Jordan

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I posted this on Facebook (no, I won't add you to my Facebook, sorry) after a friend was bugging me about her upset regarding a recent ELCA decision to honor and respect (with the implication to allow) same-sex unions and to allow Gay and Lesbian pastors to be in committed relationships (non-celibate).

This is my opinion. It outlines parts of my personal belief. Think what you like, but you will respect my belief. Your interpretation may be different, and thus your opinion may be different, and I respect that not everyone reading this will agree. Try to keep the discussion on this subject and the essay itself and not branch into various other religious topics.

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I have been seeing a few people talk about this on their status updates and such, and I feel the need to make my opinion clearly known.

I greatly admire the ELCA's decision to support same-sex unions and the rights of Gay and Lesbian ministers in committed relationships. It takes a great deal of courage to go against the social norms, and in the Church at large, the social norm is one greatly against that of Gays and Lesbians. It would be one thing for an advocacy group to make such a statement, but in an organization of such variety and difference of opinions, this measure is truly extraordinary.

Richard Mahan, an ELCA minister in West Virginia, recently made this statement for TIME magazine, "I can't believe the church I loved and served for 40 years can condone what God condemns." This statement made me think hard about our roles in the temporal church and about the last part of Mahan's statement.

God's condemnation of homosexuality would stem from back to Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities which God destroyed for their depravity. Among their acts, sexual violence such as homosexual gang rapes, adultery, cruelty to strangers, and various other things. When reading the text, I found it lacking in indication that Sodom and Gomorrah was truly a haven for homosexuality as we know it, but rather it was used as a method for control and power (in the aforementioned gang rapes).

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah takes place in the Old Testament, in Genesis in fact, and is a prime example (with the City of Nineveh being another) of how God punished those who strayed in those days. Abraham was charged with finding just 10 righteous men in that city, and could not, and thus the city's destruction was sealed.

Many parts of the Old Testament are replete with God's condemnation of societies or civilizations, or acts. Leviticus lays down laws for the Hebrew people of the era, and Exodus delivers God's own Ten Commandments to the exiled Hebrews from Egypt. God's appearance and influence on the early peoples was frightening and esoteric, guaranteeing that His followers would adhere to His guidelines while they were still a young nation.

I believe much of how God was portrayed in the Old Testament was due to two factors. Firstly, the fact that the Old Testament was recorded by scholars, priests and pharisees, who had as much in mind of the Hebrew people's wellbeing as their own personal and financial successes. And while much of what was written is no doubt true to the message intended for the Old Testament, I can't help but doubt that the actual words and language used could have been modified over centuries (and given that the Priests and Pharisees were the only ones with access, only they would know about it) to suit the needs of the priest class.

The second would be, that the Hebrew people were a religiously immature people. Abraham was a citizen of Ur, a city which practiced polytheism, a belief in many gods. There were gods for aspects of nature, aspects of life, even specific gods for acts (like fertility or war). Monotheism was a strange and bold adventure, and many converts may have found the familiar aspects of their former religion lacking. Furthermore, the Hebrew people were subjected to centuries of enslavement in Egypt, another center of polytheism focused on the belief of their monarch, the Pharaoh, being a god himself. Emerging from that culture would have been a shock to a people who were all but forced to assimilate and move their practices out of sight and even sometimes underground.

As the religious maturity of the Hebrew people grew, and their trials strengthened them, they were able to handle the message given to us by Jesus Christ, the message of the New Testament. The tenants of 'love your neighbor as yourself' and 'love your enemies' would have been foreign to the early Hebrews, and the concept that 'just as you do to the least of those, you do unto [Jesus]' would have been downright dangerous. It still was in his time. Jesus was persecuted, tortured, and killed by terrified Pharisees, convinced that he was a threat to their way of life.

The ideas of the Old Testament, the trials one must endure and the sacrifices one must make, gave way to the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus taught us that belief in God was the only requirement to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and to be with God. Later, Paul taught us that even beleif was unnecessary, for the grace of God was so powerful that He would accept any of us, no matter what. As Paul wrote, neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Hell, thus, would have to be separation from God, and as such could not exist except in the own Hells that we create for ourselves by separating ourselves from God. Such would not affect God's love for us, nor his grace.

God's grace is so powerful, so majestic, that He sent a son, a child of His own embodiment, to us. Jesus lived and walked among us for his life, teaching all he met; his parents, his friends, even strangers and enemies. To this day, through written word, he teaches us still. And by the grace of God, Jesus was meant to burden all the sins of society, all the evils one can imagine and beyond, and to die. And still, God's grace is unending, for Jesus did not die permanently, but rose as an example to all of us, that we can all enjoy the resurrection and eternal paradise with God after this life.

I would ponder the parallel to a human parent. A human parent of either one or many children has many things in common with God. Both have created, have reveled in their creation, and have experienced the joy and pain of their creations exercising free will. Ask a parent if they love their child, and their answer must surely be 'yes'. Ask a parent what they would do for their child, and the answer must surely be 'anything'. But corrupt that child, turn him into a murderer, a rapist, a thief. What would that parent say then? Do they condone their child's actions? One would expect not. Do they still love their child? One would expect so. And then one must ask, what would that parent still do for their child? I do not believe it is possible for there to be any other answer, for the bond between creator and creation is so powerful, that the answer must be 'anything'.

Just like human parents, so God is like our parent. When we believe and when we act as He has taught us, we are loved and are provided with whatever we need. But when we are evil and turn away from God, we are still loved and provided with our needs. We should not expect it, we should not deserve it, but we still receive, and that is possible by God's grace alone. Even if we are the scourge of the world, a murder and rapist, a conniver of schemes, a conqueror of unending malevolence, we are still a child of God, and we cannot escape His grace. We cannot truly die.

And so I return to the contemplation of the temporal church. A church ministered by imperfect beings, ministering to imperfect beings, in an imperfect world that faith and religion tries to make sense out of. Why hunger and rape and torture and war and evil is allowed to exist, can only be answered by God. But only to God can it truly matter, only to God can any sin truly matter. For there is no distinction in sin. Looking at another's body is no worse than stealing from a bank, both are sins. And we have all committed sin, for I'm sure nobody can say they have not checked out another person of interest.

So I must ask, who are we, as imperfect beings, to judge others as imperfect? In our society and law, a judge must be impartial, and we are far from impartial judges. We lust, we kill, we steal, we rape, we worship other deities like money and power, we destroy and fail to create, and we deny love. This and more are the crimes of humanity. We do not deserve to exist, and yet we do. We exist because our creator is so gracious, is so benevolent that He cares for us, loves us, even when we sin. Even when we turn against Him.

Does God condemn homosexuality? Perhaps. Do we? A better question would be: can we? Can we be gods to other humans, superior and perfect above them? No. The temporal church is a facsimile, a shell of what is truly waiting for us. It can try to judge, it can try to teach, it can try to control. But it's judgement is flawed, its teachings incomplete and its control impossible. Only God can truly judge, truly teach, truly control.

What other course is there for us, but to follow God's commandments. Summarized by Jesus, we must love our neighbors and enemies as ourselves, and love God. Two simple rules, yet so complex in their intricacies. Must we love our neighbors, even if they commit wrongs? Even if they commit sins that we know are evil against God? Yes. But we are human, and it is difficult for us to follow. We create prejudices, and discriminate, we treat those who are different as inferior. We deny and condemn, and we set up rules for ourselves such as 'murder is wrong' or 'homosexuality is wrong'.

They may be indeed, but that is for God to judge and not for us. We rationalize and we make excuses. 'Murdering would eventually lead to the end of our race' we say, and so we justify our laws. Homosexuality could reduce our population, and it's different. We justify ourselves with those thoughts, and with the ideas that God Himself has condemned it. But who are we to carry out God's sentences? Are we the executioners? Nay, we are the gardeners, the caretakers of this creation. We have no more right to pass judgement as a dog has. It is, thus, our duty to follow the commandments set forth by God through His son, Jesus, and love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves. We must respect our fellow human beings, although they may be different in height, ethnicity, skin tone, eye color, weight, gender, belief, language, sexuality, personality, nationality, values, attire, gait and whatever else.

I contend that the ELCA is justified in this policy, and right to enact it. By doing so, they are merely following God's commandment to love our neighbors and enemies, and treating those of different sexuality just as they would treat themselves. With respect and tolerance. This should be the expected behavior of all churches and of all peoples. The ELCA is just the first major church to make this proclamation, and if God's teachings are really true, it cannot be the last.

So to the ELCA, I say: "Bravo!"

 

Andre Vienne

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I agree with the sentiments expressed in the article, and am glad that some religious organizations are starting to come around to the noncrazy side of the fence.

Though, I will admit that when it got to the theology part, my eyes glazed over and I felt a large amount of tl;dr. But that's probably because I find most attempts at apologetics to be tedious. Still, good work.

 

LtStorm

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Good to see some religious organizations are finally accepting the world as it is, rather than what they want to force it to be.

I do have another course to offer;

Forget what bronze-age goat herders wrote about and said needed to be done based on their perceptions of the world.

Embrace humanism, and accept that the objective morals we follow are self-evident, and don't require a set of stone tablets carved with them to follow.  Get rid of those tablets and you keep the morals intended by them without the baggage of the thousands of pages of useless drivel, parables that no longer apply to the world, and outright counterintuitive suggestions for society.

 

Bunny

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And while much of what was written is no doubt true to the message intended for the Old Testament, I can't help but doubt that the actual words and language used could have been modified over centuries (and given that the Priests and Pharisees were the only ones with access, only they would know about it) to suit the needs of the priest class.

I struggle with that a lot. I honestly had a long time where I was so livid about it I couldnt even look at my bible.

I'll post a topic with an excerpt later :).

The second would be, that the Hebrew people were a religiously immature people. Abraham was a citizen of Ur, a city which practiced polytheism, a belief in many gods. There were gods for aspects of nature, aspects of life, even specific gods for acts (like fertility or war). Monotheism was a strange and bold adventure, and many converts may have found the familiar aspects of their former religion lacking. Furthermore, the Hebrew people were subjected to centuries of enslavement in Egypt, another center of polytheism focused on the belief of their monarch, the Pharaoh, being a god himself. Emerging from that culture would have been a shock to a people who were all but forced to assimilate and move their practices out of sight and even sometimes underground.

Could that be the real reason we have the "ghost, son, and holy spirit" instead of just "god"?

So I must ask, who are we, as imperfect beings, to judge others as imperfect?

Devils advocate: Wouldnt we then be the perfect judge? We would be more understanding. Isnt that the whole point of having peers on jury duty?

I would hope, should I ever stand trial for something, that the people of the Jury were not well off and perfect, but rather had lead a life similar to mine and would be more understanding.

With that said, I've never judged or hated a person. I only ever judge behaviours, feelings, emotions, actions, thoughts....never the soul behind them.....but in doing so I place myself in their shoes as best I can and try to understand the situation first.

I contend that the ELCA is justified in this policy, and right to enact it. By doing so, they are merely following God's commandment to love our neighbors and enemies, and treating those of different sexuality just as they would treat themselves. With respect and tolerance. This should be the expected behavior of all churches and of all peoples. The ELCA is just the first major church to make this proclamation, and if God's teachings are really true, it cannot be the last.

So to the ELCA, I say: "Bravo!"

WELL SAID!! :D

 

Jordan

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The second would be, that the Hebrew people were a religiously immature people. Abraham was a citizen of Ur, a city which practiced polytheism, a belief in many gods. There were gods for aspects of nature, aspects of life, even specific gods for acts (like fertility or war). Monotheism was a strange and bold adventure, and many converts may have found the familiar aspects of their former religion lacking. Furthermore, the Hebrew people were subjected to centuries of enslavement in Egypt, another center of polytheism focused on the belief of their monarch, the Pharaoh, being a god himself. Emerging from that culture would have been a shock to a people who were all but forced to assimilate and move their practices out of sight and even sometimes underground.

Could that be the real reason we have the "ghost, son, and holy spirit" instead of just "god"?

It certainly could be! Although, if you think about it, the concept of the Trinity is far more difficult than having a trio of gods.

So I must ask, who are we, as imperfect beings, to judge others as imperfect?

Devils advocate: Wouldnt we then be the perfect judge? We would be more understanding. Isnt that the whole point of having peers on jury duty?

I would hope, should I ever stand trial for something, that the people of the Jury were not well off and perfect, but rather had lead a life similar to mine and would be more understanding.

With that said, I've never judged or hated a person. I only ever judge behaviours, feelings, emotions, actions, thoughts....never the soul behind them.....but in doing so I place myself in their shoes as best I can and try to understand the situation first.

I would have to go back to the adage, "Don't throw stones at your neighbor's windows if your own are made of glass."

Or go back to John 8, which begins with the story of the adulterous woman. The woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus by the scribes and pharisees, who tested him by telling him that the law of Moses commanded them to stone the woman for her offense. He told them "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" and the scribes and pharisees left. Once they had done so, Jesus absolved her of her sins, for there was no one left to condemn her.

In such a way, we, too, have no power to condemn others who have committed sins. Not according to God. We may think we do, our Earthly laws may purport to give us authority over Earthly lives to sentence to prison or labor or to death. But we cannot judge someone's soul, only God can do that. Only God truly has the authority to judge someone for their sins. Do we deny someone the happiness of marriage just to get a false sense of power over their mortal lives? Or the privilege of ministry? And while those Gay and Lesbian couples do not need the ELCA to tell them that their marriage is valid or that they can practice ministry at all, it does give a substantial amount of weight and credibility in our current society when a major religious organization throws itself behind the tenants of marriage and priesthood for any and all.

 

Andre Vienne

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"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." sounds like a good plan, until you get to crimes like, say, murder. Which, it may be the Christian thing to do to allow people to murder, pillage, etc. and get away thinking they're right with their deity, but the rest of the world that doesn't adhere to that sort of bullshit isn't buying it.

 



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