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A compilation of essays and comments by concerned pastors, theologians and laypersons, challenging denominations who are denying Christ’s resurrection, ‘demythologizing’ Scripture, blessing same-sex relationships, ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.

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—dissenting member of Sexuality Task Force, speaks out

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

News: February 17, 2005

A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Task Force on Sexuality has issued short statements on what he calls a “minority report” on the task force’s “Report and Recommendations” to The Lutheran magazine, Solid Rock Lutherans and a longer version to WordAlone.

The task force recommendations calls for unity within the denomination and commitment to continuing to talk about its disagreements on homosexual lifestyles; for continuing to respect the “pastoral guidance” of a 1993 Conference of Bishops statement on homosexuality; and to continue using the denomination’s current standards of sexual conduct for rostered ministers while refraining from disciplining those who violate those standards.

Louis M. Hesse, the dissenting member, said in an interview Wednesday that he is the author of the first dissent in the report and that he disagrees with all three of the recommendations. He raises corn and hogs on a farm in Moses Lake, Wash. His full statement appears at the end of this article.

Hesse said, “The person, who wrote the report’s other dissenting statement—at the other end of the spectrum— and I did agree that having policies and practices and not enforcing them would be destructive in the community in the long run because it would breed disrespect and disobedience. When you say you’re not going to enforce these boundaries, it encourages people to disrespect any and all boundaries.”

The other person’s dissent would remove barriers to ordaining non-celibate homosexuals and ultimately call for development of policies for ordaining persons in same-sex relationships and blessing their relationships, while defining chastity in heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Hesse’s dissenting statement in the report calls for the ELCA to maintain the current standards that rostered ministers who view themselves as homosexual must remain celibate and that the denomination uphold the social statements (on sexuality) of two of its predecessor bodies, the Lutheran Church in America and the America Lutheran Church.

Further, Hesse’s dissent called for discipline of those who violate current standards and policies but “admonishes” those who do any disciplining to do it in “all humility” and remembering “the log” in their own eyes.”

Hesse also “beseeches” those, who violate the policies because of their consciences, to “graciously accept and endure the discipline of the church for the sake of peace, secure in the knowledge ‘that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Rom. 8:18).”

“I have no qualms with my position’s being known,” he told this interviewer. “It’s a matter of personal integrity. This is where I’m at and if you [somebody doesn’t] don’t like it, I’ll discuss it with you [them].”

He said he is at peace after reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together,” which was recommended to him by another task force member.

“In reading that book and recognizing what Bonhoeffer had gone through, I realized that what we suffer in this life is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered,” Hesse said. “Not that we’re suffering, but it’s just recognizing that we honor the proclamation [of the gospel] no matter what it costs. It made me very strong and calm about what was going on, very peaceful.”

With a bit of amusement, he added, “Some people recommended things to me to read in hopes of changing me and they only made me stronger in my witness.”

When asked if he thought the task force had been stacked in favor making changes in church policy to allow ordination or licensing ministers in same-sex relationship and to bless such relationships, Hesse responded: “When has that not been true? Moses before Pharaoh; Jesus before the Sanhedrin; and Paul in Rome? My comment is, ‘So what?’

“The professionals should look out for the little guy because oftentimes God works through the little guy. I mean, that’s scriptural! Can you think of anyone less likely for God to work through than a pig farmer?”

Why I Dissented: Some Thoughts

Lou Hesse

For the sake of clarity and accepting personal responsibility for my actions, I wish to “come out of the closet” with some of the reasons why the position one dissent in the ELCA Sexuality Task Force report came from my pen.

On Unity: “Who is this disturber of the peace of Israel?”

Unity in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a laudable goal for which we all should work, but unity in some sort of fallen human entity can be as fundamentally misdirected as any individual sinner. King Ahab’s quote above (speaking about the prophet Elijah) reminds us that sometimes the cause of Satan is served by pressing for unity above all in “our mission together.”

“No one would choose to be gay.”

One thing I have changed due to my involvement in the task force is that I no longer refer to gay expression as simply a matter of choice. This drives at the heart of a matter, which is very important to Lutherans and differentiates us to a certain extent from our brethren in the Evangelical and Catholic camps. Evangelicals and Catholics love to talk about free will – sin is a matter of choices made or not made. Lutherans should talk about the bound will. We are in bondage to sin and bound to Christ – at the same time saint and sinner –simul iustus et peccator.

The gay community argues no one would choose to be gay, so it must be a created good. I do not choose to be prideful, envious, greedy, lustful, angry, gluttonous, or slothful (the seven deadly sins of Catholicism). Since I regularly engage in all of those behaviors, does that mean they are all good? No, it means, “I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself.” No one chooses to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, addicted to gambling, a nymphomaniac, a pedophile, or a hebephile, among many other things that the community frowns upon. Are these then good as well?

It is an awful big leap from not being a choice to being good. A leap I can’t make.

Pastoral Care: Is it “I’m OK, you’re OK” or “I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, Jesus is Lord”?

In our self-centered therapeutic culture, pastoral care is evidently becoming that which makes one feel good about oneself. I’ll be the first to agree that pastoral response is going to be far different to a person holding a gun, threatening suicide in a profound state of depression and despair, as opposed to a person living in a full state of denial claiming “all is well with my soul,” but the rubrics of pastoral care and response must begin with the understanding that Jesus Christ died and rose for the sake of sinners. Law and Gospel are both required. Law, so we recognize the truth of who we are, fallen beings before a holy God; and Gospel, so we realize what God has done to deal with our fallenness. All else is simply denial and deceit.

“Let your conscience be your guide.” -- Jiminy Cricket, or “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life,” and Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” -- Mark 10:17b-18

How do we decide what is good? Conscience matters a great deal to Lutherans, right? After all, it was “conscience bound to the Word of God” that Luther cited at Worms. The important part is bound to the Word of God, in my view. Please note Jesus’ words cited in the story of the rich young ruler above. “No one is good but God alone.” I have listened carefully for a place from scripture (God’s Word) where God says gay expression is good. Everyone on the task force has agreed, “Scripture has nothing good to say about gay expression.” God deals with his people through the Word. In the absence of a good word from God and the presence of a number of negative words from God, I am left saying this is not good.

“I am a new thing.” – Gene Robinson, among other gay advocates, or “I make all things new.”-- Jesus Christ

What is the “new thing” of scripture? The experience of new things in the Christian community has been fairly consistently a cry taken up by false prophets. I live in a Mormon community, so Joseph Smith comes to mind immediately. A personal claim to being a “new thing” from God strikes me as an ultimate claim of human hubris. In my mind, the new thing of the scriptural witness is that Jesus Christ has power over death. He brought people back from death and He himself rose from the dead. I think that is the last “new thing” worth paying attention to.

“God don’t make no Junk” -- mantra of the 1970s “A weed is a plant out of place.” -- basic agronomy

The engineers who design a highway lay out the roads and then lay out the rules of the road – stop signs, do not pass stripes, wrong way signs, one way signs, do not enter signs, speed limits, cornering speed recommendations, etc. The designer has in mind how things will go best and sets boundaries for his creation to best function as it is designed. It’s all designed and planned with good intentions of helping people to get where they need to go. Problems arise when boundaries are violated. What was designed as a good thing suddenly results in death and destruction when someone decides to go the wrong way on a one-way street. One of the ways a person can recognize he is going the wrong way is by the death and destruction surrounding or impacting upon himself as he makes his journey.

While the analogy of a highway system is, of course, incomplete, much the same can be said for the functioning of God’s creation. When things are not going according to design, parts of God’s good creation suddenly have impacts they should not have, causing death and destruction. God created things like syphilis bacteria, gonorrhea bacteria, HIV, the viral agents that cause cervical and anal cancer, herpes virus, and numerous other agents which shouldn’t be a problem if we would or could simply pay attention to His road signs (His will). We can’t, (we sin) and we fall short (hamartia= sin), so we suffer the consequences, which God himself laments. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and one sign of our fallenness is the suffering inflicted upon us by agents in God’s good creation. The severe mental, physical, and emotional health problems connected with gay expression and our current sexual mores should drive us to recognize we are going the wrong way, and it is time to turn around (repent).

“Honor your Father and your Mother.”

My paternal grandfather died when my father was three years old. My father was surrounded by loving people including a couple of caring uncles and many cousins, but no one could replace his father’s love and guidance. My father has acutely felt the pain from this loss for the last 72 of his 75 years. He has had a wonderful and blessed life, but one cannot truly know my father without recognizing this wound in his psyche. He has always stated to my mother and the rest of us that the most important thing to him was being a good father to his children. The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.

It is simply a tragedy when a child is deprived of a mother’s and/or father’s love due to death, disease, divorce, or other dysfunction. This is a fundamental paradigm of healthy human community recognized by communities even beyond the Christian sphere.

I had a long conversation (among several such encounters) with a gay man in Issaquah, Washington. He and his “husband” have several adopted children. My final questions to him in our conversation were: “What will your children know of a mother’s love?” “What will the children of a lesbian couple know of a father’s love?” The Judeo-Christian community has always declared this kind of deprivation tragic. Some faith communities believe it to be unimportant. The concept that both motherly AND fatherly love in a child’s life is unimportant cannot be described as anything but wicked, in my opinion.

My final prayer for those who cannot see this is a calm reiteration of what must be among the holiest words of scripture: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

With all due respect,

Louis M. Hesse

Member, ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality