Martin Luther Comes Out - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Martin Luther Comes Out

Would the founder of the Protestant Reformation have endorsed same-sex unions?


Or at least according to USA Today columnist Mary Zeiss Stange, who is — predictably — a professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College in New York.

According to Stange in her July 9 column, a modern Luther would recognize that the “few biblical proscriptions against ‘sodomy’…should not bar the loving union of two gay or lesbian persons.” A 21st century Luther would also ordain homosexuals into the ministry “as in line with his theology of the ‘priesthood of all believers.'”

Stange was upset because a few days earlier the 4.9 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) had removed an openly homosexual Atlanta pastor from its “approved” list of ministers.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling of St. John’s ELCA congregation is sexually involved with another man. His denomination, which is the largest Lutheran body in America, requires its clergy to be celibate if single and monogamous if married.

A church committee in February ruled that Schmeling was in defiance of church law. But the liberal 350-member congregation has kept Schmeling in the pulpit and is hoping that the ELCA’s next national convention in August will overturn the prohibition against actively homosexual clergy.

At its last governing convention, the ELCA narrowly affirmed its current orthodox teachings on Christian sexual ethics. But like other declining, and liberal-led, mainline denominations, it has rancorously debated homosexuality for many years without final resolution. Among major communions, only the 1.1 million member United Church of Christ has officially affirmed homosexual practice. Meanwhile, the 2 million member Episcopal Church, which elected its first openly homosexual bishop in 2003, is fracturing over the issue.

USA Today‘s religion columnist is hoping for a new “reformation” centered upon sexual inclusiveness. But Stange’s attempt to link her reformation with the Reformation takes a circuitous route.

“Lutheran anti-gay activists routinely, and correctly, point out that Luther had plenty of bad things to say about the scourge of ‘Sodomites’ in 16th century Germany,” Stange reluctantly admitted. She lamented that the German former monk, like St. Paul, was the unfortunate “product of the social prejudices of his time and culture.” Medieval Christians, like first century Jews, were not yet educated about “orientation” and “lifestyle,” she suggested.

But certainly Luther, as a theological revolutionary, would have embraced homosexuality today, Stange insisted. After all, the Reformer celebrated “physical” sex, honored marriage as a “blessed estate,” and sacramentalized “the natural inclination and excitement” that brings two people together. A modern Luther would surely realize that the “few” biblical condemnations of same-sex relations are archaically “rooted in a worldview vastly different from our own,” Stange surmised.

The ELCA’s next Churchwide Assembly convenes August 6-12, and Stange hopes that Luther’s spiritual descendents will launch their sexual reformation there. As Episcopalians struggle with the global Anglican Communion over their sexual debates, and the ELCA wrangles over its sexual disagreements, “Protestants in both American denominations would best begin by asking, ‘What would Luther do?'”

Stange’s reasoning is common among mainline Protestant elites, who long ago would have led all their denominations into a sexual reformation, if unrestrained by traditionalist local church laity who pay their salaries. For the elites, shaped by their own experiences in the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, and feminist causes, the Christian faith is primarily a battering ram for egalitarian social reforms. For them, the divine kingdom is just a few protest movements away from earthly consummation.

But Luther had far more in common with the Catholic Church than with the Reformation’s liberal descendants. He affirmed a transcendent moral order, revealed obliquely through nature, and more explicitly through Scripture, as transmitted by the Church. He was not so much a revolutionary as an innovating reactionary, striving to peel back what he believed to be problematic church traditions in favor of Scripture’s plain meaning.

The Protestant Reformer would recognize and undoubtedly approve of Pope John Paul’s II’s “theology of the body.” Unlike modern secular culture’s preoccupation with self-autonomy and “lifestyle,” the late Pope taught a sacred unity between spirit and the physical body. That unity included a unique complementariness between male and female. Liberal Protestants reject that. Like Stange, they believe that only a few troublesome Scripture verses, penned by repressed Jewish men of the ancient world, stand between them and revolutionary sexual freedom.

In contrast, orthodox Christian teaching paints a much broader canvass that likens marriage to the fidelity between Jesus and The Church, and between Jehovah and the Hebrews. This imagery, to which Luther frequently referred in his fulsome celebration of matrimony between man and woman, poses a far larger obstacle to sexual revolutionaries.

So naturally, Stange and her cohorts instead prefer to cite the “few” Scripture references to homosexuality, while ignoring the much richer cosmology that obstructs their path. The passionate German ex-monk who led the Reformation rejoiced in both the Bible and in his marriage. Had he read Stange’s USA Today column, Luther would recognize little in her argument except the rich evidence of fallen human nature.

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