Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Child in Our Midst: Reflections on Richard Norris's "Notes"

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Child in Our Midst: Reflections on Richard Norris's "Notes"

Article excerpt

"And he called a child, whom he put among them."

(Matt. 18:2)

A child is placed by God among the community of Jesus. That child is held over the font. You know nothing about that child except that in the waters of baptism her destiny is inextricably woven into the fabric of the community of the church. The parish raises that child, catechizes and mentors, bathes that child in the liturgical, scriptural rhythms of the community's story, stretches out their hopes for the child and turns her loose in the world. That child comes to New York. That child is a lesbian. One of the questions I asked the recent churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is, "How can the church in New York be your partner in receiving the child, her world, issues, gifts, hopes, your hopes for this baptismal disciple you have nurtured?"

It is with such a pastoral heart that I have engaged issues of homosexuality as Lutheran Bishop of New York. I have seen the Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA struggle with this issue, with strong convictions on all sides, as a community of moral deliberation. We have had a sustained theological dialogue, with essays, ministeriums, guided conversations. Richard Norris's reflections are a welcome contribution to this communal conversation, and to helping the church receive "the child, whom he put among them."

This conversation over controverted moral issues in the church is not church dividing, if we have a communal rather than an issuedriven ecclesiology. In prayer we seek to discern the will of God. Such discernment requires that we deal with disagreement, that we listen to alternative voices. Our differences in matters of morality may be profound but they are not divisive of the church. An issue-driven ecclesiology will find us always on the defense or offense, with known enemies and allies. In a communal ecclesiology we will always find ourselves at the next Eucharist, in prayer, dialogue, conversation about things that matter. The Norris paper is written from such a call for a communal rather than issue-driven ecclesiology.

Norris's article invites us into a spiritual conversation and widens the scope to include some fundamental philosophical and ethical thinking. In sections A and B he considers both the strengths and problems with a scriptural approach to sexuality issues. He traces the way scriptural depictions of war, government, slavery, divorce have taken different shape in the life and thinking of the church over the centuries. In Section B.4.3 he asks, I believe, the critical question: "What sort of principles [do] the Scriptures provide for the fruitful and humane guidance of a process of moral inquiry-guidance presumably governed by, and productive of, love of God and neighbor"?

The relation of the church to the Bible is critical in creating the distinctive possibility of a Christian moral life. This is how Lutherans read the Bible: as a holy conversation between the scriptural texts, the traditions of the church, the lived experience of the church, and the world for which Christ died. Norris's article rests on that foundation of communal biblical hermeneutics, the narrative of Scripture in conversation with Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Augustine, and the life of the church today.

Since Scripture is always present (sometimes as silent partner) in Norris's essay, I would like to share a Lutheran perspective on the authority of Scripture, and then on how scriptural "law" is understood in the context of today's conversation on issues of sexuality.

The Gospel Gives Scripture its Authority

"For this much is beyond question, that all the Scriptures point to Christ alone."1

How do Lutherans put particular passages of Scripture into an appropriate context and perspective? How does the Bible have any authority at all, and what kind of authority does it have? Lutherans read the Bible in the tension between law and gospel. …

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