Thursday, September 03, 2009

Prof Wengert and how to dig the ELCA's hole deeper

The ELCA website has posted a long and dense essay by Philadelphia seminary professor, Timothy Wengert. In my previous post I said all sides in the ELCA’s tempest need to lay their cards on the table. This is not an example of that but just the opposite. While well-meaning and a supporter of the CWA’s actions, I’m afraid Professor Wengert doesn’t get it.

In his piece, Wengert argues that the ELCA’s new policy is just as scriptural as the opposing view point. Significantly, Wengert is not a Bible scholar but a professor of Reformation church history. Step AWAY from the 16th century. That’s not where we’re going to find peace over this.

I'm not really sure what an essay like Wengert’s is trying to accomplish. The people who supported the decision think it’s wonderful, judging by reactions on Facebook (though I’m not sure how many of them could actually follow it). Over on a conservative forum, responders there weren’t buying Wengert’s exegesis.

The real problem, however, is that arguments like Wengert’s are just beside the point. No one comes to the conclusion that homosexual behavior is acceptable based on reading the Bible. They reach that conclusion based on their own experiences, perhaps with the insights and support of modern psychology. We need to say, out loud, three times (as least): “The Bible has nothing relevant to say about homosexuality”—just as it has nothing to say about evolution, cosmology, neurological disorders, and countless other modern day fields and discoveries.

Once we decide that homosexuality is as acceptable as heterosexuality, there is nothing more to be said—but the Bible can’t get us to that point. Essays like Wengert’s end up sounding like word games—theological casuistry—which are DOA with conservative traditionalists. They see through it immediately.

The issue is not the meaning of loving our neighbor (as Wengert argues) but the Bible: what is it, how do we read it, when do we ignore it. Wengert touches on that issue, and even has a Luther quote for it, but it’s buried in his essay (points 6 & 7) and he can’t really carry it to its full conclusion. When conservatives say our position is based on experience rather than scripture and tradition we have to stop arguing with them and just say, “Yes, you’re right. It is. And here’s why we think we’re justified in doing so.” Anything else and we just deepen the mistrust and miscommunication and dig the hole the ELCA’s now in even deeper.

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