Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vanity of Vanities

"The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Thus begins the book of Ecclesiastes, according to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (for my money still the best translation of the Holy Bible in English -- but I digress).

I learned something incredible about the ELCA's draft statement on human sexuality over on ALPB Online's thread on Bob Benne's critique of the statement: The word "adultery" never appears in the draft. Neither does the word "lust."

I'm trying to imagine Lutherans discussing sexuality without mentioning Luther's explanation of the 6th Commandment in the Small Catechism:
You shall not commit adultery

What does this mean for us?

We are to fear and love God so that in matters of sex our words and conduct are pure and honorable, and husband and wife love and respect each other.
I'm trying to imagine Christians offering wisdom on sexuality without even mentioning Jesus' teaching about the same commandment:
"You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (St. Matthew 5:27-28, RSV)
If a church's social statement isn't even going to bother mentioning key foundational teachings on the very matter on which it is speaking, does it have anything useful to add to our society's conversation on sexuality?

Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Zip, thanks for blogging and providing this information. I think the holy spirit has a lot of truth to tell through you.

God Bless and prayers on your surgery recovery.

Blog bookmarked.

Johann Cornelius said...

Instead of "trying to imagine Lutherans discussing sexuality without mentioning Luther's explanation of the 6th Commandment in the Small Catechism", perhaps you should actually read the draft statement (I note that on Wednesday you specifically mention that you had yet to look at it). You will find that both the Small and Large Catechisms are cited at least 15 times, with specific references to the sixth commandment twice. The draft also cites the first, second, and fourth commandments; the Ten Commandments as a whole; and Jesus' understanding of the whole of the law and the prophets depending on the first two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

I think the whole church, if not the whole world, would benefit greatly if we approached this draft statement, as well as all the efforts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the spirit of the eighth commandment and Luther’s explanation of it: “We must fear and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor's reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does.” The draft has been released to the whole church with an invitation to critique it, for the purpose of improving it. But no improvement will come from taking peevish potshots at it, or allowing ourselves to be complicit in slandering the faithfulness or integrity of the authors.

Ryan Schwarz said...

I might take up for Pastor Zip just a bit. He has been more than a little distracted with a personal health issue (see earlier blog posts) recently. Personally I would choose to focus on my healing over reading the draft sexuality statement, if faced with that choice.

The other thing I would point out is that CITING a biblical passage or Small Catechism explanation is not the same thing as actually wresting with its substance. I have not read the draft, so I can only speculate, but is it possible to wrestle with the substance of the Sixth Commandment without using the word "adultery"? Hard to imagine, so I would guess that the draft does not explicitly wrestle with what the Sixth Commandment means for Lutheran sexual ethics, other than citing it. Happy to be proved wrong on that speculation.

Johann Cornelius said...

Interestingly, in the Small Catechism, Luther himself managed to wrestle with and explain the meaning of the sixth commandment without using the word “adultery” in his explanation. In the Large Catechism, Luther refers to the word “adultery” only in the first of nine explanatory paragraphs, but the point he stresses in that first paragraph is that this commandment, and those that follow, “are all to the effect that we [be careful to] avoid doing any kind of injury to our neighbor”. The remaining explanatory paragraphs make no mention of adultery at all.

Now, if people believe the draft statement would be better if the full text of the sixth commandment were printed in the statement, by all means suggest it. But, I think it’s unfair to pillory the authors for the omission of this word or that, and to make the summary judgment that they couldn’t speak meaningfully to the substance of “adultery” without using the word in their explanations. In fact, comparing the text of the draft to Luther’s explanations in the two Catechisms, I’m impressed with how well they managed to convey Luther’s own understanding of this commandment with specific examples of 21st Century situations and circumstances. And like Luther, they took a very expansive approach to the meaning of the sixth commandment without dwelling on the word “adultery”, per se.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to actually read the draft before casting judgments against it. It’s the only way to fairly and honestly critique it’s contents.