Ann Kopecky & John Hult
As frequently as televangelists such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson claim that homosexuals will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven, students may be surprised at how many options are open in the Brookings religious community.
The Rev. Bob Chell , University Lutheran Center; the Rev. Dennis Bielfeldt, Pioneer Lutheran near White; and the Rev. Dan Campbell, Brookings First Assembly of God each encourage all people to join in the Christian fellowship, gay or straight.
Chell and Bielfeldt (who teaches religion and ethics at SDSU) both pointed out that all sex before marriage is considered sinful by the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America.
Both the University Lutheran Center and Pioneer Lutheran are affiliated with the organization, which has a membership of 5.5 million.
“The ELCA doesn’t have any dogmatic pronouncements on this,” Bielfeldt said. “A clergy member would be expected to be celibate or be married. There’s no distinction between living with a man or a woman.”
Bielfeldt was careful to point out that though all sex before marriage is considered sinful, the sin does not define a person any more than the sins of a heterosexual person. In the eyes of the Lutheran Church, everyone sins.
“Homosexuals are just like everybody else,” Bielfeldt said. “All people have fallen short of the image of God.”
Marriage is still defined by tradition as a union between a man and a woman, he said.
While this means that homosexuals, who cannot be married legally and are as yet excluded from marriage by the ELCA, should probably be celibate, he recognizes that relationships are different than fleeting affairs.
“If you’re going to be in a commited homosexual relationship, I would say that is a very good thing-just like all relationships,” he said.
The issue of marriage has come to the attention of the Lutheran Church in recent years, and Chell’s church is organizing a forum on the topic to be held in January.
Part of the reasoning for the forum is an upcoming ELCA conference on the issue.
“The church will make a decision about this in two years at a convention,” Chell said.
The conference is neccessary because of more intense societal pressure from various viewpoints both from within the church and from society at large.
“It’s a central issue in our culture, but it’s a marginal issue in the scriptures, at best,” Chell said. “I mean, Jesus never talked about this.”
Chell said that people who have not grown up in the church may be surprised at the diversity of opinion on the issue of homosexuality.
At a recent gathering in Miami, the ULC students stayed with an openly gay pastor. Opinions came from all sides.
“Some would have you believe that Biblical evidence is conclusive,” he said. “But if that was the case, we’d all be saying the same thing.”
While views differ among members of any congregation, Chell, like Bielfeldt, said that fellowship is more important than judgement.
“Jesus said ‘love your neighbor,’ not ‘judge other people.'” he said. “Church is not a place to come after you get your act together.”
Campbell said that his church does not exclude anyone in their church services even though homosexuality is against the church’s beliefs.
“It’s against God’s law and will,” Campbell said. “But we don’t say they can’t attend.”
The Brookings First Assembly of God will not bless homosexual unions in the church. Campbell has adddressed the topic of homosexuality in his sermons to let the congregation know what the Bible says on the issue.
“I don’t think of this as any different from any other sin,” Campbell said.
Campbell said that just as any other sin, such as stealing or adultery, homosexuality is contrary to the nature of God.
Campbell said that while the church does not exclude anyone from their services, active homosexuals may feel uncomfortable by the church’s teachings and his sermons.
“We’re called to preach the gospel and God’s way of life,” Campbell said.