With Dr. Bruce Hartung
This month’s “Pressure Points” has to do with comments (in bold) of a veteran pastor, along with my “answer” to him, as follows:
“Over my many years as an LCMS pastor, I’ve been involved with the lives [of] individual parishioners who have been gay, lesbian, or questioning their sexual identity, … and [their] families. I wonder what LCMS pastor hasn’t, assuming that families have felt safe revealing this information.
I have been grieved to see our Synod publicly portraying these members as ‘other’ and their lives as unacceptable. I’ve heard that some of us find this position attracting new members, especially from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but I’ve found great hurt among gays and their families in our own fellowship.
I feel our church body offers pastors in my situation little support, instead encouraging unhealthy shame and secrecy, not just in families who need our pastoral care, but even among fellow pastors. Surely I can’t be alone in this experience.”
A: You are most certainly not alone. It is good, right, and salutary to remember that while the issues of sexuality are discussed among us, often as a theological and general principle, the implications of our discussion extend into the very heartbeat of the actual lives of people — baptized children of God — in our congregations and beyond.
No one redeemed by Christ is an “other.” We all share a sinful condition, the reality of missing the mark on a daily basis, and our fleeing to the arms of Christ in our repentance and His forgiving action.
To have one eye on God’s Word and another eye on the “book of the flock” (to use a quotation from J.H.C. Fritz’s Pastoral Theology) is crucial. But it is the Word that finally must carry the day.
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ … At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin'” (John 8:3-11).
I think this passage calls on us all to engage in conversations in a spirit of humility and repentance, remembering that we are all sinners. I also think that this passage calls on us to leave our lives of sin.
So what do we do when one member of the body of Christ believes another member is living in sin? I think the biblical witness is clear: we approach them in a spirit of humility and in an understanding that each of us stands before God without one plea, except that Christ’s blood was shed for us. We may very well hold our ground on the basis of how we have read the Scripture and accept its authority, but never in arrogance or anger, nor in focusing on one sin as more damning than another.
I am moved by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s following remarks in Life Together:
“To forego self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself as the greatest of sinners. … If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible. Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no apology whatsoever” (p. 96).
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted March 25, 2010