Despite the Vocal Few, Many Lutherans Support the Marriage Amendment
Op ed. Minnesota Public Radio, Oct. 9, 2012
By Ryan C. MacPherson
One out of four Minnesotans affiliates with a Lutheran church. A casual reading of the daily news may give the misleading perception that Lutherans, as a group, promote same-sex coupling and oppose the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment. But that generalization is not only hasty; it is false. Lutherans long have treasured the unique union of one man and one woman known as marriage, and many Minnesota Lutherans are prepared to uphold that heritage by voting for the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment this November.
Both legally and theologically, Lutheranism was defined in 1530 when Emperor Charles V summoned Martin Luther's followers to a special meeting in Augsburg, Germany, where they presented the Augsburg Confession and the Apology (or "Defense") of the Augsburg Confession. A considerable portion of those confessions dealt specifically with marriage. Another prominent theme was the relationship between church and state.
As for marriage, the Augsburg Confession teaches that "not all men are fit to lead a single life; for God created man for procreation." The Apology further explains that the union of husband and wife is a "natural right" and "since natural right is unchangeable, the right to contract marriage must always remain." The Apology also affirms that "the natural desire of one sex for the other is an ordinance of God in nature." As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, "God created man and woman differently (as is evident) not for lewdness but to be true to each other, be fruitful, beget children, and support and bring them up to the glory of God."
As for the relations between church and state, Lutherans hold that these are two distinct kingdoms of God. In the church, the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Christ through Word and Sacrament for the forgiveness of their sins. In the state, God providentially establishes civil governments for the protection of people's lives and property. Although distinct — each with its own mission and methods — the two kingdoms are not entirely separate. Marriage is an institution that properly falls into the shared work of church and state.
History and theology aside, there remains the plain sociological fact that a number of people identifying themselves as Lutherans hold to quite a different position. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has gained considerable media attention for its 2009 vote to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve in ministry and staff positions, and more recent statements by Minnesota bishops who oppose the marriage amendment. These headlines, however, mask a more nuanced truth.
Within the ELCA, the marriage debate represents merely the latest chapter in a long story of departure from biblical teaching. For over a decade, WordAlone Ministries has been guiding troubled ELCA congregations through the process of trying to restore the church body to historic Lutheran theology or, insofar as that has failed, exiting and affiliating with other Lutherans who hold to the sanctity of natural marriage. Meanwhile, Allan Carlson, an ELCA layman, serves as president of the Howard Center and international secretary of the World Congress of Families. Both in America and abroad, he has worked to defend the causes of husbands, wives and their children in accord with the natural law of the family.
Other Lutheran supporters of natural marriage include the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), which cosponsored an amicus brief for the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of California Proposition 8. The LCMS brief objected to Judge Vaughn Walker's reckless mischaracterization of Lutherans as "bigots." Another Lutheran organization, the Hausvater Project (of which I am the founding president), submitted a brief demonstrating that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts had insidiously curtailed parental rights.
Most Lutherans supportive of natural marriage are less vocal than the handful of activists calling for a radical redefinition of the time-tested institution upon which every human society has been founded. Lutherans usually are a modest and quiet bunch. I ought to know: My wife and I had a potluck for our Lutheran wedding reception.
But even modest and quiet people vote, and I foresee a good number of Lutherans joining me in checking "Yes" for a constitutional protection of natural marriage.
Ryan C. MacPherson is founding president of the Hausvater Project, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that says its mission is to "equip Christian men and women for distinctive and complementary vocations in family, church, and society, by fostering research and education in light of Holy Scripture as proclaimed by the Lutheran Confessions."