Saturday, April 30, 2005

On Failing to Make the Case from Scripture
Even the majority of the Task Force that put forward this disastrous proposal has to admit “that the biblical-theological case for wholesale change in this church’s current standards has not been made to the satisfaction of the majority of the participants in the study” (p. 10). This is an understatement of monumental proportions. Based on their own tabulation (however inexact), and even with the advocacy bent for change present in their study guides, they were able to convince only 22% of those who responded. That means that 78% of respondents were not convinced—nearly four out of every five set of responses. Clearly this is not just “the majority” but a massive supermajority. And the vast majority of these were completely unconvinced.

As we noted above, the real number is likely to be much higher. Why? I can think of at least four reasons for drawing this conclusion. (1) Those who were seeking change of the current policy would be more likely to recognize the Task Force as their main hope for change and thus more likely to be motivated to respond. (2) Those seeking change would, in the nature of things, be persons more inclined to engage in an activism of response. (3) Those who preferred no change or were undecided would more likely be persons disinclined by nature toward the kind of activism that required response. (4) Those who preferred no change would more likely be skeptical about the effectiveness of responding to the Task Force since a common perception is that the members of the Task Force had already been selected to achieve the desired result of change while giving the appearance of hearing all the voices. From the start the majority of persons put on the Task Force did not come with convictions that homosexual practice was always wrong, including most of the “big guns” academically and professionally. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the only biblical scholar put on the Task Force had already written strongly in favor of homosexual blessing and rostering (Terence Fretheim).

Had the Task Force produced study guides that were more balanced and that unleashed the overwhelming array of arguments for demonstrating both Scripture’s unequivocal opposition to homosexual practice and the utter weakness of arguments to the contrary, the 78% figure would have been significantly higher. The Report assures readers that all the task force members “accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life” (p. 10). In the addendum to the Report, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Report and Recommendations,” readers are told:

People of differing convictions on these issues each in their own way rely on the Word of God as the basis for their views. Thus, there are sincere differences of interpretation among people in this church who share a common commitment to the authority of Scripture. (p. 2)

The above two observations are irrelevant. What people claim Scripture says or allows, as well as their level of sincerity in making such claims, has to be tested against the evidence of Scripture itself. People can be sincere in their beliefs about what Scripture supports or allows and be sincerely wrong. The church is under no obligation to validate such beliefs, particularly since almost any conceivable belief, no matter how wrongheaded, has adherents making sincere appeals to Scripture. The church could make very little determination about issues of doctrinal or moral import if it allowed leaders with a contrary conscience to teach whatever they sincerely believed and to violate whatever standards of behavior they sincerely regarded as wrong. (Sadly, the church has already allowed much of this to happen, but this new proposal makes a bad situation significantly worse.)

To be sure, the Report points to the material in Background Essay as evidence that people can have valid differences over “what the text meant originally” and “the precise way it speaks to the present-situation” (ibid.). However, as I shall show in this document, had Background Essay fairly and competently presented the full evidence for reading Scripture as holding firmly to an other-sex prerequisite and utterly opposed to homosexual activity of all sorts, it would have been evident how bad attempts are to try to make Scripture in any way open to homosexual unions. Even the Report has to now admit, in the light of research by myself and others not taken into account by Journey Two and Background Essay, that: “It is hard to maintain with certainty, even though the language of sexual orientation is recent, that the biblical writers who condemned certain same-sex acts knew nothing of people who were constitutively homosexual in orientation” (p. 23). And yet both Journey Two and Background Essay over and over repeat the mantra that the very concept of sexual orientation was unknown in the ancient world.

If “the biblical-theological case for wholesale change in this church’s current standards has not been made to the satisfaction of the majority of the participants in the study,” and it obviously hasn’t, then there are no grounds for gutting the current policy by eliminating mandatory enforcement and allowing unlimited flagrant violation of that policy.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Read It

Read the document entitled, “WordAlone’s recommendation to ELCA 2005 Churchwide Assembly

A Place to Stand

WordAlone is inviting all Lutheran churches to join the association by adopting a new document, “The Common Confession.” We have made a commitment to provide sound theological teaching through the proposed the Lutheran Theological House of Studies. No church, no matter where it finds itself geographically, need stand alone in matters of faith and life facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The WordAlone Network, by unanimous vote, has responded to the “call” to help “gather” the scattered that together we might be “enlightened” and “sanctified” by the Holy Spirit for a hopeful and faithful future. The four words, which I’ve quoted from Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, were heard again and again throughout the convention.

can't you see what this is doing to ECUSA?

Hello Human People!

Shrimp here. You know, before the internet we had to rely on our news about humans mainly from the clams who like to hang out on beaches with you. But now, we surf the internet. And we find out very interesting facts about you.

One is that you seem to have bad eyesight. The Lord our Maker gave you a book (BTW, that was one of things he did for you our of His big heart--you should cherish it, so read it some time. He has a special affection for us too, which is why we got a dispensation on being eaten for a while) ANYWAY, you got bad eyesight there in the ELCA, guys. Can't you see what is happening over in the ECUSA when cultural elites try and tell you some new "contextual" hermeneutics?

Here one of those really smart humans with a PhD in theology scores some pretty solid hits. You should read it:

"It gets tiring to have to repeat the same points over and over again. Nonetheless, here goes.
First, there is a contemporary consensus among critical biblical scholars (liberal and conservative, revisionist and orthodox, reappraiser and reasserter) that the plain teaching of scripture consistently condemns all same-sex activity, and the Bible nowhere speaks positively of it. See, for example, Appendix 1 of Northeast SEAD’s Response to the New York Diocese’s “Let the Reader Understand.”

Rom. 1 does not refer to heterosexuals engaging in same-sex activity. Paul understands “contrary to nature” to mean, not contrary to one’s ordinary inclinations, but contrary to God’s intention in creating humanity as male and female. 1 Cor 6:9 does not refer to cultic prostitution. Paul is quoting the LXX of the Leviticus prohibition of a man lying with another man.
Second, the Church has a historic hermeneutic for determining which passages of scripture continue to be binding on contemporary Christians and which are not. The moral law of scripture is binding; ceremonial, civil, and ecclesiastical law are not, although the principles on which these laws are based are. The Church has consistently condemned same-sex activity as a violation of the moral law.

See my discussion at:

Third, the biblical authors were certainly aware of same-sex activity. As pointed out above, all one has to do is read Plato’s Symposium. What is interesting about the biblical approach is that it is not an accomodation to the surrounding culture. Other cultures of the time were certainly patriarchal, and just as concerned about issues of power, property, and identification of legitimate heirs. Nontheless, they were generally tolerant of homosexual activity. Jews and Christians were not.

Fourth, the Christian tradition has never regarded a strong desire (an “orientation") as sufficient grounds for regarding the acted out expression of that activity as legitimate. (Has any moral tradition ever endorsed this notion? It certainly would have been foreign to Plato or Aristotle.) Augustine points out that one of the starting points for Christian ethical behavior is learning how to sort out legitimate and illegitimate desires. The traditional spiritual path of purgation, illumination, union presupposes just such a sorting out of desire."

Think about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

from bad to worse

Professor Gagnon opens his refutation of the ELCA's reasoning behing their relentless push to revise the Christian faith so that they may go ahead and do what it was they wanted to do in the first place by explaining the Jan 13 fiasco. Begin reading it here and then move on to the pdf.


On Jan. 13, 2005, the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality issued its “Report and Recommendations.” It proposed that the ELCA retain the current policy that pastors and rostered lay persons are expected to abstain from sexual relationships outside of marriage, including homosexual relationships. However, it also proposed that this policy not to be enforced: “As a pastoral response to the deep divisions among us, this church may choose to refrain from disciplining those who . . . call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates . . . and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved and called” (p. 7).

Any who do not want the ELCA to reach a point where it celebrates homosexual behavior and/or irreparably damages its own credibility should view this proposal as a decisive defeat of their (i.e. the scriptural) position under the illusion of maintaining the status quo.

Thwarting a Landslide Verdict
In effect, the Task Force’s recommendations thwart the rightful outcome of ELCA churchwide deliberations. It is remarkable that, even after using study guides imbalanced in favor of discounting Scripture’s intense opposition to homosexual practice, 57% of the respondents tabulated still voted for no change in the current policy or even for more rigorous enforcement of that policy. Only 22% of tabulated respondents favored blessing homosexual unions and rostering actively homosexual persons, or at least a local option approach. And this percentage is almost certainly inflated by the fact that those who seek a radical change are arguably more motivated to submit a survey than those content with the status quo. Of the remaining 21% of tabulated respondents, 17.4% were undecided and 3.4% adopted other positions.

[Note: I speak of “tabulated respondents” because the Task Force analyzed only 14% of the 28,000 responses to Journey Two. Rev. Dr. Roy Harrisville III, Executive Director of Solid Rock Lutherans, cautions in his “Critique of the Report and Recommendations” (p. 5) that no generalizations about what the average ELCA member thinks can be made since respondents were self-selected (i.e., they took the initiative to respond to the survey). The Task Force did not undertake a random survey of a cross-section of ELCA membership. The caveat is well taken. Nevertheless, since the Task Force bases its own decisions in part on their analysis of these responses, and since too even the 22% support for change in the current policy is likely to be inflated (for the reason stated in the paragraph above), it is fair game to point out that even by the Task Force’s own standard of measurement there are no grounds for deviating from current standards.]

Can you imagine a U. S. presidential election where a candidate received over two-and-a-half times more votes than the next biggest vote-getter? This country has never had a presidential election with such a lopsided margin of victory. In the greatest landslides in U.S. presidential history, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater by a margin of 61% to 38.4% (1964), while Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern by a margin of 60.7% to 37.5% (1972)—in both cases a margin of victory that was less than 2-to1. Here the margin against changing church policy on homosexuality is greater still. And yet the Task Force’s recommendation to remove mandatory enforcement will, if approved, effectively gut the current policy favored by the landslide majority and set in motion an inevitable overturning of that policy. This brings us to our next point.

Adopting Local Option and Radical Change Under the Guise of No New Policy
The Report claims: “our recommendations do not establish a new policy” (p. 11; also p. 10). Make no mistake about it: This is, de facto, a new policy inasmuch as an unenforced policy is a policy no longer in force (i.e. operative, in effect). Indeed, the majority Task Force recommendation is nothing more and nothing less than a variant of a local-option policy, in fact if not also in name. Remember, too, that local option so far as homosex-advocacy is concerned is just another name for incremental coercion.

The proposal, if accepted, would radically undermine both the ELCA’s policy against homosexually active rostered leadership and the ELCA’s overall authority on matters of doctrine and morality. Imagine parents telling their children, “We shall maintain an 8:30 PM bedtime but we shall not enforce it.” For all intents and purposes there would be no set bedtime. Worse, the parents’ overall authority would be undermined as children learned that there were no consequences to disregarding explicit parental wishes. Obviously if the parents are not willing to enforce certain rules, the rules can’t mean much to the parents, and consequently will mean even less to the children. Better not to have any rules at all than to subject them to continual mockery. Or, as Roy Harrisville puts it, using a different analogy: “It is like having a speed limit but announcing that we will never ticket speeders” (“Critique,” p. 2). Both the speed limit and the state’s authority soon become a joke. “The practice of ignoring the policy must necessarily result in the change of that policy. If it does not, the ELCA would become the laughing-stock of the modern Church with a reputation for duplicity” (ibid.)

Surely everyone in the ELCA, including in the Task Force, must realize that this proposal, if approved, would serve as a halfway house or transitional stage that will lead irrevocably to the full embrace of (‘committed’) homosexual activity. Once a significant number of persons in public homosexual relationships are called and approved for ministry, there is no possibility of returning to enforcement of a ban on homosexual relations for rostered persons. Henceforth the only direction left for the church to move in is toward overturning completely the tattered vestiges of the old policy and, finally, coercing acceptance of homosexual relationships, starting at the upper echelons of ELCA power structures and working down gradually to lower levels ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What is the official ELCA leadership trying to do?

Back in March the current Presiding Bishop dropped a bombshell in a ELCA news release:

"In his report, Hanson offered his first public comments on the task force report and recommendations. Hanson said:
+ Two "hermeneutics" or paradigms are at work among the members of the ELCA that make agreement difficult on scriptural and theological matters. The Rev. Craig L. Nessan, academic dean and professor of contextual theology, Wartburg Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, writes that there is a "traditional approach" and a "contextual approach" in interpreting Scripture, both of which are valid and irreconcilable, Hanson told the bishops. Similarly, Dr. Marcus J. Borg, Department of Philosophy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, writes that there are two irreconcilable "paradigms" in which Christians differ in their understandings of the Christian tradition and their interpretation of Scripture, creeds and the confessions, he said. Hanson said he's heard people with different understandings of Scripture and theology seeking to find a place for their views in the sexuality recommendations."

Read it:

Now I'm just a little crustacean, but it seems to me that this is a problem. Why is it that "people seek to find a place for their views" is not seen as something that man Martin Luther would have a big problem with? Didn't he say you humans were supposed to be under the Word. Seems to us shellfish that you people are always trying to dictate to God, when it should be the other way around. No?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Welcome to Shellfish

Liberal Theology is not a political movement per se. It predates the Liberal party in the UK and US liberal-conservative politics. They have their own principled commitments. Keep coming back and we'll explain more. For now all you need to know is that they wish to save Christianity from the Bible.

This blog is called Shellfish because if you try and talk about the authority of Scripture these days, something heard over and over is, "Well, Leviticus says you can't eat shellfish, but we do?"

It's amazing how that reasoning stops so many people in their tracks. The initial answer we want to give is, "That's hardly the same thing." The correct answer is that Paul explains in 1 Corinthians that all foods are permissible. However, Paul consistently said that the only permissible expression of sexuality was in marriage between a man and a woman.

Jesus also said as far as food, that it was not what goes into a person that defiles them. Jesus also said that men and women were created for each other, that we were created to be in union, one man and one woman.

Next time someone tries the "Shellfish" or the "Jesus never" argument on you, for goodness sakes, set them straight. If they don't see the light, don't fight, send them here:

Read on, from the close of Professor Robert Gagnon's penetrating analysis of the faulty reasoning behind Journey Together Faithfully:

... in the light of Scripture, a study of the ancient world, and modern scientific evidence, the following four points can be made. (1) Sexual 'orientation' is not like ethnicity or sex (i.e., it is not 100% inheritable and culturally immutable and, of course, it leads to patterns of behavior that show increased risk of harm). (2) The concept of exclusive attraction for members of the same sex originating in a combination of congenital influences and early socialization was already known in the ancient world at some level. (3) The Bible's witness against homosexual practice is predicated on a more holistic and secure understanding of embodied sexuality than modern pro-homosex fascination with the direction of one’s sexual desire at a given stage in a person’s life. Thus (4) knowledge of a ‘homosexual orientation’ would neither have constituted radically new information for the authors of Scripture nor would it have made a difference to their overall indictment of persons aroused by what they already have and are as sexual beings.

Can Christians Use Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in Formulating Ethics?
In “Other arguments in Journey Two” we saw how Christian disuse of capital sentences for sex offenses did not signify the ethical irrelevance of Levitical laws against incest, adultery, and bestiality. Hultgren & Taylor do not raise this point when they close their discussion on the Levitical laws by asking: “Can Christians use passages from Leviticus in developing ethical positions today?” (p. 9). However, they do rightly note that Christians cannot simply dismiss Levitical laws as having no relevance even as guidelines for Christian conduct.

Unfortunately, Hultgren & Taylor cite only one criterion for discerning whether the laws against male-male intercourse have continuing relevance for Christian morality: reuse in the New Testament (compare the seven criteria that I cite above under “The Need to Spell Out Reasons for Enduring Relevance”). To make matters worse, their last word on the matter reflects the negative stance on the Levitical witness that appears elsewhere in their discussion: While some interpreters see such reuse in the New Testament, “other interpreters have concluded that while the New Testament prohibits certain kinds of same-gender sexual behavior, it is silent on others” (p. 9).
Certainly some interpreters have argued this. But the grounds for doing so are insubstantial.

First, as we have noted (see point 7 under “Reasons for Enduring Relevance”) both Rom 1:24-27 and 1 Cor 6:9 clearly echo the Levitical prohibitions, indicating that the New Testament authors adopt the absolute stance of those prohibitions. Indeed, all the extant evidence from the early Judaism indicates that Jews universally both understood and appropriated the Levitical prohibitions in the same absolute light (see, for example, Josephus, Philo, and rabbinic texts; The Bible and Homosexual Practice, ch. 2 on the witness of early Judaism).

That the early Christian community did so as well is confirmed by the requirement that Gentiles abstain from “sexual immorality” (porneia), found in the “Apostolic Decree” of Acts 15 (see above under “Where’s Jesus”). This requirement clearly harks back to the sex laws in Lev 18 (other elements of the Decree can be traced to Lev 17) and undoubtedly included at the forefront, as with developing Noahide laws in early Judaism, a prohibition of male-male intercourse.

Second, we have also shown above (“Ignoring the Intertextual echoes to the Creation Texts”) that Rom 1:23-27 and 1 Cor 6:9 contain clear intertextual echoes to Gen 1:26-27 and 2:24 respectively. If homosexual practice is being contrasted unfavorably with God’s design for male-female pairing at creation then obviously there isn’t any form of male-male or female-female intercourse that would have been acceptable for Paul. We noted that Background Essay fails even to discuss the contention of intertextual echoes to Gen 1:26-27 in Rom 1:23-27, found in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 289-92. And we showed how the attempt in Background Essay to dismiss the link between “men who lie with a male” in 1 Cor 6:9 and the citation of Gen 2:24b in 1 Cor 6:16 fails on at least three counts.

Third, we shall also see other arguments for the fact that Paul was not limiting his indictment of homosexual practice, including:

  • The absolute wording of Rom 1:24-27
  • The mention of mutual gratification in Rom 1:27
  • The parallelism between the creation argument in 1:19-23 and the nature argument in 1:24-27, which combined allude to the revelatory value of the material structures of creation
  • The mention of lesbian sex in Rom 1:26, sexual activity that was not normally conducted in the context of prostitution, cultic activity, or adult-adolescent relationships
  • The fact that the conception of non-exploitative homosexual unions was well known in the Greco-Roman world and yet still made little difference to critics of such unions.

    The notion that Paul would have found loving and committed adult homosexual unions to be acceptable is as absurd as contending that Paul would have approved of the case of man-stepmother incest in 1 Cor 5 if it had been a committed relationship.

the elca will decide in 2005 what it means to be faithful

A Faithful Journey Through the Bible and Homosexuality?

The Use of Scripture in Two 2003 ELCA Documents: Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality and the Companion Background Essay on Biblical Texts
with Responses to the ELCA Task Force's "Reports and Recommendations" (Jan. 13, 2005) and the ELCA Church Council's "Recommendations to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Sexuality Studies" (Apr. 11, 2005)

You can go to the link below then Click for PDF Version. If you are a member of the ELCA, you need to do this, save it, print it, study it.

The Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 2001 directed the ELCA to study the blessing of homosexual unions and the ordination of people in committed homosexual unions. The ELCA Church Council established the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality. The Task Force, in turn, produced study guides, the most noteworthy of which were Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality (in which Terence Fretheim, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, played a significant role in formulating the sections on Scripture's witness) and the companion piece Background Essay on Biblical Texts (written by Arland Hultgren, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, and Walter F. Taylor Jr., Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary). Both study guides skewed the biblical witness against homosexual practice in the direction of a pro-homosex reading.

The study guides, available in Aug.-Sept. 2003, were sent to all ELCA churches along with a survey. Over 28,000 surveys were returned to the Task Force. Largely on the basis of those surveys the Task Force recommended to the ELCA Church Council, on Jan. 13, 2005, that the ELCA retain its policy that ministers abstain from sexual relationships outside of marriage, including homosexual relationships, but that the policy not be enforced, at least on a local option basis. On the basis of this recommendation, the ELCA Church Council recommended on Apr. 11, 2005 that the ELCA permit candidates for ordained office and ordained ministers to be in committed homosexual unions, as "exceptions" to a general policy, so long as such persons receive synod support to do so and the Conference of Bishops concurs. If the Churchwide Assembly meeting in August 2005 approves this recommendation by a two-thirds majority, it will become official church policy. Although the Task Force and Council presented their recommendations as no change in the official church policy, it clearly creates a de facto new policy for the ELCA that will ultimately result in a full embrace of 'committed' homosexual activity.

This pdf file provides a 6-page critique of the Task Force "Report and Recommendations," a 12-page critique of the Church Council's "Recommendations," and a 30-page critique of the use of Scripture in Journey Two and Background Essay. As lengthy as the critique of the two study guides is, further material needs to be added on the interpretation of Pauline texts; the exploitation, orientation, and misogyny arguments; and the application of analogies. But already readers will find a critique of the interpretation (or lack thereof) of the creation texts and their reuse by Jesus and Paul, as well as a full critique of the Old Testament witness and the witness of Jesus.

Go to:

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...