Friday, February 13, 2009

Singleness, Not Celibacy

Shrimp here. Jane Strohl is Professor of Reformation History and Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, the youngest of the ELCA's seminaries. The Journal of Lutheran Ethics is an online publication of the Department for Studies for the ELCA's Church in Society unit "dedicated to promoting awareness of, study of, and conversation about Christian ethics in the Lutheran tradition."

In JLE's current (February 2009: Human Rights and Family) issue, Dr. Strohl concludes her article, "On Marriage and Family" with this:
[6] Ecclesiastically enforced celibacy is not a fate facing many in our society. However, as my students have pointed out, the ELCA does make it a matter of conscience for candidates for rostered ministries. According to Visions and Expectations [sic] sexual intercourse is only permissible within a marriage between one man and one woman. This accords with Luther’s conviction that only marriage can mitigate sin’s effects on sexual desire, which inevitably degenerates into boundless lust outside of the limits God has created for it. The consequence is to regard being single as a transient state, the holding pen for those who are yet to be married. If that is the direction one’s life takes, "saving it for marriage" might be important. Luther did not envision a vocation of single life as a legitimate alternative to marriage. The reasons were economic and social as well as theological. Our society allows for a wider variety of relationships: persons with the gift of celibacy; partners in marriage; partners who choose not to marry but share "bed and board," as Luther put it; partners of the same sex; persons who over a lifetime enter into relationship with multiple partners; persons who aren’t much interested in partnership at all. Luther identifies values that are, from a Christian perspective, critical for defining relationships marked by wisdom and grace. It is important to remember that the most intimate act of an intimate relationship is forgiveness. It is important to cherish fidelity, to receive one’s partner not just as a lover but as a neighbor to be served as Christ has served us all. When you can’t be with the one you love, you simply don’t love the one you’re with. You can’t give yourself away again, because you have already given yourself to another. Luther knew without doubt where sexual intercourse fit into all this. For our society, however, the limited location of the marriage bed is no longer a given, although many folks in our church would like to make it so once again.

[7] The Draft Statement [the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality] includes the following as a sidebar in the subsection "The necessity of mercy always," p. 38: "This church upholds all members who are single. It encourages them in trustful and trustworthy lives. It respects those who choose singleness as a way of life." One assumes the church also respects those to whom singleness just happens, because of any number of factors beyond their control and certainly not of their choosing. Singleness is not the same as celibacy, no matter how much we want to make them so, not for the members of our congregations, not for the people we hope to reach with the Gospel, not for our clergy. If marriage isn’t where you find your vocation, does that mean you have forfeited your right to explore to its depths the sexual nature God has given you? Is it necessary that all decent roads of intimacy lead to marriage?
Somehow we think Dr. Strohl's answer is, "No." What do you think? Read it all here.

Shrimp out.


Cap'n Bill said...

[hear with a sarcastic voice, OK?]

Well, I knew if we waited 25 years those principled voices who are urging change would finally make a case why homosexuality doesn't matter anymore: marriage doesn't matter.

This is pure bunk. But we are grateful to be able to peak into the hand of cards. This is the ace? Let's see, in this "gamble with the future of the ELCA" they have the "marriage doesn't matter anymore" card and they have the "anthropology trumps revealed religion card" and "gospel means don't judge people card" as well as "gays are the new blacks and women card".

Some winning hand!

Anonymous said...

This article and the introduction to the AF Lutheran Study Bible share the same point. The insanity just doesn't stop.

Peace in the Lord!
Rob Buechler

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