“Stories like this annoy me,” a Lutheran pastor wrote when he notified us of the following Chicago Sun-Times piece. Written by veteran religion reporter Susan Hogan/Albach, it’s about how the Metropolitan Chicago bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America views his denomination’s celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy. The Lutheran clergy and GetReligion reader is a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which does not ordain gay clergy. Though both Lutheran groups are large (and I’m a member of the LCMS), only the larger ELCA is mentioned in the story.
Because of insufficiently clear mainstream media coverage, LCMS Lutherans are used to being asked if we really pay for the abortions of our female clergy members (the LCMS doesn’t even have female clergy members and officially believes the lives of unborn humans should be protected) and other such questions that are better posed to the larger and more politically liberal ELCA. But rarely is there any differentiation among the Lutheran groups in mainstream media. The mention that not all Lutherans are ELCA Lutherans doesn’t need to be big or a substantive part of the story — but it’s probably good to mention it. Particularly considering just how wildly different the two groups stand on everything from confessional approach to political involvement. On to the story:
The Chicago Sun-Times story begins with a horrible headline: “Same-sex salvation.” The story isn’t about whether gays and lesbians are saved. The story isn’t even about whether or not gays and lesbians should be ordained. The story is about the debate in the ELCA over whether or not people who are gay and lesbian AND are ordained should be engaged in sexual behavior. The story and accompanying side bar never even address salvation. Here’s how the story begins:
The Lutheran pastor soon to be bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod wants his denomination to lift a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy.
“That’s where I think the church is going,” Bishop-elect Wayne Miller of Aurora said. “That’s where I think it needs to go.”
He’s hoping the change will come next month in Chicago, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is conducting its churchwide assembly. Nearly a third of the denomination’s 65 synods are asking for a policy shift in clergy standards.
Two things that I would like to praise about the story: thank goodness Hogan/Albach is on this very timely story about possible changes in the ELCA’s position on homosexuals in sexual relationships serving in the ministry. It’s a big story and there has not been enough coverage. The denomination’s assembly is being held shortly after a decision to defrock a popular gay pastor in Atlanta (Bradley Schmeling, pictured) for his sexual relationship with his partner. And it’s also great the lengths she goes to identify the denomination by its official name: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are many stories that just go with ‘Lutheran’. The reason why it’s a shame there hasn’t been more coverage of this particular angle is that it leaves those of us curious about the debate completely in the dark about the particular views of the various sides involved. It’s hard to analyze viewpoints when they’re not substantively looked at.
The reporter speaks with folks on one side of the issue, including the current bishop:
“Some of the churches with the most growth in this synod are led by gay pastors in committed relationships,” said Bishop Paul Landahl, 69, who has led the Metropolitan Chicago Synod since 2001.
Landahl said he approaches the issue pastorally and with compassion.
“I have a daughter [who is in] a same-sex committed relationship,” he said. “It’s been part of my life. To see her connected to a church that’s kind of slammed the door on gay and lesbian people is a miracle in and of itself.”
Unfortunately, the reporter doesn’t speak with anyone in the ELCA who believes differently. And the problem with lack of diversity is not just intra-ELCA or intra-Lutheran. In a sidebar, Hogan/Albach tries to show “where the faiths stand” on ordaining homosexual clergy. Here’s the full list:
Catholics: The church, which only ordains celibate men, says homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” but that it is not a sin to have a “homosexual orientation.”
Episcopal Church (U.S.): Supportive of gay clergy, including a bishop in a same-sex relationship, which put the denomination at odds with some in the worldwide Anglican communion.
Presbyterians (U.S.): Clergy are required to live either in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
United Church of Christ: Not only supports gay clergy, but endorses same-sex marriage.
United Methodist: Because homosexuality is considered “incompatible” with Christian teaching, “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” aren’t ordained.
Judaism: More liberal branches allow for gay and lesbian rabbis.
Islam: Imams aren’t ordained and homosexuality is considered immoral.
So there’s no differentiation for Presbyterians. There’s the funny (U.S.) designation after them and the Episcopal Church. Does that mean she’s referring to the PCA? or the PCUSA? There’s a mention of the UCC and UMC but no mention of, say, any Baptist, charismatic or evangelical denominations. And while the LCMS is over twice as large as the UCC, it doesn’t even get mentioned. It’s kind of like we got a view of the full scope of religious viewpoints — as seen through the windows of a mainstream newsroom.
It would be one thing if the story was limiting its focus to old-line mainstream Protestants, but with the inclusion of the Catholic church and Judaism and Islam, it’s hard to see what the goal of the sidebar is.