Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Women Voters and Homosexual Clergy

This past Sunday we ended up discussing the ELCA's decision to allow open, practicing homosexuals into the clergy - and in the discussions the rather tumultuous decision by this congregation (before my time) around 8-9 years ago to allow women voters. Here is how this developed.

I read a quote from an article where an ELCA female pastor, in response to those in the ELCA who complained about allowing Homosexual clergy, noted that these were the same warnings about the flouting of Scripture that came about with past changes, like the ordination of women.

The topic then moved to how we allowed women voters - is that decision a flouting of Scripture and the like. There are places that say that it is, like the ELS (a very fine, synod, by in large).

I have been thinking about this - and the answer I gave on Sunday is the one I like. Scriptures at no point speak to the idea of having Voters' Assemblies - voting over Church property doesn't correlate to the Scriptural use of "authority" - that speaks to the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Here is how the ELS makes the move - "We believe that no one should publicly preach or administer the Sacraments without a proper call. When God's Word says that women are not to teach or "exercise authority" over men in the church, this means that the pastoral office cannot be conferred upon women, and that it is God's will that only properly qualified men be called to this office. According to this same principle women should not exercise authority over men in the congregational decision-making process, such as by holding voting membership in an assembly which makes the final decisions for a church. (Because Christian men and women are all members of the Body of Christ and share in the privileges and duties of the "priesthood of all believers," the views of women should be taken into account when such decisions are made.) See John 21:15-18, Acts 20:28, Rom. 10:14-15, Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5, 1 Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12, 1 Pet. 2:9, Gal. 3:28."

What I would note here is that there is a switch - between the preaching of the Gospel and its regulations, and then also the running of Church affairs. If one principal is the same, should we not allow a person vote if they are not apt to teach, for that is a requirement for Pastors. Rather this, the two responsibilities - one of preaching, the other of seeing to the business affairs of a congregation would have differing requirements.

Here is my point - we can see two equal and opposite errors and abuses of Scripture. On the one hand, Scripture can be flaunted (as the ELCA has) and completely ignored when it speaks directly to a topic at hand. On the other hand, Scripture can be used to "forbid" what Scripture does not forbid (note, this isn't to say that it is "wrong" to not have women voters -- rather, it doesn't matter either way, for Scripture doesn't mandate one way or the other).

That's the line to follow here, to pay attention - Does Scripture speak to the issue at hand. If it does, you must listen. If it doesn't, you cannot bind and command folks (at least as a criteria for salvation - a body could say that we ourselves are going to operate, as long as that isn't stated as something that is mandatory to be part of the Church. . . again, supporting freedom means either way - to have women voters or to not have - must be within the pall).

I pay attention to this as my family (excepting my parents) is all ELCA - I come from an old ALC family. The ALC's critique of many things in the LCMS is that they bind things that cannot be bound. . . and I am wary of that. But you also have to be wary of running fast and loose with Scripture either.


Jay Hobson said...

Pastor, We've had discussions along these lines before.

The ELS makes that jump from the preaching of the Gospel to the running of Church affairs rather abruptly. But even in a right understanding, it seems there needs to be some discretion about what is brought in front of the voter's meeting and what should be left to the discretion of the pastor. What do you think?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, there you hit upon another issue - what purpose does the Voter's assembly serve? I tend to favor the idea of a distinction - the Pastor (and the Elders) handle the Spiritual affairs of the Congregation -- and in so far as any activity of the Congregation deals with the Spiritual, that is his domain. The Voters and various boards oversee the physical care of the congregation and the organization and discharge of lay activities. They set budgets, handle the property, and also work on the various boards and committees (with Pastoral Oversight on Spiritual matters. . . alone. As a Pastor I can advise a board on a course of action, but unless it is a matter of doctrine, I cannot in good conscience veto something).

That would be the distinction I would make.

Now, the big place where this comes up is in the matter of Excommunication, which is a Spiritual matter, but also has a practical component in terms of Church membership and membership of the voters. Some would say that when the Congregation votes to officially excommunicate a person that would be an exercise of spiritual authority. I would differ - a person who is excommunication right will have been dealt with by the Pastor and the Elders, and only after their spiritual care fails to bear immediate fruit would the issue then fall to the congregation. And even then, it is not an "act" of the congregation - by adherance to false doctrine or manifest immorality, the person who is excommunicated has in reality withdrawn themselves from the Church - and in reality what the Congregation does is merely observe officially what has been done (Just like a Pastor at a wedding. . . we say that a Pastor "marries" a couple, but he doesn't - he observes, bears witness, and then "pronounce"s the couple to be married - he declares it publicly. Same thing with excommunication).

Does that count as what I think?