Monday, March 22, 2010



The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has departed from the "catholic consensus" on the morality of homosexuality. This is a criticism leveled against the ELCA by those who disagree with its decisions to recognize "publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous" same-sex relationships, and to permit the ordination of pastors living in such relationships. The criticism is right. The ELCA has, in fact, departed from the church's millenia-long tradition of condemning homosexuality.

Tradition is important. In the Church, tradition keeps us grounded, keeps us in line with the historic faith, and assures that we remain a part of the "holy, catholic Church" which we confess in the Creed.

Perhaps you know the story about the young bride who cut the end off of a beef roast before she put it in the oven. Her husband asked her "Why do you do that?" She answered, "I don't know. My mother always did it. Let's ask her."

So they called the mother. "Mom, why do you cut the end off of a beef roast before you put it in the oven?" She answered, "I don't know. That's the way my mother always prepared a roast. Let's ask her."

So they called the grandmother. "Why do you cut the end off of a roast beef before you put it in the oven?" "Don't you know?" the grandmother replied. "My roasting pan is too small. That's the only way to make it fit."

Tradition is important, but a slavish and unexamined devotion to tradition is silly.

Lutherans have departed from the "catholic consensus" on a number of issues in the past. If we had not, we would still have seven Sacraments instead of two. We would have only male clergy, and arguably they would be celibate. We would recognize the power, and perhaps the primacy of the Pope. We would believe that the sun revolves around the earth. All of these things have been a part of the "catholic consensus." So, while tradition is important, it can, and sometimes should, be changed.

The ELCA did not depart from the "catholic consensus" on homosexuality willy-nilly. The 2009 ChurchWide Assembly decisions were made only after a long period of study, discussion, prayer, reflection and debate. The ELCA has found that our roasting pan is longer than our grandparents'. We no longer need to cut the end off of the roast.

The picture for this post is Topol in the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof. It was a wonderful film and Topol gave a sound performance. Traditionalists, however, might prefer Zero Mostel's portrayal of Tevye. I found the picture here.

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