It seems to me that one of the most difficult things for Christians to do is to engage in dialogue over matters where there is disagreement, especially in matters related to faith. I’m going to use a recent comment on this blog to illustrate this and to attempt to engage in some dialogue, knowing in advance that I’ll make some mistakes, and it won’t be perfect. The article I wrote that the commenter responded to is here.
The quoted comments will be italicized and indented.
My comments will be in normal typeface.
Are you really a pastor or just pretending, because you make no sense at all.
I’m sorry that you didn’t understand. I was attempting some very short answers to complicated questions, and my shortcuts were likely too brief. Please, because we disagree or you don’t understand, don’t call into question my role in this church. Too often, we belittle those with whom we disagree or don’t understand. I’ll attempt to not belittle you.
The commenter then quotes my statement, and adds a comment.
“You see, the matter is that the ELCA is what the congregations determine it to be. It is not some monolithic entity” The ELCA is what happens to a denomination when they are of the world and not in the world. Our congregation could easily vote to reject the ELCA statements
and go with the flow and not make waves. What would the point be in belonging to the ELCA Club and paying dues to support someone elses agendas.
Once again, I apologize that I wasn’t clear. I’ll try to expand and be more clear. The ELCA is indeed a denomination, but since its inception, it has been described as being composed of three expressions; the congregation, the synod, and the churchwide. Most who are unhappy with the “ELCA” are focused only on part of the church, usually churchwide. What each congregation teaches and how it lives the Gospel helps shape what is the ELCA. As congregations decide to leave, they change the dynamic of what is the ELCA, which I think is a great loss to this church. Therefore, there is no such thing as “the ELCA Club”. The ELCA does not exist apart from the congregations of which it is made. The ELCA is not some independent “other”. Mission support is not paying “dues” but gathering together resources for shared ministry. Congregations have a responsibility to be engaged with one another because we are the ELCA.
I note that we wrestle with our role as parts of a body in many other ways too. I may disagree with the priorities of the local congregation (especially related to where we spend our resources), but still am engaged in sharing ministry with others. I will work to influence the priorities of congregational spending wherever I can, but ultimately, it is about something larger than me and what I hold to be important. Likewise, I share ministry with people who throw a few dollars into the offering plate every once in a while, even though I contribute enough that it makes a difference in how I have to budget other things in my household. I disagree strongly with their priorities, and yet, will work side by side with them to advance the ministry and mission of the congregation.
Because I have this perspective, I’m not as troubled by decisions of the ELCA which run counter to my specific priorities or my specific understanding of the center of scripture. Likewise, I’m not threatened by those congregations that in their context, make different choices than I make in my context. That does not mean for me that the ELCA is a denomination “of the world”. Your comment suggests to me that you believe that those who voted to approve controversial positions were not grounded in scripture. I listened carefully to the debate, and am convinced that there was appropriate attention to scripture from all sides, even the sides of the debate with which I disagree. What takes priority and what is the central message of the Gospel is different for different people. In some ways, it is similar to the differences between denominations. But from my perspective, these differences are not sufficient to cause a split. Clearly, you see that differently.
“Regarding abortion, the issue is not about knowing someone who has had an abortion but supporting a denomination that offers to pay for the murder of a child.
I agree that the question about abortion is not about knowing someone who has had an abortion. I apologize for being curt in my reply. Abortion is a passionate debate, one where there is little hope for dialogue. Passions run much too high. The commenter is opposed to the ELCA health plan paying for abortions. I probably agree, not having thought about it much. I’d simply ask that there be some discussion about what constitutes abortion for the commenter. Is the commenter against termination of any pregnancy, viable or not? How is that determined? I don’t know enough about all this. Then, as in guidance offered in many parts of scripture, one must weigh the “greater good”. That is not easy even from scripture. Remember, this is the scripture that advocates stoning of adulterers and disobedient children. It both commands divorce and calls divorce adultery.
As far as sexuality in colleges of the ELCA, again I say, it is not about knowing that there is sexual activity but the fact that the colleges are providing avenues of acceptance of for such activity.
I went to college in the 70′s and had a good old time, but when I grew up I knew my children would go to a Christian college because my husband and I wanted the best faith based professors to mentor them and serve as Godly examples. Well that was a waste, so why would someone choose to send their child to an ELCA school who’s attitude has nothing to do with Biblical teachings.
I have some real challenges with broad sweeping statements about what constitutes Christianity (based on morals). The American Lutheran Church college I attended shaped my understanding and appreciation of paradox, vocation, and scripture (that was not literal or fundamental). Students and professors sometimes lived out the Christian faith in obvious ways, and at other times were engaged in sinful activity … including competitiveness for grades. In some ways, I’m not sure what a “Christian College” might be. Is it a college that lives radical grace and forgiveness as its foundational values? Is it one that offers radical hospitality? Is it one where the poor, disenfranchised, alienated, and those whom society has deemed valueless are lifted up and given value? Is it one where only scripture is used for teaching? Is it one where all share all possessions in common? Is it one in which vocation is understood as a calling of God and equipping of the Holy Spirit? Is it one in which one is allowed and encouraged to wrestle with questions of faith in a safe learning environment, far from fear of condemnation? Some of us might define Christianity in these ways from a faithful reading of Scripture. “Christian” is a term I use to describe Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I’d be interested in conversation about how the commenter describes “Christian”. In the places where I have conversations about the Christian faith, Christian does not mean only one thing, and it is not universally understandable.
And yes I dare say that we all have seen illicit sexual activity in our congregation as well as many other sins, if we didnt all sin there would be no need to go to church. We are to observe, address and repent of our sins. If all our sins are okay, I’m okay, you’re okay, he’s okay ,it’s okay, we’re all okay.,lets just all get along. Then why did Christ have to die on the cross. It is our job to love our brothers enough to steer them away from sin and each of us help each other to recognize and repent .
Often, when there is conversation about these kinds of disagreements, the conversation devolves to the “if there are no standards then everything is ok and Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension mean nothing” position. Please, step back and take a breath. It is not “everything goes”, although I can see where it can look like that’s where it is leading. Obedience to scripture is important. But here we’ll probably disagree about what is most important in scripture. Grace is important. I often wonder if one is more important than the other, because when I put one ahead of the other, things get messed up. It is my experience that sometimes grace happens before obedience. Sometimes obedience is first. Sometimes forgiveness comes before repentance. Sometimes repentance is first. Sometimes obedience draws me closer to God and sometimes God draws me closer to obedience. I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who could see everyone’s failings and not consider their own.
I ask, because I’m interested to know, is there a point where forgiveness is not offered if there is no real change in a person’s behavior (if repentance is related to behavior)? Does anyone ever repent about Thanksgiving Day feasting (gluttony), a sin when so much of the world goes hungry or do we in the church bless this sin? Does anyone ever repent of the coveting that is the basis for our North American economy or does the church simply go along? Jesus says all remarriage (in one of the Gospels) is sinful, and yet we don’t demand those marriages end. My point is not to justify “sin”, but to invite us into a larger question where we seek out the answers together and listen carefully to one another in a way that honors how scripture speaks to another. I want to have this kind of conversation … not because I know the answers, but because it has implications on what we mean by repentance, obedience, sinfulness, and forgiveness. Why is it that some sins are considered acceptable and others are not? How do we decide? Is there a difference between sin as a condition and sinful acts? Dialogue will reveal a good deal in these matters.
There is more from the commenter, some of it quite personal. I hope I did not call her names, or insinuate that she is homophobic or un-Christian, or is out of touch with the world. If I did, I am sorry for that, for that was not my intent. There is too much of that in the world as it is. I have a lot of questions, and believe that Christians can ask questions of one another without having to fight about preconceived truths. I learn a great deal from these kinds of dialogues and invite people into them all the time.
There is more I can say, and I’ve said too much, so enough for now.