Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria on the Curious Preoccupation with Homosexuality in Church Circles

I'm intrigued by one line, in particular, in this Huffington Post story about the decision of the Lutheran church in Bavaria to permit clergy in partnered gay unions to live with their partners in rectories.  This is the observation of the presiding bishop of Bavaria's Lutheran church, Johannes Friedrich, that while society itself has moved in the direction of understanding and affirming those who are gay, "church circles" remain more intransigent on these issues.

Bishop Friedrich is right.  Some of my partner Steve's roots lie in Bavaria, in the same staunchly Catholic region of the Oberpfalz from which the current pope comes.  We've visited his cousins there, and they've visited us and his family in Minnesota.  We had a call from some of those cousins this past weekend, in fact.

And though they live in a small village in a deeply (and exclusively) Catholic area of Germany, they don't have a homophobic bone in their bodies, and casually invite Steve and me to share a bedroom and bed when we visit.  It's not even a question.

People in general have frequently moved in the direction of tolerance and acceptance of those who are gay--in the direction of mere human decency, that is to say.  But "church circles" refuse to do so.

The question is why that's the case, and what it portends for the future of the churches.  In my own Catholic church, the culture-war battle cry of folks like the newly elected officials of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference Dolan and Kurtz is that the church should not concede an inch to culture.  Let all the world around us go to hell in a handbasket.  We refuse to do the same.

But in response to that culture war battle cry, I'm inclined to suggest that the decision of many people of faith to accept and affirm their gay brothers and sisters is anything but a concession to cultural norms that undermine authentic Christian faith.  It's rooted, instead, in the same authentic Christian faith that church leaders of the ilk of Dolan and Kurtz claim to be defending.

Recently, when several officials of the Lutheran church in Finland stated on national television that gay relationships run counter to biblical values and the traditional values of the church, there was a national outcry, which resulted in the decision of more than 40,000 Lutheran Finns to have their names removed from the church rolls.  These Lutheran Finns did not want to be associated with a church that targets and attacks those who are gay and lesbian in the name of Christ.

With the exception of the highly energized and highly politicized religious right of the U.S. (a highly energized and highly politicized religious right that the American Catholic church is now entering even more overtly under the leadership of Dolan-Kurtz) and of some crypto-fascist Catholic groups throughout Europe, most Christians of the developed parts of the world (but far from all, particularly in leadership circles of churches) have now decided that it's homophobia that's the problem, when it comes to biblical values. 

Not homosexuality.  

In committing their church to an even more rabidly homophobic stance than it now already has at an official level, Timothy Dolan and Joseph Kurtz may imagine themselves to be making a bold and defiant countercultural gesture.  But increasingly, many of their brothers and sisters in Christ, including many of those lay Catholics whose voice they're intent on suppressing ("we are the teachers!"), will see this gesture not as countercultural, but as counter-gospel.

And they'll continue to ask why the celibate leaders of their church are so curiously preoccupied with what they think their gay brothers and sisters are doing in their bedrooms.

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