Friday, February 24, 2012

But with tolerance and understanding

Wolfhart Pannenberg, a rather prominent Lutheran theologian, explains why the church takes the position it does with respect to homosexuality and why it can't depart from that position:
Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matt. 10:37). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

The will of God [is to] be the guiding star of our identity and self-determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus' word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior. ....

.... The reality of homophile inclinations...need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife, [in] particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Who is Wolfhart Pannenberg? From Michael Root, in "The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg," a new article at First Things:
Some theologians are mirrors of their time. .... Other theologians have a more conflicted relation with their age: engaged, but cutting against the grain; in their time, but not quite of it. Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the most gifted Protestant theologians of his generation, has never seemed quite to fit his surroundings, which may say more about his surroundings than about him. The German theological world has been far less shaken than the English-speaking world by the changes in academic culture of the last decades: feminism, the hermeneutics of suspicion, the dismissal of truth-claims as disguised assertions of power. Even by German standards, however, Pannenberg’s theology has an oddly old-fashioned air.

Pannenberg is not a man who follows fads. .... [much more]
Should We Support Gay Marriage? by Wolfhart Pannenberg, First Things: The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg