Austrian Pastor Urges Care When Addressing the Topic of Sexual Orientation
GREIFSWALD, Germany/GENEVA, 3 October 2008 (LWI) – “Everything is permissible, but not everything serves the community. But love does, and always discovers new possibilities,” affirmed theology professor Dr Hans Klein from Sibiu (Hermannstadt, Romania). In his presentation in mid-September before participants of the European Church Leadership Conference in Greifswald Germany, Klein spoke about “The Church’s View on Sexuality and Homosexuality.”
The consultation, attended by more than 90 church leaders from 44 European member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), discussed the report “Marriage, Family and Human Sexuality: Proposed Guidelines and Processes for Respectful Dialogue,” which had been received by the LWF Council at its March 2007 meeting in the Swedish town of Lund. A task force appointed by the LWF proposed guidelines and processes to guide respectful dialogue among member churches concerning diverging and converging conceptions within the communion about marriage, family and human sexuality. In Lund it was decided that this dialogue was to take place over a five-year period, during which interregional and international consultations would be held to support the process.
In connection with the debate on human sexuality, Klein pointed to the so-called Apostolic decree (Acts 15:20, 29). He said he felt that this example showed how, in cases of dispute, one does not simply acknowledge one side as being right and condemn the other. Said Klein, “The opposing view must always also be taken into consideration.” This is equally valid when the compromise leads in a very unexpected direction. “So, those opposed to innovations are also right to some extent,” the theologian explained. Christian love, especially, can help people to face the future together. Love is what counts, for love signifies a willingness to compromise and consideration for those who hold different points of view.
“Homosexual persons need support. As a church, we must take a leading role in this regard,” said Rev. Hedwig Pirker-Partaj of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria. She based her remarks on her experience in Austrian congregations.
“All of us search for truth; none of us has a personal claim to the truth,” she said. God’s truth is greater and more encompassing than humans can conceive. “What we see and recognize is merely a crazy quilt and so I beg you to be careful when you judge or especially condemn others,” the Austrian theologian pleaded. The homosexual person did not choose to be the way she or he is, nor is homosexuality an infection, the former youth delegate to the LWF Council insisted.
“Precisely in our Lutheran churches where we have painted justification through faith on our banner, we should strive to acknowledge our own ignorance, shortcomings and possible errors,” the Austrian pastor suggested with a view to future discussions.
Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania was critical in his reaction to the LWF task force’s report. The exegetical interpretation of churches who bless same-sex couples appears to be of an ideological rather than a theological nature. Interlinking theology and ideology has never borne good fruit, Sabutis stated.
According to his church’s understanding, the church’s main task is not to create new theologies, but rather to witness the truth revealed in Scripture, Sabutis continued. This biblical truth must always be a living truth for all generations despite the mainstreams of so-called public opinion, he insisted. It is thus the responsibility of the church to maintain the apostolic way of dealing with questions related to family and sexuality. This means that for Lutheran churches, the one family possible is the union between a man and a woman as God willed it to be, the bishop emphasized.
Lutheran churches still cannot agree on what the concrete expressions of sin are, emphasized Prof. Jan Olav Henriksen of Church of Norway, who was also part of the LWF task force. There is, however, agreement with regard to the fact that sin in the secular realm is recognizable as injustice and the destruction of life conditions, and in the spiritual realm, as lack of trust in the works of God, Henriksen said. Context and culture, especially, shape perceptions of the concrete expressions of sin. They challenge us to discuss why and how the different practices that exist in the various member churches came about. (721 words)