1. The ELCA's Eastern North Dakota Synod, in its annual assembly last weekend, voted 187-167 to reject the proposal of the churchwide task force which would permit pastors to live in monogamous same-sex relationships. This is a fairly close vote -- roughly 53/47 -- and no doubt reflects the strong emotions on both sides. There will likely be equally close votes all over the country this summer. (Our own synod will probably split 60/40 in favor of the proposal, but that's just a guess.)
The actual merits of the case are hard to assess. We have already complained that the work of the task force arrives at a place we consider defensible, but does so by a theological route that we consider unfortunate. We are also aware that a few regular readers disagree passionately with the conclusions of the task force, and consider them a breach with tradition and Scripture. (They're mistaken, but we know that's how they feel.)
But here is something that is not difficult to assess. At the North Dakota synod assembly, unless we are mistaken, the "nay" voters tried hard to demonstrate that they were voting in favor of tradition, and not against gay people. They probably objected, strenuously, to the innuendo directed at them by "yea" voters -- specifically, to the implication that they were cold-hearted ignorant homophobes.
Amazing how we can know this stuff without having been there, huh? It's almost as though we'd listened to the same damned arguments every spring for twenty years. And we do not doubt that, among the "nay" voters in North Dakota, there were many who have gay friends and family, even pastors, and who manage to love them and care about their well-being, while continuing to believe that the church ought not countenance their relationships.
But here's the thing:
2. Today's other Lutherans-and-gay people story concerns a decision by the California Supreme Court upholding a lower-court ruling which said that California Lutheran High School of Wildomar (a WELS school) could expel two students who, after having had rumors spread on MySpace by classmates, confirmed to an administrator that they were lesbians.
The legal issue at stake is whether the school, is a "business" under state law, required to be nondiscriminatory, or rather a "social institution" entitled to restrict its membership according to any criteria it chooses. (Strangely, freedom of religion does not appear to have figured largely in the case). We aren't lawyers, and offer no opinion on the legal issues.
But we do have an opinion on the expulsion as a moral act. To exclude students from your school because of their sexual preference (or, more to the point, because of what they claim their sexual preference is for a few weeks in their teenage years) is cold-hearted and ignorant. It punishes them not for what they do, but for what they feel -- or even who they are. It is, in the plainest possible way, homophobic.
And it inevitably raises the question of how many of those "nay" voters, the ones who claim they bear no animus against gay people per se, are simply lying -- if only to themselves.