination and exclusion because of a person’s sexual orientation or relationship status.

  • We recommend that the social statement further emphasize that all relationships are subject to the brokenness of sin and that therefore trust will always be violated in every relationship. As the church we are called to help individuals struggle through this reality, confronting brokenness when it appears, and seeking healthy reconciliation.