Lutherans Reap the Whirlwind

An ill wind blew through Minneapolis on Wednesday – a tornado, actually – one that even took forecasters by surprise. The twister damaged buildings on the south side of the city, including a Lutheran church and the roof of the Minneapolis Convention Center where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is holding its Assembly.

The twister struck around 2 p.m., just as the Assembly was getting down to the business of voting on its social statement on human sexuality. Minneapolis minister and blogger John Piper sees the two events as related:

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. While Piper thinks it’s bad theology to fully accept LGBT people into the Lutheran tradition, it can certainly be less of a stretch to brand his idea that a tornado is a “gentle but firm” warning from God the ELCA as downright evil theology. First, I can think of a lot of things that God might be angry with the human race about: war, famine, denial of healthcare to those who need it most, murder, rape, the depletion of the earth’s resources, greed, gluttony, and the sheer indifference of most of the world to the suffering and poverty of the rest of the world. However, I don’t see God sending daily tornadoes as a “gentle but firm” reminder that we are to love and care for those around us.

Instead, God only sends winds of destruction when we start talking about sex. That, to my mind, makes God a pervert of sorts – letting us engage in an orgy of hatred, violence, and neglect of one another without so much as a breeze – but let us start talking about welcoming people with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity into God’s church, and God goes and gets his hurricane force winds on. What kind of God is that, anyway? Certainly not one that deserves any love, honor, or respect.

If this was a warning from God, the ELCA didn’t hear it – or they deeply understand it when the Bible says that God is not in the whirlwind, but instead in the still, small voices that seek full inclusion in God’s realm. By a two-thirds margin, they affirmed the social statement on human sexuality that Piper incorrectly states would decide whether non-celibate gays and lesbians can be ordained pastors in the ELCA. The ministry pronouncement that does address that question will be voted on later.

The human sexuality document, meanwhile, is a tepid testament to much ballyhooed, but ultimately ineffectual church councils. It affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman and simply outlines all the different beliefs around homosexuality (that some say it’s wrong and some say it’s right) and urges Lutherans to stop throwing chairs at each other over the issue. So, it’s simply an acknowledgement that people disagree on this issue and we should all get along, with the help of God. Yawn. So much for bold statements from the ELCA.

If the ELCA wants to see how to make a bold statement on human sexuality, they need to check out the UCC statement from its 2005 Synod where it gave its unqualified support to marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Launch another council and study this statement – then you’ll know what it looks like to take a bold stand for God’s unconditional love of all in the world. They may also want to study the Episcopal Church’s recent decision to trash its de facto moratorium on gay and lesbian bishops. That’s another example of a church boldly becoming society’s headlights instead of always being the taillights.

The ELCA does have a chance to make that bold statement as they take up the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies before the week is through. Here is where they get a chance to either affirm God’s call to gay and lesbian ministers or toss them under the ecclesiastical bus like they’ve done for so many years.

If they embrace their LGBT ministers, the winds may get rough as opponents huff and puff and try to blow the ELCA house down over it. But I expect the all loving God to simply blow a gentle kiss to the ELCA for expanding its circle of love and mercy.