I see that Carl Braaten has issued yet another jeremiad against the ELCA. This one is in response to the recently-issued draft social statement on sexuality and the accompanying recommendations. There’s not much new there, with one important exception. Braaten has now decided that the controversy over the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church’s life (he opposes it) should be elevated to a status confessionis issue, meaning that the integrity of the Gospel itself is at stake. Gospel and law cannot, in his view, be separated in this case.
Braaten goes so far as to compare the present situation to the churches’ position vis-a-vis Nazi Germany and apartheid-era South Africa and, bizarrely, even openly argues against showing charity or respect to those with whom he disagrees. This goes from preposterous to grotesque when one recalls how LGBT people were in fact treated under those regimes, even more so when one considers the emerging anti-gay fascism in Nigeria, which is happening in the name of God’s law and with the full backing of conservative Anglican archbishop Peter Akinola. If anything, why isn’t the issue deserving of status confessionis whether the Christian churches are going to recognize the full humanity of all of God’s children?
The intractability of this argument suggests, to me, that identifying a particular stance on a moral issue with the Gospel itself is generally ill-advised. For example, I feel very strongly that animals shouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of horrors routinely inflicted on them in factory farms. Should I now declare this issue to have status confessionis and anathematize anyone not prepared to make stopping it a priority for the church? Other people feel very strongly that pacifism is constitutive of the Gospel. You can’t wave away moral disagreement between serious, thoughtful people simply be asserting that the Gospel is at stake. The whole point is that people who are equally committed to the Gospel disagree.
Moreover, these controversies aren’t a result of “the culture” somehow insidiously infecting a pristine “church” as though these were two hermetically-sealed realms. They arise from within the church, as a result of the experience and reflections of people who are Christians and who are immersed in and shaped by their culture. This leads to a rather messy situation which can make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially when they want the church to take clear, unequivocal moral stands. Is that why Braaten continues to pine for a “high” ecclessiology with a (quasi?)Catholic magisterium that will cut through the debate and lay down the law in the ELCA?
More from the ATR archives: Moral diversity in the church