As a Christian, I believe that the reading and study of Holy Scripture is a major piece in our decision-making on this Christian-human rights issue. My previous column explained the texts that guide my decision-making. And there is more. In his column in THE LUTHERAN, Craig L. Nessan, Academic Dean and Professor of Contextual Theology at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, wrote:
The Reformers were confident that God's Word would
guide the church to truth. Martin Luther argued for the
priority of the literal sense of Scripture. "...we must look
and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us."
....Where the meaning of Scripture is confusing or ambiguous,
Luther employed another important principle: "Scripture
interprets itself". Because the Bible is its own highest authority,
one searches the rest of Scripture to shed light on obscure texts.
These observations are helpful because they allow Scripture to address issues of the present, throughout the centuries. They remind us of the importantce of context. All of Scripture was written within various historical contexts, speaking to diverse historical situations. It is good to remember that the Holy Spirit "blows where it wills" and makes the Word of God fresh at each moment of life. The function of the Holy Spirit is in part to make the Truth of Scripture real in the present. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit we could not know God/Jesus. The Holy Spirit contextualizes Holy Scripture and makes God/Jesus relevant for today as it focuses the Word of God as Light for today's issues.
Luther's wisdom also reminds us that it is improper to simply take all the supposedly anti-gay verses, string them together, and come out with a truthful position against gays and those living in a committed relationship. Luther says look at the whole of Scripture! Remember, there are 66 books in the Holy Bible! This means it is dangerous and dishonest to simply use a verse here and there as proof texts to justify our biases. Look at the big picture of the Word!
Bishop Herb Chilstrom, former Bishop of the ELCA, recently wrote a letter in support of the ordination of gays living in a committed relationship. He spoke of the truth of "scripture within scripture". This means, look to Jesus, the Spirit of the Christ, as we also look at the literalness of Scripture. Looking to Jesus gives us a worldview of Scripture, broadening our understanding of the Word along with the reality of context and culture.
Chilstrom also speaks of the value of experience in discernment. Our life experiences influence our understanding of Scripture. I recall being a Bible camp counselor at Park River Bible Camp in northern North Dakota, spending a week with Pastor Nelson Trout, the first African American pastor in the ALC. Working with him was my first experience partnering with a "Negro". It was a refreshing eye-opener! Attending Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, allowed me to make friends with two African Americans, and have them as part of Linda's and my wedding party. I was also part of a student government project to begin a student exchange program between Concordia and Virginia Union University, a primarily Black university in the East. Doing ministry in Milwaukee allowed me the opportunity to work with Black ministers and community leaders. Outdoor ministry opened me to working with our Native American friends, and to also hire and work with gay staff. These experience informed my understandings of Scripture. Word and world are wedded realities. "For God so loved the world...." Experience is hard wired into our Christian identities.
All in all, Holy Scripture opens us to the other, to our committed gay brothers and sisters in Christ. In this historical moment, it is time to open our church, to open our hearts, to open our faith to a bright new time.