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Bodies and the Body

by Amy C. Schifrin — November 02, 2009

When I visit my white-haired saints in the nursing home and ask them how they are, not one of them has ever said, “Well, Pastor, I’m in this existential morass.” They talk about their aching shoulders and their failing eyesight; they show me their scars, which are more than I’d ever wanted to see; and at the last, when they really trust me, they include me among those who know the particularities of their digestive malfunctions. It’s the body they talk about: what can be seen, felt, and touched. They talk about that which can experience pain. They talk about that which can be resurrected...

When I visit my white-haired saints in the nursing home and ask them how they are, not one of them has ever said, “Well, Pastor, I’m in this existential morass.” They talk about their aching shoulders and their failing eyesight; they show me their scars, which are more than I’d ever wanted to see; and at the last, when they really trust me, they include me among those who know the particularities of their digestive malfunctions. It’s the body they talk about: what can be seen, felt, and touched. They talk about that which can experience pain. They talk about that which can be resurrected.

And the pain, oh, the pain, is so intensified if there is no tenderness of human contact, no sweet voice of mercy, no sigh that breathes deeper than any words. The body, this body, cries out to be loved, for in the fellowship of love even the worst suffering can be endured.

The church is this sort of body, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as part of this body knows intimately the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. The pain of this suffering does not reside in some distant relative, in some far-off limb, but in the vital organs that regulate breath, that pump blood, that cleanse impurities. The problems are not new, nor does knowing the diagnosis change the reality of the devastation, but without love this death cannot be endured.

So it is post-CWA for many. Before the vote on whether we trusted in the goodness of the one Who made human bodies male and female according to His purpose, before the vote which declared our public identity as ever-distancing from the apostolic witness, before the vote which will necessitate ecclesiastical rituals that contradict Scripture and the Confessions, disease in the body was clearly on the rise. The voting did not create our lack of faith but merely illumined it—an unintentional self-diagnosis that laid bare our illness for all the world to see. The ELCA in its churchwide assembly declared that a human being’s interpretation of his or her own experience is the criteria for judging the Holy Scripture and the doctrines of the church. No longer is it believed that the Word speaks us into life. No longer does the Word stand over against all human pride and folly. No longer will this two-edged sword be sharpened. No longer will we cry out for the resurrection of our lives, for when sin is not sin, we are already all that we can be.

Of all the things that we sinful humans can do to destroy our bodies, that which diminishes our identity as men and women is among the most devastating. When the means that God created to give life to the generations is misused, the core of who we are as human beings made in His image and likeness is torn apart. God gives us bodies that He may be glorified in them. Whether people engage in fornication, adultery, homoeroticism, or any other act of disordered and seductive loving, if their identities are continually shaped through such acts, the primal pain of the fall within their very bodies will continue to cry out for healing. When the church says that any of those actions are acceptable, she loses part of her identity as God’s sacramental vessel for healing in this world.

As white North American and northern European cultures make such expressions a matter of entitlement and so-called equity, the church’s witness to the goodness of God’s intentions is received as suspect. Because the ELCA, gathered in her churchwide assembly, has been swept ever more deeply into the cultural milieu of the growing acceptance of homoerotic behavior as good and as right and as natural as anything can be, it has tragically adopted an alien word as a primary lens through which Holy Scripture is interpreted. Justice was the word spoken over and over at the CWA, but the notion of justice that was heralded was not based on divine justice but on a self-righteous interpretive move that placed Scripture at our disposal (and it was disposed of in short order).

With this worldview at its foundation, and now to be enacted in polity and liturgy, the church has lost its credibility as the body in which healing may be found. The influences that were present in lecture halls and theological journals, in pastors’ studies and national advocacy groups, have now taken on an identifying status and thus have the potential to touch everyone in the ELCA’s body, everyone’s physical body, and the pain, the existential pain, is now public. The bandages that held this fragile expression of the body together are now saturated with blood, and whether fresh bandages are put on or a scalpel divides the flesh, there will be no healing of this battered body without the fellowship of love.

Let us not settle for a tolerance that is closer to apathy, the absence of love. Let us not settle for respect of bound consciences, for if they are bound to the self there is no conscience. Let us not settle for fear, for in distinction from our presiding bishop’s word in regard to this church being and remaining a safe place, it has been anything but safe for those who dared to speak from an orthodox expression of the Christian faith.

Rather let us love, that is, let us enter the places of pain in the body and call our erring sisters and brothers to repentance. Let us not abandon them in their desperate attempts to cover their pain. For even as they shout that God is doing a new thing, He isn’t—and no vote can change the intentions of Him Who created us as male and female that we might know His love, that we might be vessels of His love, that a husband and wife would become one body in His love. And let us not forget that no one will hear such a call to repentance if it is done with arrogance or malice. It will only be heard if it comes from the posture of prayer.

So put your knees on the floor and open your hands toward the heavens. You may be in a post-CWA existential morass, but God will still use your body to do His will. For in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, the body will be made whole.

Amy C. Schifrin is Interim Visitation Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in York, Pennsylvania.

Bodies and the Body

Posted by Gary Nuss, STS at November 02, 2009 11:50
Thank you for these words of encouragement and of hope.

Thank you.

Posted by Dick Shouse, retired ELCA Pastor - Spanaway, WA. at November 02, 2009 14:15
Exquisite, pastoral Word.

Response to Schifrin

Posted by Kurt Johnson at November 02, 2009 21:49
It's clear that Schifrin is trying to make the argument that a person who is a homosexual and who is capable of a loving, same-sex, monogamous relationship nonetheless is somehow grotesque and malformed, ugly rather than beautiful, dirty rather than clean, sinful yet unredeemed. While this attempted characterization plays to prejudice, its simplistic structure fails to address the finer points at issue. Undoubtedly, it will appeal to those want to adopt this view, yielding another creative yet short-sighted reason for embracing it.

Finer Point

Posted by Gregory at November 02, 2009 22:55

Did you not read her article? What point could be more acutely obvious than that we mourn the death of our church body, crucified on the tree of post-modernism? The truth is, in fact, pretty simplistic.

It becomes ever more apparent that the minority (700+ people out of 4 million) who have won the political victory are rather ingracious winners.


Posted by Fr Steve Little at November 03, 2009 12:20
I am so sorry that for you this word of Gospel is a condemnation or word of Law. It is not about the personal experience but about the created orderness which God holds in his creation. We are all broken by sin, all ugly if you will because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet in our brokenness and ugliness we were still worth the life and suffering of the Son of God. Our response to this free gift of grace is and should be that we repent our brokenness and seek to conform our lives to the life which God desires for us Even as we suffer in our sin we are redeemed by grace. Let us take to heart the words of our Divine Lord, :"Go and sin no more"

"Worth?"--response to "response" by Fr. Steve Little

Posted by Rik at November 04, 2009 22:46
I agree with most of the content in "response" by Fr. Steve Little, except he wrote, "Yet in our brokenness and ugliness we were still worth the life and suffering of the Son of God." We neither were nor are worthy of the life, suffering and death of Messiah, the Son of God. We are UNworthy, which is exactly what makes it amazing grace!!! "Nothing in my hands I bring / Only to Thy cross I cling." You are correct, that it is a "free gift of grace." "It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sins or righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfations..." (AC from Tappert [tr. from German]). To the rest of your post I say an emphatic "Amen!"

Artificial construct

Posted by David Pross at November 05, 2009 18:06
The "PALMS" concept (publicly accountable, loving, monogamous same-sex relationship) is an artificial construct of the ELCA "task force." It has no grounding in Scripture.


Posted by Tim at November 03, 2009 00:07
I hear that you understand...

*tolerance as "not caring"
*God doing a new thing in the CWA votes as going against what is contrary to the scriptures and confessions
*God affirming male and female, husband and wife, marriage as the only context for human sexuality, ruling out homosexuality as distortion of God's will
*the Body has been damaged by bishops, pastors, and lay leaders who have turned their backs on the apostolic witness
*the term "bound conscience" as a fraud
*erring brothers and sisters, like me, are responsible for the damage done to the Body
*you will be praying for me on your hands and knees non-arrogantly

If I have understood you correctly, I honor what you have written and humbly receive your prayers on for me as one of the misguided, sinful brothers. And still I believe that the CWA made prayerful, bold sinning- bold believing decision.

"New thing?"

Posted by David Pross at November 04, 2009 07:07
How can you be so sure that the post-CWA "new thing" is of God's doing? There are other, darker, spirits at work.

Response to Tim/ Listening

Posted by Amy Schifrin at November 07, 2009 01:23
Dear Tim,

Thank you for your careful “listening.” There is one clarification that I would like to make with regard to “erring brothers and sisters, like me, are responsible for the damage done to the body.” I believe that those who sought the changes are responsible to a great degree.I also believe that orthodox brothers and sister, by their silence born of fear, bear part of this responsibility, thus the exhortation to fervent prayer and to conversations that address what I (and many) believe to be the theological thinking that produced the errors at CWA. When those who sought the changes equated their position with justice, I think it silenced many who disagreed but who were afraid to be associated with a position that was against “justice.” (As I stated in the essay, I think the term “justice” was misused.)

So, I may have stated it in a nuanced way, but when I call my orthodox sisters and brothers to put their knees on the floor and open their hands to the heavens, I’m calling for an amendment of life (which necessitates confession, repentance…and even contrition if one has spoken with arrogance or malice). For wherever one falls on the theological spectrum, at the root of our sinning is a lack of trust in the One to whom the Holy Scriptures bear witness, the One who alone is truth and who calls us to speak His truth. Because the visible shapes of our sinning are not identical, the tones in which we speak both law and gospel differ. The primary intent of this little essay was to speak a word to those who are incredibly pained by the actions of CWA, and it doesn’t deal all the attending issues. For those who understand that the CWA made grave errors, I hope this word is one that moves them to act in love, the love that is beyond all fear.

Embodiment of Prayer

Posted by J. Thomas Shelley, STS at November 03, 2009 00:31

"So put your knees on the floor and open your hands toward the heavens."

I believe our situation demands what our Eastern brothers and sisters term "metanias".

Bodies and the Body

Posted by Garry White at November 03, 2009 02:02
A clear, grace-filled word to a broken Church. Thank you, Amy.

more or less what certain bps have been saying post-CWA

Posted by Peter at November 03, 2009 04:44
This is more or less what some of the "spineless bishops" have been saying, too, though from the opposite position on the homosexuality thing. There is a need for repentance on all sides of the issue, as we risk the Gospel itself. Thinking that only the "other" side is in need of repentance is ignoring the Law that condemns us all.

"The Other Side?"

Posted by David Pross at November 04, 2009 07:20
Would "the Gospel" be in danger if all the things that passed CWA had been defeated and it was Soulforce and Lutherans Concerned who were raising a stink?

Real Danger

Posted by Rik at November 04, 2009 23:12
David, is "the Gospel" truly in danger, or the church body who distances herself from God's holy Law and Gospel? Those who abandon God's Holy Word, regardless of which church body it is, are the ones who are truly in danger, and they also put God's flocks (whom He has entrusted them to) in great danger, for which they will one day be held account.
Yet God's Law and Gospel will continue regardless of any decisions made at any meeting, convention or church-wide assembly--they have no power to change the Word of the Living God. He will instead use others to spread His life-giving and life-changing Word, just as He can raise up sons of Abraham from stones.
Those who are so bold as to imply that their theological wisdom surpasses that of the Almighty would do well to consider if God might speak to them these words: "Depart from me, I never knew you." May He instead change and mold the hearts of His people, that we would be discipled by Him and not the other way around. Human reason never trumps Sola Scriptura, and Lutherans of all people should know that. God's revealed Word is our only source of knowing Deus Revelatus (revealed God). May God open our ears to His voice as we hear His Word, and may He conform our hearts and minds to His gracious teaching, that we may be strong to reject the theological innovations of "every wind of doctrine" that would blow us off course. LORD, have mercy.

extreme danger

Posted by Peter at November 04, 2009 23:46

Considering that the church would have decided against the Gospel, absolutely. Would there still be a need for repentance on both sides? Absolutely.

Against the Gospel?

Posted by David Pross at November 05, 2009 18:04
How would such a decision have been "against the Gospel," especially if the ELCA had continued to proclaim the indispensable Lutheran doctrine of Law AND Gospel? Without Law and Gospel, a church cannot call itself Lutheran.

2 things

Posted by Chris at November 03, 2009 22:18
Are there women pastors in your vision of the true church? There aren't in Pauls. And many of these same things were said in response to the Church's leading society forward out of slavery... also a Biblical principle. I think everyone needs to breathe deeply and consider what is truly at stake here... really. If you are bummed because it's getting harder to use the Bible as a moral sledgehammer then I am not that sad for you. But if, like a few posters here seem to get, it is more about how both sides in this thing are missing the true Gospel way, then I'm with you.

2 things

Posted by Norman Sulaica, Jr at November 04, 2009 17:42

Yes, people are missing the gospel of Jesus Christ -- on both sides of the issue; however, before we can experience the gospel of Jesus Christ, even Luther understood that the new creation which comes from the gospel arrives on the heals of the God's Law, which serves to reflect our state of sin. Chris, the CWA's vote dismissed God's Word in favor of a social gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ based in the Word of God which also includes God's Law. Even Paul understood the importance of God's law in Romans 3 for he noted the law must drive us to Christ Jesus who is the only means by which God gives to humanity His salvation. The CWA's assemblies vote rejects God's law by redefining biblical teachings on marriage and homosexuality, and in redefining these biblical teachings to pander to a social gospel, the church also rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ. To lead people to believe that a same gender union marriage is sinless is to reject the meaning and teachings of God's Word.

Bondage of the Will

Posted by Norman Sulaica, Jr at November 04, 2009 17:15
As a life long Lutheran and Pastor from South Texas, bound conscience carries with it a different meaning then the proposed meaning form the CWA assembly. "Bound Conscience" always ties into the scripture. The Word of God through God's written word defines the church and the people of God. You state it so well in issue of sexuality. God's Word clearly and solely defines marriage as the only expression for sexual relations. It also illustrates the marriage relationship to be between one man and one woman. The church, it seems to me, is in "bound to its own will." The will embraces cultural teaching which have no biblical support. The desire to justify clergy who are "gay" and in so doing its will asserts dominion over God's will and Word. Thus, it is in a state Luther entitled "bondage of the will." The church is bound to its will and not God's will.

Bondage of the Will

Posted by David Charlton at November 04, 2009 17:49
I don't think it is correct to say the church is bound to it's own will, but that it's will is bound to sin. Our free will is an illusion. Only the Holy Spirit, working by means of the Word and Sacraments, can make us aware of that bondage and free us from that bondage. So the bound conscience is doubly confused. Not only is Luther misquoted, but it furthers the illusion that we have an autonomous will that can choose what is good and right for itself.

Bound Conscience

Posted by David Charlton at November 04, 2009 17:50
It meant to say, "And so the bound conscience argument is doubly confused."

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