Ordaining Gay and Lesbian Priests in Norway

To set the scene, the position of the Lutheran Church here is that to be a homosexual is not a sin but the practicing of one’s homosexuality is.

On the official front we have an equivalent of marriage for gays and lesbians called ‘partnership’ which needless to say is not recognized by the church. In fact the only religious society which has been willing to bless these partnerships has been the Society of Friends.

Recently, one of our bishops who is gay-friendly (there are only 3 – the remainder are negative to gay rights ) appointed a priest who is a lesbian openly living in a partnership. The Church’s learned men are now debating the issue but as before they cannot agree and have postponed judgement.

The main problem is that they tackling the problem from the standpoint of Biblical interpretation and again, as for many times before, they beg to differ. They don’t seem to get past the usual utterance that Paul was quite clear in his condemnation of men having sex with men and they are not impressed by the argument that homosexuality as we know it (the word was only invented last century) is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

Of course a case could be made for them to change their minds about forbidding the sin on the grounds that it is an anachronism. As some one has pointed out this was the case with ‘usury’ which was implicitly condemned in the Old Testament in ‘Psalms’ and in the New Testament by Jesus in Luke. In fact the whole of the economic system of Europe for many centuries was based on ‘usury’ i.e. the loan of money without the demand of interest. By that yardstick we would all of us that today put money in a bank and subsequently recoup the interest be mortal sinners destined for the confines of ‘a very hot place’. The reasons for the Church’s rescission of its condemnation of usury was based on the changing nature of money. Whereas money was previously nothing more than dead, nonproductive, inert metal we know today that this evaluation of money’s function was far too simplistic and that its role in modern society is far more complex. It is to be hoped that the learned men of the Church could come to homosexuality in this light, that is, to see that homosexuality is far more than people of the same gender having sex, although that looks very much doubtful.

If all the arguments fail what remains? The problem has to be solved one way or another. What are the Church’s options? First, it must be admitted that the ordaining of one openly homosexual priest is not the real issue. It seems likely that there are several homosexual priests in the Church already. No one, as yet, has asked them to account for their sexual orientation and since they are not in established partnerships and are still in the closet.

The first option for the bishops is to declare that homosexuality is wrong and refuse to ordain them. But then what does one do with the homosexual priests who are already ordained ? What does one do with heterosexual priests who subsequently discover that they are really homosexual 30 or 40 years after they began to minister ? Does it seem try to find out who these closeted priests are ? I think not.

The second option would appear to be to continue as before. That is while professing that homosexuality is wrong one continues to ordain closeted homosexuals whilst rejecting those that have gone into openly homosexual partnerships. This would not appear to be a very positive stand point if honesty is considered. Homosexuals would be tempted to lie to be ordained and priests discovering their real orientation in late age would be tempted to deny it. What effect would this have on their pastoral mission? After all this was the main reason for denying ordination to homosexuals in the first place.

Another variation of this option is to turn the blind eye to the fact that there are, in Norway, gay/lesbian (friendly) priests from all denominations who do in fact preach the Gospel to predominately gay/lesbian congregations -a sort of sexual apartheid – for want of a better name.

The final option which seems somewhat remote at the moment would be to accept homosexuals into the Church on the same footing as heterosexuals, and priests as well as laity. In the long run it is difficult to see that there is any other solution than this. Norway has a population of about 4.5 million. It is doubtful as to whether the Church would be able to survive the kind of fragmentation that has occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. The population here is so small population and over 80% are members of the Lutheran State Church.

A ruling, putting forth the Church’s attitude in these matters is expected in May. Unanimous agreement seems unlikely as this would more than likely split the Church.