Lutheran Theology and Freedom to Marry Compiled from Marriage Equality in the 21 st Century: What Would Luther Say? Written by Sue Best

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1 Lutheran Theology and Freedom to Marry Compiled from Marriage Equality in the 21 st Century: What Would Luther Say? Written by Sue Best Luther s Works Volumes of Luther s Works are called the Christian in Society. In this section Luther offers sermons and treatises on some key ethical dilemmas of his day. The basis of Luther s ethics as Christian ethic - faith active in love, which is interwoven in his social ethic - love seeking justice. 1 There is additional discussion of these ethics and their connection to the two kingdoms of God, redemption and creation. In the kingdom of God, the Redeemer rules all believers through Christ and the gospel in personal faith and love. With the kingdom of men: the Creator rules all sinful but rational creatures through Caesar and the law in civil justice and order. 2 Though these two kingdoms are distinct, they are interrelated and are not to be separated. Whether empowered by Christ in faith-activated love (Christian righteousness) or compelled by Caesar in law-abiding reason (civil righteousness), the Christian citizen lives not for himself but for the benefit of others. 3 Within volumes 44, 45, and 46 of Luther s Works, Luther discusses at length the topic of marriage particularly in reference to its civil nature. In regard to marriage, Luther is quite adamant that it is not a sacrament. He considered it a civil act and therefore governed by law not gospel. Luther refers to marriage as: an external, worldly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority. 4 Luther noted that in the New Testament, neither Christ nor the apostles had any involvement with laws governing marriage. 5 Though Luther did not consider marriage a sacrament; he held it in high regard. He viewed it as a covenant of physical and spiritual fidelity that meets the needs and wellbeing of each person. 6 The Book of Concord-Law and Gospel The law provides an infrastructure that creates a sense of constancy and order. Gospel offers the redeeming message of Jesus Christ, which provides the basis and guide for creating loving relationships. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (AP), it also suggests the Gospel approves secular government. We are instructed to follow laws created within the civil realm regardless of who has formulated them. It states: Christian perfection is not found in contempt for civil ordinances but in the inclinations of the heart, and a profound fear of God, and a strong faith." 7 The Formula of Concord Epitome (FCE) also informs us that the law is a divine teaching...the Gospel urges us to practice love through this obedience. 8

2 It is clear from Luther s writings on marriage that his firm stance was that marriage was a civil act. As we consider the issues that surround gay marriage today, how we define and view marriage from a legal and civic standpoint is of critical importance. The Role of the Church Apology-They define church as: the assembly of holy people (saints) who share an association of the same gospel or doctrine and the same Holy Spirit, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts They are bound together by their faith in God belief, their redemption through Jesus Christ, and blessings of the Holy Spirit. 10 In the Smalcald Articles Luther describes the church as: Its holiness exists in the Word of God and true faith. 11 How do we define church in the 21 st century? What leads many to the door of churches today are those same yearnings and bonds that Martin Luther and his fellow theologians suggest: our common core beliefs and faith, the desire for community, our desire for a spirit-filled and peaceful heart. What also brings people to church and to a particular faith tradition is that they feel welcomed. For couples in same-gender relationships, the journey to find the right faith community can be challenging. When entering a church, is someone identified as GLBT received as a true child of God? Does the community of believers gathered truly welcome the stranger as Jesus suggests in Matthew s Gospel (Matt. 25:35)? 12 Justification What follows is a summary of key elements of the Confessional writings on justification that are pertinent to this discussion on not only marriage equality, but also how people who consider themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) are treated in society. In Augsburg Confession (AC) XX: Concerning Faith and Good Works, it states that the primary path to God is through our faith and following the path of Jesus. It is only through that belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ who died for our sins that we receive God s grace. In the Apology, the Reformers repeatedly reject the notion that it is through works that we gain God s grace. This is at the heart of justification. The authors of the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration (FCSD) boldly affirm the importance of justification by referring to it as the most important of all Christian teachings. 13 Being accepted and loved without conditions can be profound for someone who is gay, just as it is for anyone who experiences discrimination of any form. The realization that one is loved for simply being who you are not just what you do can be very freeing. Same-sex couples seeking the opportunity to marry also desire to be treated with dignity and love. A committed couple desires to have that relationship acknowledged as important, meaningful, and worthy of the church s blessings.

3 Like all human beings, a person who identifies as GLBT needs and desires that unconditional love offered by God. One strives to experience true love and respect as a fellow human being. As was true for Luther in his understanding and embracing the true meaning of justification, you are born again. A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust The Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) published in 2009 A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. As we consider the issue of marriage equality and the ELCA s role and response to it, this document provides a good reference. What follows are key points that have direct bearing on this issue. Within the introduction, we are asked to consider the matter of human sexuality in light of Jesus Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind... and You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40). 14 The importance of the church s doctrine of justification by faith is noted. In response to God s mercy for us, as Lutherans we are called to the vocational task of serving our neighbor. 15 As followers of Jesus Christ, we are asked to respond to the needs of our neighbor with humility, compassion, joy, and empathy. Scripture informs us that God seeks a relationship of trust and love with all humanity. As children of God, we are loved deeply and never abandoned by God. We too are not to abandon our sisters and brothers. 16 Though we our called to be in relationship with others, human sexuality is very complex. Sexuality consists of a rich and diverse combination of relational, emotional, and physical interactions and possibilities. 17 God desires for us as humans to seek companionship, which is to include intimate relationships. 18 Love and sexual intimacy can be an outgrowth from a deep and trusting relationship with another person. Sexual love is God s good gift which can offer rich rewards such as of delight, romance, safety, pleasure, and deep contentment. 19 It can also provide the context for individuals, families, and the community to thrive. 20 Social trust is essential within society and must be a central concern for all who seek the good of the neighbor in the pursuit of justice and the common good." 21 A component of social trust is having mutual respect for the dignity of all people and their consciences. 22 As we look at the civil use of the law, Lutherans have long viewed marriage as a legal contract that is publically accountable, which provides social support and trust. 23 It is viewed as providing a framework for maintaining justice and peace in the world, and protecting the vulnerable. Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God. 24 It provides a structure within which a relationship can grow in its love, commitment, trust, and integrity. 25 As Christians, we also view marriage in the context of the larger community as it provides long-term and durable communion for the good of others. 26 The ELCA has been gaining a greater understanding of the needs of same-gender couples that seek public accountability and support for their relationships. How the church views and honors these relationships is a source of much debate. Part of the challenge is the consideration of how marriage is defined. 27

4 There is discussion within this document about the conscience-bound beliefs of its members. 28 There are distinctly different perspectives offered about how to view the nature of same-gender relationships including the following: 1. Homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships reflect a broken world and do not properly reflect the creation God had intended. 2. Neighbor and the community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high public standard. Though community support and pastoral care should be offered to same-gender couples, these relationships do not equal a marriage. 3. Scripture does not address the issues of same-gender committed relationships. Neighbor and community are best served when same-gender couples are held to the same sexual ethics, standards, and standing as heterosexual marriage. 4. Same-gender couples should have access to the same social and legal standing for themselves, children, and other dependents. Couples should also seek the highest accountability available under the law. 29 Sustaining a family is critical to Lutherans as it is a source of social trust and stability within our community. 30. How family is currently defined has changed dramatically over recent decades with the increasing presence of blended families, single-parent families, as well as those lead by same-gender couples. We are called to welcome and support all families which allows us to be trustworthy in our relationships with one another and to build social institutions and practices that create trust. 31 As Christians, we are indeed charged with the imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves. Supporting all commitment couples with their desire to marry is a natural outgrowth of that full and abundant love. This commentary is from a paper entitled: Marriage Equality in the 21 st Century: What Would Luther Say? It was prepared by Sue Best, graduate student at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, for her Lutheran Confessions course this year. Sue is a member of Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland. She is also in candidacy in the Oregon Synod for a word and service ministry. For this summary, key documents that were referenced included: Luther s Works, The Christian is Society, Vol. 44, 45, 46; The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America s 2009 Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. What is offered here is not the entirety of the original 20-page paper but rather an edited version. Hopefully you will find some key references useful for your discussions about the freedom to marry with your congregation, family, and friends. Should you desire to have the document in its entirety, Sue is happy to provide that to you. Her is:

5 Footnotes and Bibliography 1. Martin Luther, Luther s Works: The Christian in Society, Vol. 44, ed. James Atkinson and Helmut T. Lehman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), p. xii. 2. Ibid, p. xiii. 3. Ibid, p. xii. 4. Martin Luther, Luther Works: The Christian in Society, Vol. 46, ed. James Atkinson and Helmut T. Lehman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), p Ibid, p Luther, Luther s Works: The Christian in Society, Vol. 44, p The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, trans. Charles Arand, Eric Gritsch, Robert Kolb, William Russell, James Schaaf, Jane Strohl, and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), p Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p Holy Bible, p The Book of Concord p Holy Bible, p Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, 2009, p Ibid, p Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid, p Ibid. 21. Ibid, p Ibid. 23. Ibid, p Ibid. 25. Ibid, p Ibid. 27. Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid. 30. Ibid, p Ibid, p. 36. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Luther, Martin. Luther s Works: The Christian in Society, Vol Edited by James Atkinson and Helmut T. Lehman. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, The Book of Concord. Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Translated by Charles Arand, Eric Gritsch, Robert Kolb, William Russell, James Schaaf, Jane Strohl, and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

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