by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick
What are we in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to make of actions taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that express acceptance of certain homosexual relationships?
The ELCA’s national convention, known as its Churchwide Assembly, voted in August to open the ELCA’s ministry to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional church workers who are living in “committed relationships.” In another action, the assembly approved a resolution that commits the ELCA “to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
By contrast, our Synod repeatedly has affirmed as its own position the historical understanding of the Christian church that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as “intrinsically sinful.” Such behavior is therefore contrary to the will of the Creator and constitutes sin against God’s commandments (see Lev. 18:22, 24, 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9–20; 1 Tim 1:9–10; and Rom. 1:26, 27).
Late in the ELCA’s assembly, I brought to them greetings from our Synod and addressed their decisions regarding homosexual behavior:
“I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies.
“The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word.”
About a week after the close of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, I was in Seoul, Korea, for the biennial conference of the International Lutheran Council, an international association of 34 confessional Lutheran churches of which the Missouri Synod is a member. The ILC also addressed this issue, adopting unanimously a statement that said, in part, “Rooted in the Bible’s witness and in keeping with Christian teaching through 2,000 years, we continue to believe that the practice of homosexuality—in any and all situations— violates the will of the Creator God and must be recognized as sin.”
We must not—and do not—stop there, however. We in the Missouri Synod also affirm what the ILC statement goes on to say: “At the same time, we declare our resolve to approach those with homosexual inclinations with the deepest possible Christian love and pastoral concern, in whatever situation they may be living. Though we affirm the demands of God’s Law without reservation, we Christians confess that the sins of the world have been forgiven through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.
“As the redeemed children of God, we lead our lives as ‘saints and sinners’ at the same time. We hope for full renewal and sanctification, but realize that these hopes are not completely fulfilled in this life. This applies to countless temptations. Our sinful condition calls for a lifetime of prayer and struggle. Confession and absolution provide a welcome refuge to receive the Lord’s forgiveness, which He also offers through His Word and the Sacraments. This enables us to continue our personal struggles to live a God-pleasing life in the power of the Spirit.”
As I told the ELCA assembly, it is only by God’s mercy that there is hope for any of us poor, miserable sinners. May His message of sin and grace, Law and Gospel, resound to a troubled world so desperately in need of His love in Jesus Christ!