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March 27, 1996 (2)

A Message Forwarded by the Interim Bishop
of Honolulu (Episopal)

Some months ago, Rev. George Hunt forwarded to me a copy of a 1994 paper by Krister Stendahl, Emeritus Bishop of Stockholm and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Divinity (Harvard, Emeritus). The paper was prepared for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It is a superb example of the internal dialogue about sexuality which now engages the best minds (and hearts) within most of the Christian traditions. I will not reproduce the full article here, but I'll be happy to email a copy upon request.

I personally have a mixed reaction to the paper. "Mutuality" and "fidelity" are proposed as key moral criteria for sexuality; both are worth exploring. Yet I am only too aware that "fidelity" might truly "fit" about 50 % of the population (the statistic is a guess!). It may be a brief historical anomaly that most people expect to get married. It certainly wasn't true in more impoverished times (e.g. the Middle Ages), and may be ceasing to be true right now. That, of course, does not preclude having an analysis of "married sexuality" for those whom it does fit. (I rather doubt though, that people sort themselves so neatly into categories appropriate to the analysis!)

I have appended the final section of the paper.


                Tom Ramsey
                Co-Coordinator
                Hawaii Equal Rights Marriage
                Project


From Krister Stendahl, 1994:

6. the obligatory and the gift

It strikes me as of great significance that exactly in matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, celibacy, both the gospel material and Paul's teaching include a perhaps surprising caveat, a warning against what Jesus elsewhere speaks of as "they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and
lay them on people's shoulder, but they themselves will not move them with their finger." (Mr 23:4).

When Jesus in Matthew's gospel restores the original intention of marriage without the divorce Moses was forced to allow for, Matthew has the disciples say "If such is the case of a man with a wife, it is not expedient to marry." Jesus' answer is "Not all can receive this word, but only those to whom it is given" (19:10-11). And the text continues with the famous words about celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, thereby breaking the dominance of procreation as governing sexual behavior. Here comes the same caveat: You cannot make it obligatory, or in Jesus' words, "The one who is able to receive it, let him receive it." (v 12).

Also in Paul, who was much given to laying down the rules without ifs and buts, we find the same note when he witnesses to his preference for a celibate life for the Lord. "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another."  (1 Cor 7:7).

For us Lutherans it should not be strange to listen to that note.  The miseries and moral distortions of an obligatory celibacy was not an insignificant factor in Luther's work for reforming the Church. Thus, it cannot be right, biblical, Christian, or Lutheran to lay the obligation of celibacy on gays and lesbians as the only option for their sexuality, or perhaps we should say for their love.


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