Damage to Minneapolis ELCA church steeple on August 19, 2009
An unexpected, violent storm damaged a convention hall where a church body was discussing ordaining openly homosexual ministers and giving sanction to same-sex marriages. It had to be a coincidence, right? S. T. Karnick analyzes the implications.

Most reasonable human beings profess, quite correctly, to be skeptical toward very improbable coincidences. In such cases we are wisely inclined to look for a author’s hand behind the events.

In evaluating novels and films, for example, we tend to frown on too-obvious and convenient coincidences that move the plot forward or convey too clear a meaning. The same is true of our understanding of reality: when we see too strange a coincidence, we look for an underlying cause. For example, when we run into someone quite unexpectedly, we look for reasons they might have been there, instead of just accepting that coincidences happen.

That is indeed the right way to look at things. We recognize that cause-and-effect is a central truth of life, and we naturally look for causes when something seems far out of the ordinary.

Thus it’s difficult to dismiss the very odd thing that happened just as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was voting to approve a "social statement on human sexuality" designed to open the way for congregations to be led by openly homosexual ministers and to make way for ELCA to perform same-sex marriages. A fierce storm described by many as a tornado unexpectedly ripped through downtown Minneapolis, where the ELCA convention was taking place, and damaged the convention center where the meeting was taking place, along with the ELCA church across the street–even knocking over the church’s steeple in a bizarrely symbolic occurrence.

An eyewitness described the storm as a "fast-moving, misshapen, unusually-wide funnel over downtown Minneapolis."

The statement on sexuality passed by the exact number of votes required, just reaching the necessary two-thirds majority. On Friday the assembly approved, as expected, a rule allowing congregations to be led by open homosexuals and to .

As the Washington Post reported, jokes that the storm was a sign of God’s wrath "proved inevitable" at the convention hall. The attendees clearly were looking for a causal connection, and not finding an appealing one, understandably resorted to dismissive humor.

Others don’t think the situation is such a joke. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, addressed the ELCA assembly on Saturday, the day after ELCA’s vote to allow openly homosexual clergy, expressing dismay at the ELCA decision and directly stating that it contradicted the explicit teachings of the Bible:

"The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word."

In a published statement, Kieschnick cited specific Scripture passages in making his point:

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has repeatedly affirmed as its own position the historical understanding of the Christian church that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as "intrinsically sinful." It is therefore contrary to the will of the Creator and constitutes sin against the commandments of God (Lev. 18:22, 24,20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim 1:9-10; and Rom. 1:26, 27).

In that same statement, Kieschnick acknowledged that ELCA has a right to decide what it wants to do, but he stood firm on the position that positions that contradict the Bible cannot be characterized as Christian:

We respect the desire to follow conscience in moral decision making, but conscience may not overrule the Word of God.

In addition, he noted, a great many ELCA members disagreed with the church body’s decision, and Kieschnick offered them "our assurance of loving encouragement together with our willingness to provide appropriate support in their efforts to remain faithful to the Word of God and the historic teachings of the Lutheran church and all other Christian churches for the past 2,000 years." Meaning, of course, that ELCA was no longer a recogizably Christian church in many of its doctrines, and those who wanted to leave would get LCMS support. Which certainly makes sense.

As to the storm, much commentary has arisen stating explicitly that it was God’s judgment and warning to the church.

A very good blog post by John Piper outlines the extraordinary event:

A friend who drove down to see the damage wrote,

On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected . . . a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis.

The tornado happens on a Wednesday . . . during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s national convention in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention is using Central Lutheran across the street as its church. The church has set up tents around it’s building for this purpose.

According to the ELCA’s printed convention schedule, at 2 PM on Wednesday, August 19, the 5th session of the convention was to begin. The main item of the session: “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue is whether practicing homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry.

The eyewitness of the damage continues:

This curious tornado touches down just south of downtown and follows 35W straight towards the city center. It crosses I94. It is now downtown.  
The time: 2 PM.  

The first buildings on the downtown side of I94 are the Minneapolis Convention Center and Central Lutheran. The tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents, breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two . . . and then lifts.   

Piper’s conclusion, shared by many across the nation (as a simple Web search will quickly confirm), is that the storm was indeed a message from God:

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners. 

During the Medieval Era, of course, such a thing would have been taken for granted as tr
ue. In our more enlightened, sophisticated time, we see through such superstitions.

Instead, we believe in bizarre coincidences–as long as it means we can continue to deny God.

–S. T. Karnick