Friday, March 03, 2006

When John Kaufman, a Lutheran church pastor, pledged his lifelong fidelity to Tom Wortham in a church ceremony last week....

Gay union clouds pastor's future
Ministerial post at local Lutheran church imperiled
By Marshall Allen Staff Writer

ALTADENA - When John Kaufman, a Lutheran church pastor, pledged his lifelong fidelity to Tom Wortham in a church ceremony last week, it was more than a public declaration of love.

Kaufman, 53, has been openly gay for decades, but entering into the relationship started him on a journey that could end in his removal from ministry.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the denomination to which Kaufman belongs, requires gay pastors to be celibate and does not endorse same-sex unions. Depending on one's perspective, the two men joining in lifelong union could be seen as a progressive breakthrough of outdated taboos, an endorsement of sin or a new offensive in the culture wars.

Gay pastors in relationships and the blessing of same-sex unions are causing deep division in many mainline denominations. The controversies involved run deeper than sexual orientation. They are rooted in different interpretations of the Bible. Those who advocate for the ELCA maintaining its current standards say Kaufman should resign.

In an interview before the ceremony, Kaufman said pledging his life to Wortham feels radical and "in your face" because it's so controversial. But it's the truth that he and his congregation at Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church in Altadena have experienced, he said.

"Lying and living a lie, and living in the dark, is destructive," Kaufman said. "It's destructive to the human spirit and ultimately I think it's really destructive to the spirit of the church. We in the ELCA are really struggling with wanting to live together. That unity does not necessarily mean uniformity."

The sanctuary of Christ the Shepherd was packed for the Feb. 18 Holy Covenant celebration. The event was much like a wedding - with pre-ceremony jitters, vows, rings and a kiss - though the men didn't call it a marriage.

The ceremony was officiated by the Rev. Terry Tuvey Allen, senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Pasadena. During her sermon she said the broader society and the church don't understand same-sex relationships, and some might say accepting openly gay pastors is "the proverbial `slippery slope."'

But sometimes, God's direction "is over the edge and down the slope," she said.

A gay pastor uniting with another man is controversial in most churches because the traditional interpretation of the Bible says that homosexual behavior is sin. And sinful acts should never be openly endorsed by clergy, who are called to a high standard of moral conduct.

In the 2,000-year history of Christianity, it's only in recent decades that liberals in mainline denominations - including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church - have sought a change of views.

The Rev. Roy Harrisville III is an ELCA pastor and was leader of a conservative advocacy group called Solid Rock Lutherans formed for the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. He said the controversy over homosexual behavior pits two different theologies against each other. One is a theology of transformation, which says Jesus Christ liberates people from sin, he said. The other is a theology of affirmation, which says God affirms people for who they are, he said.

"The denomination needs to practice tough love," Harrisville said of Kaufman's situation. "We feel for these folks who are truly in a terribly difficult spot, emotionally and spiritually."

The debate about homosexual behavior often boils down to differing interpretations
of the Bible. For those holding to a traditional stance, the clearest passage relating to homosexual behavior is Romans 1:26-27, said Harrisville, who has his Ph.D. in biblical interpretation. In the passage, the Apostle Paul writes that "men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

Harrisville said he does not know Kaufman, but the pastor promised at his ordination to teach in accordance with the Bible and the Lutheran Confession.

"He has broken that vow," Harrisville said. "If he wishes to break that vow then that means he should no longer be a pastor in the ELCA."

Kaufman's stance is natural to him and his parishioners, and it's even in line with the personal beliefs of Bishop Dean Nelson, who leads the Southern California Synod of the denomination. Nelson said his duties as bishop may require him to mete out discipline that doesn't conform to his personal beliefs. The ELCA constitution says practicing homosexuals are precluded from ministry in the church.

A panel of five people will meet in the next month to interview Kaufman and others at his church, and then recommend discipline to Nelson. At this point, Nelson said the three options for discipline are private censure and admonition by the bishop, suspension and removal from ministry.

The synod is going through the same process with a gay pastor in Santa Monica, though it is quite rare. The only other time Nelson could remember such a situation, about a decade ago, the pastor was removed from ministry. The bishop said the decision should be made this spring.

Kaufman offered his resignation to his congregation in October, but its members voted 49-1 not to accept it. He said he was "born to be a pastor." He personally knows and respects "fine pastors with loving hearts" in the ELCA who disagree with his decision to live out his homosexuality.

"But for me, homosexuality is a given," he said.

Kaufman said he takes the Bible very seriously, but has a different interpretation of passages that seem to call homosexual behavior sin. When Paul wrote Romans, he did not have a "glimmer of understanding of homosexuality as we understand it in the 21st century," Kaufman said. Also, Paul's references to same-sex conduct refer to a pagan religious context, not people in committed relationships, he said.

Kaufman said he relates to the Bible story in which Jacob wrestles with God and won't let him go until he gets a blessing.

"I'm pretty scrappy and that's always been kind of an archetypal story for me," Kaufman said. "I feel kind of that way with the church: `I'm not going to let go of you until you bless me."'

Just reporting the news this time. This one is going to be another important case. I don't want to comment on it: not only am I keeping my fast, we don't want to give anyone any ideas! Do pray that God's will be done and that all these individuals (including ourselves) come into a more authentic realtionship with our Maker.


Dan said...

Lets face it; the ELCA isfalling apart morally and spiritually. Those who feel called to reform it need to know that this is a centuries long process, will need to watch their anger because hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. In the meantime, LCMC will continue to grow and elca to shrink. Many lay folks will simply vote with their feet rahter than deal with this foolishness.

Shrimp said...


The good ship ELCA...

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