Why have we let those calling for a required celibacy rule for gay and lesbian rostered leaders claim that tradition and scripture is on their side? Luther was so convinced that requiring priests to take a vow of celibacy was against the gospel (On Monastic Vows), that he left his own personal sexual rigidity and chose to get married to make a political point.
Our confessions outline how congregations should call pastors in defiance of Bishops who try to require celibacy (Smalcald Articles - followed today by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries). Our tradition tells us that voting to allow Bishops to require pastors to be celibate (even if it is only applied to some people in a few places) is against the gospel.
What would Luther do? Not only would he vote against the sexuality task force’s recommendations, if it passed he would actively disobey the rule and help pastors get married. Luther responded to the local option of his time by playing matchmaker and helping monks and nuns marry each other.
Some may argue that Luther would not do the same thing with same-sex marriages , that he did with opposite-sex ones? Again, when we look to history it is clear that Luther was just as convinced that marriage was a matter to be decided by civil authorities, not churches. Not only that, Luther argued that we should follow the most liberal marriage policies (which at the time came from Turkey) when he gave advice to people about their marriages.
When a marriage was outside of Luther’s comfort zone, he still counseled people that it was better to marry than to get divorced. From a traditional standpoint, I find it curious that our church welcomes divorced people to be fully present at both sides of the communion table, and yet has yet to do the same for gay and lesbians.
I firmly believe that if our church stopped worrying about opinion polls and church fractures, if we stopped letting majority votes decide the fate of minorities, if we truly looked into the traditions of our church the answer about what to do about gay and lesbian pastors who be clear.
Lutheran (True) Confessions:*
First, I confess that I am a divorced pastor, in a committed same-sex partnership who lives in a state that currently is unable to recognize same-sex marriages (as of 5/5/09). So I write this, like all other Lutherans live simultaneously as both a saint and a sinner, grateful daily for the promise of my baptism that allows me to “sin boldly and believe more boldly still.”
For those who will discount my writings by saying that I am only trying to justify my own life I say this: As a lifelong Lutheran, I know that there is nothing I can do, say or write that could ever justify my life; I am saved by grace, through my faith in Jesus. On one level, my life could have been much easier if I acted straight, or decided not to be an ordained minister. Yet on a deeper level, as Luther once proclaimed, “here I stand, I can do no other.” Thankfully, I am blessed with a God(dess) whose love is so much bigger than my sexuality and gender (Romans 8:38) and I pray that God(dess) will forgive any typos or false theology.
Second, I confess that, like the tradition of Martin Luther, my writings are politically motivated. Despite having been a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) my whole life, I am unable to cast a vote to change the policy that will decide my own fate. My refusal to make a vow of celibacy has meant that I cannot be on the official roster of the church. Ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries I am allowed access only to the visitors section of churchwide assembly (the armed guards keep me from violating this restriction). Synodically, as a pastor called by ELCA congregations, I am given voice, but no vote. There too I am required to sit in the “visitors” section – a rule I happily break every year to sit with members of my calling congregations.
So dear reader, if you are someone with voice and vote in the ELCA, I implore you to speak for me and the other silenced minorities whose fate you will be taking a majority voting on.
Third confession, Luther’s writing is a bit messier than I have made it seem. Luther does write about same-sex sexual relationships and he calls them unnatural. The reason is deeply rooted in misogyny and sexism. Stated bluntly, Luther believed that men are for thinking and women are for making babies (Luther’s Works 54: Table Talk Recorded by Veit Deitrich No 55.). Thus, effeminate men, and women taking on the “role of a man” (hetero or homo) are unnatural.
A similar word in Romans that some translators translate “homosexuality” is more correctly translated by Luther as “effeminacy” (Luther’s Works 25: Lectures on Romans) – same issue. Yet, we would never go around complaining that God(dess) has abandoned all effeminate people (though Early Christians and our Lutheran tradition did). Contemporary Lutherans need to reject both Luther’s misogyny and sexism and the heterosexism that comes out of it.
And while I'm talking about confession and forgiveness, I believe we should also confess our failure as a Lutheran church to follow the gospel sooner and for the devastating affect it has had on the lives of gay and lesbian pastors, lay people and their friends and family for decades.