The evolution of apostasy

I get regular email from a man named Matt Barber, whose opinions I have discussed from time to time. In his latest mailing, he makes a strong claim that seems worthy of discussion -- that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is guilty of apostasy:

Washington, D.C. -- At a recent meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the decision was made that the ELCA would ignore the Bible's unequivocal condemnation of homosexual behavior as sinful and permit openly homosexual clergy to pastor ELCA churches. This has stirred up tension between the ELCA and other more Biblically sound factions within the Lutheran denomination.

In a statement, Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), noted, "This goes contrary to the historic and universal understanding of the Christian Church regarding what the Holy Scriptures teach about homosexual behavior as contrary to God's will and about the Biblical qualifications for holding the pastoral office."

Matt Barber, Policy Director for Cultural Issues with Concerned Women for America (CWA), said, "The word apostasy is a strong one. It shouldn't be used lightly. Unfortunately, the ELCA's decision to endorse the sin of homosexuality, which Scripture clearly calls an 'abomination to God,' represents nothing short of apostasy.

"We're witnessing a growing trend within certain liberal sects of Christendom wherein leftist church leaders are pushing new-age, Bible-ala-carte spiritualism. The mindset is, 'If God's Word doesn't comport with my view on morality, then I'm right and God is wrong. He needs to get with the program. Murder pre-born children with abortion - Sure why not? Celebrate sexual deviancy? No problem.'

"This is America, and people are generally free to say and do what they want," continued Barber, "But if a formal church collective such as the ELCA is going to call itself Christian, the least it can do is honor the Bible, not rip out and trash the pages it doesn't like. There's nothing Christian about that."

While Barber sent that text in his email to me, it is identical to a story appearing at the Concerned Women for America web site (where he is the Policy Director for Cultural Issues).

CWFA also links a story about a Dallas church which refused to allow a gay funeral. The pastor stated that celebrating the deceased's homosexuality would be like celebrating a murderer's murder.

While think the comparison is inapt, the pastor and the church are certainly within their rights to make it, and to refuse to allow the funeral. If you want a gay funeral and the church won't allow it, you can find another church that will. But where's the line here? Suppose the church had allowed the gay funeral. Would that have been an act of apostasy against Christianity?

This begs the question of what constitutes apostasy.

While I'm still irritated at Wiki over improper deletions of settled facts, their definition of apostasy seems basically accurate:

a term generally employed to describe the formal renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to one's former religion.
It is to be distinguished from heresy:
The difference between apostasy and heresy is that the latter refers to rejection or corruption of certain doctrines, not to the complete abandonment of one's religion. Heretics claim to still be following a religion (or to be the "true followers"), whereas apostates reject it.
It strikes me that Barber may have used the wrong word here. If we assume that the ELCA has rejected or corrupted church doctrines, wouldn't that be heresy? Most religious schisms have at one time or another been called heretical by those on either side of the doctrinal dispute. Certainly, Lutherans who believe that the ELCA's interpretation of scripture is wrong have every right to leave their church and start another one, as dissenting Episcopalians have. This begs the question of which side is truly "heretical." The founders of this country were well aware of this process, and hence we have the First Amendment, which allows anyone to be a heretic, a counter heretic, or even an apostate.

Of course, Barber is well within his First Amendment rights in condemning the Lutheran Church for apostasy, but that does not mean he used the word correctly. I'm assuming he considers other churches that tolerate or accept homosexuality to be apostate churches as well. The Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, most Quakers, Unitarians, Rainbow Baptists, and related spinoffs all claim to accept homosexuality. Most of these outfits would call themselves Christians, and I am sure that their clergy are well aware that Leviticus condemns lying with a man as a woman. (If in fact that is the correct translation.)

As I've discussed before, a good theological argument can be made that, translation issues aside, the Leviticus prohibitions, as Jewish religious rules governing purity (there are a lot of other prohibitions there), are no more binding on Christians than the rules requiring circumcision, diet, menstrual fluids, beards and haircuts, etc. (The Council of Jerusalem addressed this in general terms.) But whether the Leviticus prohibitions are seen as binding on Christians or not, I don't see how they can be seen as going to the essence of Christianity itself -- to the point where apostasy would result for failure to follow them.

It seems to me that there is an emerging movement to place opposition to homosexuality within the forefront of Christianity -- to the point where such opposition becomes defining of the term "Christian." And not opposing it becomes not mere heresy, but now apostasy (even though the latter is a word that "shouldn't be used lightly").

That simply was not the case when I was growing up. I went to a religious school, but I was taught that there were plenty of ways to interpret the various scriptures. Those who interpreted the scriptures literally were in one camp, and while they were called "fundamentalists," in those days the word was a lot less inflammatory than it is now.

Yes, there were the Ten Commandments. "Lying with a man like a woman" isn't there, but coveting is, and everyone knows we all covet. My school may have been heretical, but it would never have occurred to anyone to declare the acceptance of the covetous to be apostasy. Even Sabbath breakers and makers of graven images were tolerated in those days.

Christianity -- and apostasy -- had yet to, um, evolve.

Of course, I try to be tolerant and openminded about these things, and I have to recognize that tolerance by definition must includes tolerance for those who are accused of apostasy, as well as their accusers.

It's worth bearing in mind that every single one of us is an apostate -- at least to somebody.

(There's a certain oneness there, if you think about it.)

posted by Eric on 08.18.07 at 12:25 PM


I don't know much about the Lutheran Church, but I have read the bible some. I believe it teaches tolerance though. I'm of the ideology of live and let live. I feel all churches should strive to be inclusive instead of casting out people who don't fit the golden mold some religious leaders strive for.

Tumbleweed   ·  August 18, 2007 2:54 PM

Oh Eric, it's all such bullshit.
In the ancient ages when I attended Notre Dame Elementary School in Chico, California, the entire 600 of us were marched over to fill the pews when a wealthy old fart died, to attend his high mass funeral. The Archbishop from Sacramento led the mass. The church was draped in black. All the statues of saints were covered. Incense to gag a horse was burned by the three priests as the body was moved up toward the alter. As we knelt a choir sang a funeral mass in Latin from the loft.
Quite dramatic.
Not long after Mr. Mansfield was put to rest in such grand style, a poor soul who didn't have the money (to leave to the coffers of the fucking ass Catholic Church) died.
He was given a funeral on the steps of the church on Chestnut Street. Not allowed into the sanctum of sanctums.
Did he die without the Last Rights?
Was he a known homosexual?
Who knows.
What one would have to assume is that he died poor, without the funds to buy a proper funeral from a religion that above all else values money.
The Lutherans and Anglicans are no different.
Give them a monetary incentive, and you will see gay marriages, gay priests, and gay funerals.
They're all hypocrites.

Frank   ·  August 19, 2007 1:13 AM

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