Spiritual Gifts and Hard Choices
Part of the argument for ordaining sexually active homosexuals, the ELCA Task Force Recommendations tell us, is to make use of the genuine gifts of the Spirit given to these persons. Once again, as one good point is made, the correlating point is lost...
Part of the argument for ordaining sexually active homosexuals, the ELCA Task Force Recommendations tell us, is to make use of the genuine gifts of the Spirit given to these persons.
“Advocates for change note that the gifts of the Spirit can be seen among us, not only in the lives of heterosexual Christians, but also in those who are lesbian or gay, including same-gender couples who are leading godly and commendable lives within the framework of lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Further, they note that partnered gay and lesbian members of this church experience God’s call to rostered ministry, demonstrate gifts for such ministries, and often have been affirmed in those calls and gifts by ELCA individuals, congregations, and synodical candidacy committees.” (187-191)
“Many advocates for change express deep concern about the harm done to Christians when they and their gifts are rejected by this church and the loss to this church’s mission when these gifts are not used.” (202)
Once again, as one good point is made, the correlating point is lost. As an “opponent” of this proposed change, I couldn’t agree more that it is a loss to the church when the Spirit-given gifts of homosexuals are not put to use in the church. I recognize that the Spirit does in fact give gifts to homosexuals. I hope that those on the other side realize how firmly I and others on this side believe this.
But this tragic loss can be seen from another angle—one not here acknowledged. The barrier to the use of these gifts in ordained ministry is not in ordination practice but in sexual practice. Ordination becomes possible for these candidates when sexual activity is given up. Which means that the bestowal of spiritual gifts on a homosexual is in fact a burden.
I think we have lost the burdensomeness of ministry in our theology and public talk about it—though certainly not in lived experience, as high rates of clergy burnout, poor health, and familial strife constantly remind us. You see this even in the literature given to people considering candidacy. The whole process praises and encourages them for joining the star league of the church, only to leave them utterly unprepared for their real work of being lambs sent to the slaughter and sheep among wolves.
Consider these words of Jesus in Matthew 10:
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
And later in the same chapter:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Such biblical passages inspired Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, which we all read and loved at seminary, with little sense of the real, painful, even devastating demands it would make on our own lives.
The whole conversation we are having about the ordination of homosexuals troubles me among other reasons because it assumes that there should be an easy, happy solution. I see nothing in the Scriptures to make me think this would be the case. I see promises of persecutions; also promises of rewards for those who can endure; but nothing to indicate to me that I should be absolved of the need for hard choices, genuine sacrifices, real heartbreak.
It would be obnoxious of me to say lightly to a gay colleague that the ministry requires celibacy, as if that weren’t a big deal, and I wouldn’t let him in the club otherwise. But I don’t say it lightly. I say it as someone upon whom the burden of gifts of the Spirit have also been laid, with sacrifices required in my own life. I won’t get into a competition over whose sacrifice is worse. Many clergy have sacrificed a greal deal more than I have, and the sacrifice of sexual intimacy is an excruciatingly difficult one. But I cannot suppose that such sacrifice is in itself at odds with the gospel or the call to the ministry of the gospel. It troubles me that this whole conversation is conducted with the assumption that no sacrifice or heartache need ever be necessary.