A Letter from the Faculty of LSTC

 
 
[1] During the current church-wide discussion about the ELCA statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” and the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies” we, the undersigned members of the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, remember Paul’s advice to our Christian community:

 

“There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

 

We also offer the following considerations as members of the ELCA prepare to vote on the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies.”

[2] As a confessional church, the Lutheran community affirms the normative authority of Scripture and tradition. Lutherans also insist that Christ and the gospel are the hermeneutical key for interpreting both Scripture and tradition. The gospel, which always points us to Christ, is, therefore, the interpretative lens in light of which the biblical and theological heritage of the church must be understood, evaluated and affirmed. One of the realities that becomes apparent when we see Christ is that he consistently crossed religious and societal boundaries, reached out to the marginalized and modeled a radical ethic of love. We trust that Christ and his gospel now inspire God’s people to live in ways that are more consistent with the good news and with the example of Christ. Hence, they are free to be divine instruments of grace in the world because of Christ’s redemptive acts. They have been precisely that at particular moments throughout history when the Holy Spirit, by means of the gospel, has inspired faithful individuals and communities to see the Scriptures in a new light and to implement changes that have resulted in crucial theological, ecclesiastical and social reforms.

[3] Luther’s challenge of the medieval church’s distinction between the spiritual and temporal estates and his affirmation of the universal priesthood of the baptized, the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, the flowering of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, opposition to racism and apartheid, and support for the ordination of women are striking examples of theological, ecclesiastical and social changes inspired by the transformative power of the gospel.

[4] In our time, Christ and his message of grace empower the community of faith to understand specific scriptural passages differently than in the past, to change traditional ecclesiastical policies and practices, and to affirm sisters and brothers who share a common baptismal identity, who confess the same faith in Christ and whose call to ministry is an expression of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives. In recent times, the church has repented of interpretations of scripture that justified slavery, silenced women, oppressed people of color, and maligned the Jewish people. The crucial question before the church is not whether the current recommendation on ministry policies challenges long-standing scriptural interpretations and ecclesiastical practices. It obviously does. Rather, the ultimate question is whether the recommendation on ministry policies proclaims Christ [Christum treiben] and his message of grace more faithfully than older interpretations and practices. We, the faculty of LSTC, are convinced that it does and, therefore, support the approval of the recommendation.

[5] As academicians, the LSTC faculty is also in conversation with the research coming from biology, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary studies, and other disciplines that engage in gender and sexuality studies. This recent scholarship is clear that there are varieties of sexual orientations and gender identities; that these orientations, identities and relationships derive from a complex of cultural, historical and physical realities. The research alerts us to the precariousness of assigning to “nature” what culture and community construct. Categories of binary differentiation such as “male” or “female”, “heterosexual” or “homosexual” are historical and philosophical categories of great importance which nonetheless have minimal ontological status. As scholars, this faculty is and must be aware of this research which cautions us to be wary of the universality of binary sexual and gender classifications. Among many other things, that is why we must question many of the assumptions that are made in some of the circulated responses to the ELCA statements, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”, and the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies”—responses which depend on these problematic classifications of human experience and behavior.

[6] As a Lutheran community, part of the body of Christ, we also share with you our experience of Christ’s refreshing spirit in our seminary community. Here at LSTC, we have been blessed by lively and faithful conversations with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender students and pastors in our midst about matters of sexuality, gender identity, and committed relationships to human partners and God. We see firsthand the hope, the pain, and the joy in these conversations. While we do not always agree with each other, we discover Christ’s spirit in this fellowship. Deeply committed to our unity in Christ, we once were emboldened to ordain free and former slaves, whites together with peoples of color, women and men alike, to serve as pastors of the church. We must now broaden that circle to include a yet more full company of God’s children who confess the gospel and the lordship of Christ Jesus.

 

[7] The undersigned members of the LSTC faculty:

Klaus-Peter Adam

Terrence Baeder

Kathleen D. Billman

Raymond Pickett

José D. Rodrίguez

Craig Satterlee

Lea Schweitz


Michael Shelley

Benjamin Stewart

Rosanne Swanson 

Kurt Hendel

Ralph W. Klein

Esther Menn

Linda E. Thomas

Barbara Rossing

David Rhoads

Peter Vethanayagamony

Christine Wenderoth

Vítor Westhelle

We also refer to the Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA’ that can be found under http://prophetess.lstc.edu/~rklein/
 

© July 2009
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 9, Issue 7