Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scharen Responds to Hinlicky on the Proposed Recommendations to the ELCA

Some of you may know that I am one of 150+ signers to the statement, "Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA," whereby we state that we wish to "to affirm and support the four recommendations on Ministry Policies proposed by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis" which will be held this August. Our support for the recommendations has been attacked by ELCA theologian Paul Hinlicky as "misleading and self-contradictory." Among other things, he accuses us of not affirming the authority of Scripture and of teaching material anti-nomianism.

I signed the statement because I agree with the recommendations and the rationale behind them, even though I am not pleased with the Sexuality Statement itself which I think is theologically weak and insufficient in its treatment of the first use of the law. Indeed, I think a strong case *can* be made for same-gender marriage from a non-Thomistic understanding of natural law, or as Lutherans have preferred, "ordering of creation." This is a project that Chuck and I hope to work on once he finishes his dissertation.

In the meantime, I would like to draw your attention to some recent blog posts of my colleague at Luther Seminary, Christian Scharen, who makes his own argument for a pro-gay ethic that is Scripturally and Confessionally based. Chris makes his argument in four posts:

"God Loves Gays: On Lutheran Debates, Part 1"
"God Loves Gays Gay: On Lutheran Debates, Part 2"
"God Loves Gay Desire: On Lutheran Debates, Part 3"
"God Loves Gay Desire: On Lutheran Debates, Part 4"

You can find more of Chris's writings on this topic (among others) on his faculty web site at Luther Seminary.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The return of indulgences

Last week, indulgences made the headlines again. Many Roman Catholic parishes recently have revived the practice of offering indulgences as a way to get people to think more about penance and return to confession. This move, which has received mixed reviews among Catholic scholars, is troubling and confusing to Lutherans who wonder how the Roman Catholic Church can continue this practice in light of the "consensus in basic truths" between Lutherans and Catholics in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). Indulgences, after all, were the focus of Luther's 95 Theses, which sparked the Reformation in 1517. The practice, which fell into disuse after Vatican II, was revived by Pope John Paul II right on the heels of the adoption of JDDJ. This led to an outcry among many Protestants . In 2001, an ecumenical consultation of Lutherans, the Reformed, and the Roman Catholic Church met to discuss the theological issues involved in this practice in light of the consensus achieved in JDDJ.

Michael Root, a fellow member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, published an essay around this time which helpfully clarifies what indulgences do (and don't do) in Catholic devotional practice, but even Root is not sanguine about the new attention given to this practice. “It has been something of a mystery to us as to why now,” Root is quoted as saying in the New York Times article, adding that the renewal of indulgences has “not advanced” the dialogue. Indeed, the latest round of dialogue, on the Hope of Eternal Life is discussing, among other things, pentiential practices related to the dead, including indulgences and prayers for the dead, and the recent attention to and encouragement of indulgences does make our work more difficult.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Imaging Jesus

This semester I am teaching a class called "Christ and Atonement." The course is split roughly into two parts, the first part focusing on the "person" of Christ and the second on the "work" of Christ (theories on how we are saved as well as who is saved).

For the introductory class, we talked about the images of Jesus that we bring with us to the course. I asked the students to write down images that they associate with Jesus. There were many interesting responses, ranging from more traditional image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd to less traditional ones, like Mother or homeless person. I also asked the students to share "what Jesus looks like" for them and then I showed them this set of contemporary images of Jesus. Note: a different set of images that runs from the first through the 21st centuries can be found here. A shorter "tour" of historical images with commentary by Stephen Cook can be found here. Interestingly, none of these sets of images included the most famous image of Jesus in mid-20th century America, the Sallman Head of Christ, nor the "Christa" sculpture by Edwina Sandys that created a controversy when it was unveiled in a church for the first time in 1984.

Then I read this passage from a recent article in Lutheran Forum by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, entitled, "The Face of Jesus, Part II:"

". . . It is the historically specific, male, freeborn, Jewish image of Jesus that we are free to re-image, precisely because of his total assumption of humanity. Each of us is made in the Son's image, so the Son may be found in each of our faces . . .

On the one hand, a multiplicity of images of Christ can bespeak blessings upon the created goodness of skin that is white, brown, black, yellow, red, and any combination thereof, and of anatomy that is male or female, and of faces more or less beautiful. On the other hand, the images can convict the sin that assumes an easy alliance with Jesus because one is male or Jewish, as well as the sin that rejects Jesus because one is neither.

These mutiplicitous images may in fact be the only means to dismantle the idolatries of our minds and hearts by giving Jesus a face that we would never have given ourselves. We all need a Jesus who looks like us in our humanity, but perhaps even more we all need a Jesus who looks different from us to stand against us in our sin. Or to put it another way, it is not ulimately for my own sake that I need a Jesus different from myself, but for the sake of my neighbor, so that I may learn to see in my neighbor the humanity that Jesus died to save. For as you did it to one of the least of these, Jesus said, you did it to me." (Lutheran Forum 42/4 (Winter 2008: 9-10).

For fun, we ended with this clip from "Talladega Nights." (Note: just the first half of the clip pertains to the topic at hand!).

Friday, January 9, 2009

ELCA Bishops Visit Israel

More than 35 ELCA bishops are in Israel this week as part of their annual 2009 Bishops' Academy. Though planned more than a year ago, the trip is especially timely given the violent conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. A smaller group of bishops and staff arrived early for meetings with religious and political leaders. A blog has been set up on the ELCA website where you can follow their activities.