Talk About . . . Love
than ever last week I felt Garrison Keillor got it right:
Lutherans just want to make nice. Sort of nice.
On Jan. 13, with justifiably little fanfare, the Task Force
on Sexuality of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
released its recommendations about where it thinks the church
should go with respect to blessing same-sex unions and ordaining
gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships.
This task-force study was expensive and exhaustive, and lasted
for three years. The task force itself was made up of people
from all over the country, straight and gay, clergy and layity,
urban and rural. It involved immense amounts of research,
generated two big study guides that were disseminated to congregations
across the country. There were 28,000 responses.
The results are, as a friend of mine put it, “Minnesota nice.”
Meaning this: The task force recommends no change to the existing
rules. That means no official recognition of any same-sex
blessings a pastor might perform. That means no openly gay
or lesbian person can be ordained a pastor in this church.
The big concession that these recommendations make is to suggest
that maybe churches and pastors wouldn’t have to be “disciplined”
(trust me, it’s not what it sounds like) if they did go ahead
and bless a same-sex union or ordain an openly gay or lesbian
Well, nobody that I know of is happy with this. It didn’t
appease the conservatives; they wanted a more entrenched stand.
It has further alienated those who believe the current policy
is exclusionary and loveless.
It’s all very dispiriting. And I recognize that I’m beyond
a place where I can be patient with this kind of theological
anemia. Besides which, on some bedrock level, I just don’t
understand why a selected group of people’s personal sex lives
are an issue.
The phrase “selected group” is key. Because underlying this
entire study from soup to nuts is a double standard so unquestioned
that I hesitate to bring it up:
The study is all about what single, homosexual people should
do, shouldn’t do, can’t do and can do. And even those homosexual
people who do not see themselves as “single” because they
may have been in partnership for years and years are, as defined
by the ELCA’s policies, always single. The only way to not
be single is to be married, and that’s a civil right and sacred
rite denied gays and lesbians in the Lutheran church.
So though the study purports to be about any sexual expression
outside of marriage, the sole groups under consideration—and
maybe I should be grateful?—are gay and lesbian people, not
Why is that?
I think it’s because the participants and responders in this
study are predominantly heterosexual and it is more convenient
to turn a blind eye to what heterosexual people may do outside
Does this suit me? Sure, I am a single, straight Lutheran
But is it just for there to be such a double standard? Of
That’s not to say I think all people—straight or gay—who are
or want to be pastors should be required to “embrace chastity”
in some kind of verifiable way.
Because I can’t bring myself to believe that somehow God wants
us to be lonely—or alone, if it’s not something we choose
voluntarily. I can’t stop myself from believing that God must
think it a good thing to have a private life. A private life.
So, while I am happy to have parishioners in my home, I not
inclined to want anyone snooping around my bedroom whom I
have not specifically invited to—and I’m speaking metaphorically,
But you see, I get to say that because I’m straight. My habits
are not really in question. Plus, I’ve got a range of options
open to me. There is chastity, of course, which is what all
single Lutheran pastors are supposed to embrace—though embracing
chastity does strike me as oxymoronic. There is marriage.
I can get married because I’m straight. I don’t need to bother
wondering if my church will permit me the dignity of creating
a union service; marriage is about as old as the hills. And
though there is no statistical support for the notion that
clergy marriages are more immune to divorce than other peoples’
(I myself am, to use that quaint parlance, a “double divorcee”),
it remains the only way that clergy in most mainline Protestant
denominations are supposed to be sexually active.
Of course, a person doesn’t go from being chaste to being
married overnight. There is that delicious thing called courtship.
And most clergy I know are not thinking about church policies
when they are going incarnational. At least I hope they’re
But pretty much all of that doesn’t matter. Because single,
heterosexual clergy are not on the hot seat. Gay ones are.
Or gay people who want to become clergy in the Lutheran church.
That’s the group the study addressed and that’s the group
to whom the study’s recommendations deny full inclusion.
People I’ve talked to about this keep saying it’s a sign of
the times. That the country has swung into line with our administration.
That the recommendations are partly to mollify Midwesterners
(something like 46 percent of the respondents were from the
Midwest) or older people (80 percent of respondents were 45
That may well be. There’s no question that the responses to
the questions raised were by and large to oppose same-sex
blessings and the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.
But in one way the study and the questions it tries to address
sidestep a most central issue: Why is the church perpetuating
a view that divorces love from sex—at least for a selected
group of single people of faith—in a world that, it seems
to me, can only made richer when genuine love can be fully