Audio version of this post.

This is part 2 of 3 in my examination of Issues, Etc.’s defenses of the segment on capital punishment for sodomy. Part 1 can be found here.

In this part, I take up Wilken’s answer to the second critique heard on his July 26th, 2023 comment line broadcast.

A caveat: This post by necessity contains references to dirty deeds done in the dark, and is not intended for children.


Here’s some more feedback on your interview with Doctor Middendorf, “Does God command the killing of homosexuals in Romans Chapter one?”:

“With regard to this segment with Doctor Middendorf, does the word abomination have any meaning in the Bible when it applies that word to some things and not others? Why was the word not mentioned in the segment? Did Middendorf cover this in his commentary?

“Furthermore, does the state have any legitimate interests in considering the execution of rapists, pedophiles and men who murder children, as well as men who mutilate the genitals of children? What is the point of a state sword if it is forbidden from executing those citizens who practice the most heinous destruction, or is sodomy a victimless crime?

“Finally, if a state is not required by God to execute sodomites, is it allowed to? On what basis? The basis that sodomy is just a speck in our neighbor’s eye, while pirating a Disney movie is a plank in ours? Would you feel better if Hollywood pirates were executed too? Or if that’s too silly, just substitute shoplifting instead. I hope you at least agree that it is normal and wholesome for the state to execute murderers, even though that’s just a speck in those people’s eyes.”

Well, again, the the state has decided, in terms of capital punishment, that there are crimes that rise sufficiently to a level of harm or danger, in the case of, say, treason, danger to the nation, the entire nation, that these things should be capital crimes. And really, it’s a legal question, rather than a theological question.

As to whether or not, why we didn’t use the word abomination, did we read through the entire thing? I think at one point, doctor Middendorf read through the entire first chapter of Romans and on to the second.

I don’t recall it. I usually tell you to make sure we read the entire text for our listeners because they’re listening and don’t have their Bibles with them.

And I think he did. And I— well I don’t recall him commenting on “abomination,” I think we could call any sin an abomination before the Lord. How do we get off saying my sins… I’m not tempted toward homosexuality, but I am tempted toward heterosexual lust. Is it less an abomination? Of course not.

And then just a comment on the thrice mentioned “speck in the neighbor’s eye,” a not too clever reference to one of the essays in the recent Large Catechism from Concordia Publishing House.

It’s an uncharitable reading of that particular essay to say that the essayist was simply referring to the crimes the sins of homosexuality and other sins as mere specks of sins. They were talking about— referencing Jesus’ own words. You gotta do something with Jesus’ words. You can’t throw them out. The attempt to say that we can’t call our neighbor’s sins specks flies in the face of Jesus’ own words. All sins are planks, as far as God is concerned. All of them. But Jesus speaks those words, and you cannot throw them out. They mean something. And he simply says, you cannot attend to what appears to be a speck in your neighbor’s eye while you still have the plank in your own. Remove the plank so that then you can deal with the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

It’s not about the relative size of sins. I really hope that there are Bible commentaries that deal with this. It’s not about the relative size of sins. It’s about whose sin gets dealt with first. If you can’t read Jesus’ words and draw that conclusion, then I don’t know what to tell you.

As Long As It’s Legal

Wilken states here that the matter of what the ruling authorities will deem worthy of the death penalty is a legal question, not a theological question. One wonders: by what standard will the authorities legislate, litigate, prosecute, and judge on this matter? If the authorities decided that espousing faith in Christ warrants the death penalty, would that simply be a legal question, too? At what point would Todd concede that Scripture must weigh in on these questions?

In keeping with a consequentialist reduction of the law (as mentioned in part 1), this reeks of the old “as long as it’s legal, bro” punting of the TV generation having to grapple with the place of God’s law in jurisprudence.

Abomination of Abominations

Wilken also seems to miss the rebuke’s reference to the use of the term “abomination” for sodomy in Leviticus chapters 18 and 20. He then dismisses the relevance of the term, saying:

I think we could call any sin an abomination before the Lord. [chuckle] How do we get off saying that my sins…I’m not tempted toward homosexuality. But I am tempted toward heterosexual lust. Is it less of an abomination? Of course not!

Considering that God Himself does not call just any sin “an abomination before the Lord,” but limits this to gross sexual perversion (see my original article for a longer discussion on this), idol worship (Deuteronomy 7:25), and cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18), to call just any sin by this term demands resorting to an equivocal sense of the word. Here again, as in part 1, Wilken insists on a false equivalence between sins.

That said, because heterosexual adultery is indeed listed among the ‘abominable’ sexual sins in Leviticus 18, more should be said about that specific example.

Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her.

‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominationseither any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you  (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.

Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 18:20, 24-30, NKJV

Wilken’s statement here deals with internal proclivities (concupiscence), not externally consummated acts — this distinction will be discussed more fully below. Since only internal desires are in view here, which strips away consideration of external consequences for sins that would serve as confounding variables, let’s run a thought experiment. Wilken’s assertion here is that there is no spectrum, no scale when it comes to varying species of desire for what will be the source of one’s venereal pleasure. As a man, lust for a man is no more a sin than is lust for a married woman.

What about lust for a goat? And let’s even make it a male goat. A man who sees one of these and turns his head as he pictures lewd acts with the creature… and Wilken’s temptation to lust after a human woman is no less abominable?

The intact moral compass recoils. The non-cauterized conscience is revolted. And why is this so?

Because nature itself testifies to the depth of the depravity of such inclinations, which descend far deeper than the otherwise natural desire of a man for a woman. This is why, though God calls all sexual sins abominations before Him, He testifies additionally (and not just one time) that sodomy is an abomination.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22, NKJV

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Leviticus 20:13, NKJV

Therefore sodomy is literally the abomination of abominations.

But don’t take my word for it, take the word of the fathers of the Church, from the inspired St. Paul in the 1st Century:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Romans 1:24-26, NKJV

To St. John Chrysostom in the 4th Century:

For these [catamites] are treated in the same way as women that play the whore. Or rather their plight is more miserable. For in the case of the one the intercourse, even if lawless, is yet according to nature: but this is contrary both to law and nature. For even if there were no hell, and no punishment had been threatened, this were worse than any punishment. Yet if you say they found pleasure in it, you tell me what adds to the vengeance. For suppose I were to see a person running naked, with his body all besmeared with mire, and yet not covering himself, but exulting in it, I should not rejoice with him, but should rather bewail that he did not even perceive that he was doing shamefully. But that I may show the atrocity in a yet clearer light, bear with me in one more example. Now if any one condemned a virgin to live in close dens, and to have intercourse with unreasoning brutes, and then she was pleased with such intercourse, would she not for this be especially a worthy object of tears, as being unable to be freed from this misery owing to her not even perceiving the misery? It is plain surely to every one. But if that were a grievous thing, neither is this less so than that. For to be insulted by one’s own kinsmen is more piteous than to be so by strangers: these I say are even worse than murderers: since to die even is better than to live under such insolency. For the murderer dissevers the soul from the body, but this man ruins the soul with the body.

And name what sin you will, none will you mention equal to this lawlessness. And if they that suffer such things perceived them, they would accept ten thousand deaths so they might not suffer this evil. For there is not, there surely is not, a more grievous evil than this insolent dealing. For if when discoursing about fornication Paul said, that “Every sin which a man does is without the body, but he that commits fornication sins against his own body,” what shall we say of this madness, which is so much worse than fornication as cannot even be expressed?

John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Romans, Translated by J. Walker, J. Sheppard and H. Browne, and revised by George B. Stevens.

To his 4th and 5th Century contemporary, St. Augustine:

Can it at any time or place be an unrighteous thing for a man to love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind, and his neighbor as himself? Therefore those offenses which be contrary to nature are everywhere and at all times to be held in detestation and punished; such were those of the Sodomites, which should all nations commit, they should all be held guilty of the same crime by the divine law, which has not so made men that they should in that way abuse one another. For even that fellowship which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature of which He is author is polluted by the perversity of lust.

The Confessions, St. Augustine, Book III, Chapter 8, emphasis mine

To St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century:

In every genus, worst of all is the corruption of the principle on which the rest depend. Now the principles of reason are those things that are according to nature, because reason presupposes things as determined by nature, before disposing of other things according as it is fitting. This may be observed both in speculative and in practical matters. Wherefore just as in speculative matters the most grievous and shameful error is that which is about things the knowledge of which is naturally bestowed on man, so in matters of action it is most grave and shameful to act against things as determined by nature. Therefore, since by the unnatural vices man transgresses that which has been determined by nature with regard to the use of venereal actions, it follows that in this matter this sin is gravest of all. After it comes incest, which, as stated above, is contrary to the natural respect which we owe persons related to us.

With regard to the other species of lust they imply a transgression merely of that which is determined by right reason, on the presupposition, however, of natural principles. Now it is more against reason to make use of the venereal act not only with prejudice to the future offspring, but also so as to injure another person besides. Wherefore simple fornication, which is committed without injustice to another person, is the least grave among the species of lust. Then, it is a greater injustice to have intercourse with a woman who is subject to another’s authority as regards the act of generation, than as regards merely her guardianship. Wherefore adultery is more grievous than seduction. And both of these are aggravated by the use of violence. Hence rape of a virgin is graver than seduction, and rape of a wife than adultery. And all these are aggravated by coming under the head of sacrilege, as stated above.

Just as the ordering of right reason proceeds from man, so the order of nature is from God Himself: wherefore in sins contrary to nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature. …

Vices against nature are also against God, as stated above, and are so much more grievous than the depravity of sacrilege, as the order impressed on human nature is prior to and more firm than any subsequently established order.

The nature of the species is more intimately united to each individual, than any other individual is. Wherefore sins against the specific nature are more grievous.

Gravity of a sin depends more on the abuse of a thing than on the omission of the right use. Wherefore among sins against nature, the lowest place belongs to the sin of uncleanness, which consists in the mere omission of copulation with another. While the most grievous is the sin of bestiality, because use of the due species is not observed. Hence a gloss on Genesis 37:2, “He accused his brethren of a most wicked crime,” says that “they copulated with cattle.” After this comes the sin of sodomy, because use of the right sex is not observed. Lastly comes the sin of not observing the right manner of copulation, which is more grievous if the abuse regards the “vas” than if it affects the manner of copulation in respect of other circumstances.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 154, Article 12

In conclusion, the modern desire to flee from God’s clear words on the gravity of sodomy is just that: modern.

Of Logs and Specks

Now we turn to the matter of logs and specks in all of this. Where Wilken sees flippant casuistry on the part of the commenter, I see genuine concern for the question of how we address what are (in many cases) criminal acts taking place within our society when our clergy class insists that all sins are equal.

Since it was brought up, permit me a digression into what Mrs. Fr. Brock Schmeling wrote in her essay on the Sixth Commandment in the new Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications. Actually, permit me several digressions, because to address this matter is to twist open a veritable matryoshka doll. This was not a woman off on her own in the theological weeds. This was a woman who had pastors and theologians grooming her and her takes at every step along the way. From her ordained husband, to her pastor, to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), to the seminary professor editor, to the Synod President — every one of them signed off on this, and each has only doubled and tripled down since her theological categories and articulation were called into question.

I’ve elected to take a long quote, to provide a sense of the context which is often asserted to be missing in critiques of same.

Luther faced a different reality [than the Israelites whose sexual sin most commonly manifested in adultery qua adultery]: “But among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness.” He then addresses the common unchastity of his day, motivated in part by the “shameful mess,” namely, the irony of monastics who esteemed virginity far above marriage yet failed miserably at it. Much like doctors who “cure” genetic disorders by aborting babies, the “popish rabble” cloistered themselves away from “vice and lewdness” and devoted themselves to “chastity,” hoping to avoid adultery by rejecting marriage. But God honors marriage in the Sixth Commandment, and the monastic rejection led only to individuals who “indulge in open and shameless prostitution or secretly do even worse, so that one dare not speak of it. . . . Their hearts are so full of unchaste thoughts and evil lusts that there is a continual burning and secret suffering.” Marriage is therefore not only honorable but also beneficial to curb temptation.

Like Luther, we also must address the most common unchastity among ourselves: that in the name of “sexual freedom” we feed our continual burning and honor neither virginity nor marriage. Our sin isn’t even secret: we speak of our lusts through crude joking and foolish talk, often naming ourselves by our sexual sin as no murderer or liar ever does.

However, though some of us are burdened with homosexual lust, pornographic addiction, transgenderism, pedophilia, and polyamory, more often they are the speck in our neighbor’s eye rather than the log in our own (cf. Matthew 7:3–5). For decades, if we didn’t wink at fornication we certainly turned our eyes from it, as long as the acts performed outside of marriage were heterosexual ones. We shudder in disgust when it suits us, forgetting that we, too, follow our hearts, that organ which produces
every evil thought and sexual immorality (Mark 7:21–22). We are in love, so we live as though married; we are out of love, so we break our marriage oaths before death has ended them. …

We may be tempted to see as sin only those most brazen acts of rebellion. But each of us must begin by removing the log from our own eye, for “if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Confess and receive absolution: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Andrea Schmeling, “The Sixth Commandment: Sexual Purity,” Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications, Published by Concordia Publishing House, 2022, emphasis is the contested passage

Let’s take a stab at what Mrs. Schmeling is perhaps trying to say here (setting aside, for the moment, the fact that she has no business saying anything in this context). The final quoted paragraph above, taken from five paragraphs below the contested passage, gives the key.

Commenting upon the relative gravity of the sexual sins named does not seem to have been the intent of Mrs. Schmeling’s words. Rather, she seems to seek to call out the willful blindness of her Christian audience, who through studied inattention have ignored or even excused the rampant fornication practiced by our sons and daughters — and, in some cases, even ourselves. Indeed, she seeks to direct the reader’s attention inward, to abate any incipient pride. To remember that fornication, also, is a sin to be repented of, same as any other. She acknowledges that some in this list may even be more “brazen acts of rebellion,” and seems to say (rightly) that appeals to the existence of more extreme sin “out there” does not serve to absolve our own hearts before God.

For my part, if I had wanted to get this sort of point across after her fashion of writing, I might have said:

In our day we find ourselves surrounded by all manner of “out and proud” sexual licentiousness too abominable to recount. We, like righteous Lot, have cause to be “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7b). Nevertheless, we are called to remain vigilant lest, like Lot himself, we ourselves give way to sexual perversion of other kinds. Many of us have shed tears over lives formerly given over to fornication, or continually struggle with the besetting sin of lust. When we are tormented with guilt for these, we remember our Baptism and that “the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

And we remember as well that God offers this same Baptism to the wicked who walk about us, and to the most exalted of vile men, for He names among the saints men who left their former venereal vices behind when He says, “such [sexually immoral, adulterers, and sodomites] were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Therefore, even as in the Kingdom of the Left Hand we oppose such lawless deeds and those who practice them, in the Kingdom of the Right Hand we confess and proclaim to those presently lost that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Now, the above paragraph explaining what I take to be Mrs. Schmeling’s position used fewer words than she took to state it originally. Favoring poetic turns of phrase and meandering over clarity is a flaw with a number of these essays, and spritzing Biblical phrases and reformer quotes every couple of lines has all the same energy of the dorm monitor spraying Febreze while walking down the jock hall. It’s no cover for the stink of poorly conceived and poorly articulated theology. It should go without saying that indeed yes these ideas could have been expressed “more clearly.”

Therefore, now that we have done our due diligence to suss out the praiseworthy — though abysmally executed — intentions of this piece, let us proceed with what is intractably wrong with it. After all, though Mrs. Schmeling’s intention may not have been to comment on the relative gravity of specific sins (and maybe it was, as per her pastor’s defense of the piece, which we shall come to in time), that is the clear effect of her words. We will begin our examination of this fact with the most aggravatingly ironic element of the entire matter: the text’s overt denial of the Lutheran Confessions.

Denial of the Lutheran Confessions

Yes, Mrs. Schmeling’s piece denies the Lutheran Confessions. Ironically, it denies the Large Catechism (LC). Ironically ironically, it denies the explanation to the Sixth Commandment. Ironically ironically ironically, it denies the section of the LC Mrs. Schmeling quotes just two paragraphs above the contested “log” and “speck” line — included in the quote above.

To reproduce the quote in full:

From this you see how this popish rabble, priests, monks, and nuns, resist God’s order and commandment, inasmuch as they despise and forbid matrimony, and presume and vow to maintain perpetual chastity, and, besides, deceive the simple-minded with lying words and appearances.

For no one has so little love and inclination to chastity as just those who because of great sanctity avoid marriage, and either indulge in open and shameless prostitution, or secretly do even worse, so that one dare not speak of it, as has, alas! been learned too fully.

Luther’s Large Catechism, Explanation to the Sixth Commandment, Martin Luther

Read that last line again. In this passage of the Large Catechism (and hence, in our Confessions), Martin Luther states that there is a worse sexual sin than fornication with prostitutes. Though he tactfully declines to name it (as he alludes to in his commentary on Genesis 19) in this book meant for teaching families with small children, Luther spoke about it explicitly elsewhere: it is sodomy. Significantly, this includes, but is not limited to, pederasty. In point of fact, it especially denotes pederasty—the rape of boys. If sodomy is the abomination of abominations, pederasty is the abomination^3. And while a full exposition of the data on the topic is beyond the scope of this piece, it is worth mentioning that when you plot for time, the Venn Diagram for sodomy and pederasty is just…a circle.

And on that score, there really is nothing new under the sun. Luther:

I am not lying to you. Whoever has been in Rome knows that conditions are unfortunately worse there than anyone can say or believe. When the last Lateran council was to be concluded in Rome under Pope Leo, among other articles it was decreed that one must believe the soul to be immortal. From this one may gather that they make eternal life an object of sheer mockery and contempt. In this way they confess that it is a common belief among them that there is no eternal life, but that they now wish to proclaim this by means of a bull.

More remarkable yet, in the same bull they decided that a cardinal should not keep as many boys in the future. However, Pope Leo commanded that this be deleted; otherwise it would have been spread throughout the whole world how openly and shamelessly the pope and the cardinals in Rome practice sodomy. I do not wish to mention the pope, but since the knaves will not repent, but condemn the gospel, blaspheme and revile God’s word, and excuse their vices, they, in turn, will have to take a whiff of their own terrible filth. This vice is so prevalent among them that recently a pope caused his own death by means of this sin and vice. In fact, he died on the spot. All right now, you popes, cardinals, papists, spiritual lords, keep on persecuting God’s word and defending your doctrine and your churches!

No pope, cardinal, bishop, doctor, priest, monk, or nun will condemn such an obviously disgraceful life; rather they laugh about it, excuse it, and gloss over it. They incite kings, princes, country, and people to defend such knaves with life and property, with land and people, and faithfully to protect them so that such vices might not be repented of and reformed, but rather strengthened, sanctioned, and approved. Now you are to hazard blood, body, and life just for the sake of saddling your neck and conscience with this.

I could easily mention more examples of such abominations, but it is too shameful; I fear that our German soil would have to tremble before it. But if an impudent popish ass should come along and dispute this, he will find me ready to do him battle, and it will be quite a battle!”

Luther’s Works Volume 47, p.38, emphases not original

Indeed, Luther continued to hold the same position he articulated in the LC — that forbidding marriage results in disordered passions including those “worse” than fornication with a prostitute — all his life. Why, he was still speaking about it a decade after publishing his LC, such as in the following table talk:

Through the papists Satan so defiled [natural affection] that in his little book on the celibacy of priests Cyprian wrote, ‘If you hear a woman speak, flee from her as if she were a hissing snake.’ That’s the way it is. When one is afraid of whores one must fall into sodomite depravity, as almost happened to St. Jerome.

Table Talk: “There Is Danger in Avoiding Marriage,” 29 May, 1539, Luther’s Works Volume 54, p.357

In a quote worthy of being placed in the list above featuring Paul, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Aquinas, Luther said,

The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.

Quote as found in What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed. by Ewald Martin Plass, emphasis mine. Pick up your copy from Concordia Publishing House today, before they discontinue it for badthink!

But let us return to the statement in the LC: “For no one has so little love and inclination to chastity as just those who because of great sanctity avoid marriage, and either indulge in open and shameless prostitution, or secretly do even worse, so that one dare not speak of it, as has, alas! been learned too fully.”

To perhaps restate: it is the clear and explicit ruling of the Lutheran Confessions that sodomy, especially pederasty, is even worse (a greater sin) than fornication (with a prostitute no less). To say otherwise is no simple and innocuous theological difference of opinion. To say otherwise is to depart from and contradict the Confessions. To maintain that fornication and sodomy are equal sins is by the Missouri Synod’s definition false doctrine.

This is not LCMS rules-lawyering. The Confessions faithfully expound the soul-saving doctrine of the Scriptures (1 Timothy 4:16). And to the present point: Lutheran ministers vow before Almighty God that they believe this. To contradict the doctrinal standard is a double lie. First, it defames the name of God Himself by putting lies in His mouth, effectively forging His signature on a fraudulent letter. Second, it is oath-breaking. Both are evil. The first is worse. “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). False doctrine is an enormity, not a quibble. And when Todd Wilken says that fornication and sodomy are equal in the sight of God, that is false doctrine.

When Mrs. Schmeling espouses that some guy’s child-raping is a speck in his eye, while your fornication is a log in your own, that is false doctrine — taught by a woman. Verily, it is named as such by the very quotation she used two paragraphs before.

Fr. Brock Schmeling signed off on it. Mrs. Schmeling’s pastor signed off on it (as we shall see). The entire CTCR signed off on it. CTSFW Professor John Pless signed off on it. LCMS President Matthew Harrison signed off on it. And when it was exposed, they all doubled down.

The CTCR forthrightly asserts that this volume does not change, question or supplant any doctrinal position of the LCMS, including any Synod teaching on contemporary cultural issues such as race or sexuality. The CTCR furthermore categorically rejects any assertions to the contrary. …

[T]he text of the Large Catechism itself remains entirely unchanged in this volume, using the English translation found in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions—A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. It is the same text to which our Synod has always subscribed as part of our unqualified commitment to the 16th-century Lutheran Confessions. …

[T]he text of each introduction, annotation and excursive essay underwent thorough review and subsequent approval by the CTCR, as well as Synod doctrinal review. These reviews were undertaken to ensure that all material was in accord with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and the Constitution, bylaws and doctrinal statements of the Synod. Numerous suggestions for improvement were offered during this process and were ultimately addressed satisfactorily.

LCMS CTCR Statement on ‘Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications,’ February 2023, emphasis mine

[T]here is nothing in the content of the volume promoting critical race theory (CRT), confusion of sexuality issues, or any theological position at odds with biblical and confessional Lutheranism. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s doctrine is established only by the Scriptures and confessed in the Book of Concord. By God’s grace we remain steadfast in this eternal truth and confession as we await the return of our blessed Savior Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I think each reader will be astounded at the content and quality of the volume.

Update from President Harrison on Large Catechism, Feb. 2, 2023, emphasis mine

With their own mouths, they have said it. I urge them to reconsider, while it is yet day.

Thus, Ryan Turnipseed’s original criticism of the passage stands against all the slander leveled at him.

[W]e have an equivocation of homosexuality, pornography, sodomy, pedophilia, whorishness, and transgenderism with heterosexual fornication outside of sex.

That is, the LCMS can’t say “sodomy is evil” without softening it with “but so is straight sex before marriage”.


If your pastor is effectively demanding that you stand down over so-called “LGBT+” issues and focus on the log of your own heterosexual lusts, inform them that our confessions call sodomy worse than sex with a prostitute. He will either repent, or he will become ipso facto a quatenus subscriber to the Confessions.

With that, we turn to one such pastor and author of a screed which is emblematic of a subtle antinomian drift within Synod. As has been hinted, it is Mrs. Schmeling’s own pastor.

The Incoherence of “Your Sin Is Always Worse” Theology

Back in April, Mrs. Schmeling’s pastor, Charlie Lehmann, realized that it was the theology he had inculcated in the young lady which was being expressed in the contested passage. In a Facebook post on April 18, 2023, he wrote:

In her essay in the Annotated Large Catechism, Andrea Schmeling wrote, “Though some of us are burdened with homosexual lust, pornographic addiction, transgenderism, pedophilia, and polyamory, more often they are the speck in our neighbor’s eye rather than the log in our own (cf. Matthew 7:3-5).”

She’s being attacked for this because she’s a woman and, of course, laity and because some think it minimizes the sin of pedophilia.

It struck me this morning that she probably wrote this because one of her pastors taught this to her for about 7 years. I know this pastor rather well. He’s me.

I frequently preach that we should take Matthew 7 and 1st Timothy together. We are the chief of sinners. Whatever sin another person might commit, our sin is worse. That’s a categorical statement. It is absolute. Whenever we address the sin of another, we must address it as one sinner to another.

So don’t go after Andrea. Go after me. Go after the other pastors who may have taught her the same thing. In her essay she’s actually doing what some critics say that women should do exclusively: Listen to their pastors.

LCMS pastors love to put women forward as theology teachers to men and the equal of men. Then, when men find occasion to sternly criticize the woman’s theology, just as they would a man’s erroneous theology (see everything I’ve written about Wilken and Middendorf), LCMS pastors put on the white armor (which is kind of funny, since at most any other time they are pretty embarrassed of the pale shade). Therefore, in order for this piece not to become the windmill at the end of a cavalry charge, I will now shift my address to Lehmann instead.

Now, we saw in the last essay that — pace the neo-Lutheran claim to the contrary — not all sins are equal. We looked at three standards by which one sin might be deemed worse than another. But here is the next phase in the devolution of neo-Lutheran hamartiology. It’s not enough that your sins be equal with sodomy, etc. Rather, your sins must be worse.

This is incredible. But rather than just lambasting it in passing and moving on, let’s drill down a bit.

Firstly, what does “whatever sin another person might commit, our sin is worse” even mean? How does one actually parse this?

To harken back to the previous essay, is the claim being made that another’s sin is always venial, and ours always mortal, and hence worse? No, that can’t work. The other might be a non-Christian, and we are Christians.

Is the claim being made that our sin is always greater than anyone else’s with regard to negative consequences in the world? That’s self-evidently absurd for anyone not sitting on a prison block.

Is the claim being made that our sin is always greater when it comes to God’s hierarchy for such things? A read of the previous essay should easily disabuse this notion.

Then what? What is Lehmann comparing to arrive at this verdict? We will come to this answer in due time.

Secondly, to the claim that “some think [the essay] minimizes the sin of pedophilia.” Surely it is at least fair to ask, “Well, why would they think this?” To get at an answer, let’s take the statement and make some substitutions.

Though some of us are burdened with bestiality and necrophilia, more often they are the speck in our neighbor’s eye rather than the log in our own.

Would it be reasonable for someone to come away thinking this minimizes bestiality and necrophilia? Would it have passed doctrinal review? Why or why not?

I mean it: why or why not? Take a break from this long article and ponder that.

What if we change things up some more?

Though some of us are burdened with racism, antisemitism, white supremacy, and Nazism, more often they are the speck in our neighbor’s eye rather than the log in our own.

Would this have passed doctrinal review?

Would the sitting LCMS president dare to say without qualification that his own heart has more abomination in it than the acts of white supremacist racist Nazis? Because Harrison did… except instead of Nazis he used child-groomers as his point of reference.

There’s not a single person in this room who deserves the grace of God.

I might know a few sins of somebody who does drag shows at the library, which is abominable.

But I know my own heart. And there’s much more abomination than that in it.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison

Of course Harrison’s statement that “there is not a single one of us who deserves the grace of God” is true. As Martin Chemnitz says in his Enchiridion:

206 Is, Then, Original Sin, Which Still Remains in the Reborn in This Life, in Itself Such a Light Little Sin, or, So to Say, Peccadillo, that God Neither Can Nor Wants to Be Angry Against It?

All sins are not equal; some are more grievous and greater than others (Jn 19:11; Mt 11:22; Lk 12:47–48); yet if one judges according to the sense of the divine law, no sin per se and by its own nature deserves forgiveness; that is, none is so small and insignificant, but that it makes [one] subject to divine wrath and worthy of eternal damnation if God enters into judgment with him. (Dt 27:26; Gl 3:10; Ja 2:10)

Martin Chemnitz , Enchiridion

Note well the gloss whereby Chemnitz again claims that “all sins are not equal” and “some are more grievous and greater than others,” even as he says that nevertheless all sins deserve damnation apart from forgiveness in Christ. I recommend you read the entire selection on this page, it will help you further think on these issues under discussion.

Of course I also recognize that Harrison is attempting to put his own spin on Paul’s “I am the chief of sinners,” just as Lehmann says we should do above.

However, Paul’s formula differs greatly from Harrison’s.

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

1 Timothy 1:12-16

Paul enumerates his personal, actual sins, for which he has built a life around repentance — you might even say a form of meager restitution. He claims that for these sins, specifically, he is to be counted as the chief of sinners. He uses this as a proof, then, that Christ is willing and able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him; and that no one is excluded, as he confesses this applies to even the foremost of sinners.

Comparison with Harrison’s stumbling formulation falls flat, for although he is certainly in step with Paul insofar as both are working to show that God’s mercy is unearned and available to all, Harrison cites no specific personal sin(s) from which he is grateful to give a testimony of salvation. He rather cites another person’s specific actual sin (a classical Lutheran term denoting sins of commission), and then applies Lehmann’s own formula from above: “Whatever sin another person might commit, our sin is worse. That is a categorical statement. It is absolute.”

And yet I wonder why Paul phrased his testimony as he did, rather than saying, “I might know a man who unrepentantly cavorts with his mother-in-law, which is abominable; but I also know my own heart, and there’s much more abomination than that in it.” Likely because he was not being sloppy.

Indeed, in saying this, Harrison has engaged in the typical 21st Century Lutheran sloppiness of speaking about sin. Namely, he has conflated the categories of concupiscence (the errant desire of the flesh which inheres to our nature by virtue of Original Sin), and actual sin (consummated acts which flow from our sinful nature). Now of course concupiscence is itself damning sin, as the reformers confessed. And these desires remain after Baptism as the sinful flesh clings on for the duration of our earthly life, necessitating that we struggle daily to drown the Old Adam in the waters of Baptism, as the reformers confessed.

That said, Saint James himself testified to the distinction between concupiscence and actual sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

James 1:13-15, NKJV

Again, both concupiscence and actual sins are sinful, but they are distinct from one another — and a great subject of contention between the papists and the Reformers. Believe it or not, though both are species of adultery, there is a difference between the sin of lust (which takes place in the heart) and the sin of climbing into bed with another man’s wife (which takes place in the outward members). If it were not so then Paul could not say:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Romans 6:12-13, NKJV

In the words of Lutheran father Martin Chemnitz:

The Scripture, however, distinguishes these two things, to commit sin (1 John 2:4), or to walk in sins (Eph. 2:3), and to have sin (1 John 1:8), which is called indwelling sin (Rom. 7:17,20), sin that is present (Rom. 7:21), sin which besets us on all sides and takes possession of all powers in man (Heb. 12:1), the ignorance that is in them. (Eph. 4:18)

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Volume I, Third Topic: Section 2: Subsection 5

Thus, Harrison is not making an apples to apples comparison when he states “I might know a few sins of someone who does drag shows at the library (actual sin), which is abominable; but I know my own heart, and there’s much more abomination than that in it (concupiscence).”

Again, in the spirit of charity, Harrison is clearly driving at the point that he himself deserves grace no more than does the pedophile. This point — however poorly articulated — is meet, right, and salutary for, apart from Christ, both are damned sinners. In this, he sounds rather like the Solid Declaration when it calls Original Sin “a horrible, deep, inexpressible corruption of the [body and soul of man].”

However, would Harrison make the following claim?

“I might know a few sins of a man who gassed six million innocents, which is abominable; but I know my own heart, and there’s much more abomination than that in it.”

The fact that he would not proves out the category error being made. A technical foul, you might call it. And it is the identical error that Lehmann makes, as is proven by filling in the blanks of his statement above and solving for X.

Whatever sin another person might commit, our sin is worse.

“Might commit” is the language of commission — that is, of actual sin. Therefore let us replace this with a reference to a specific sin.

Whatever [genocide of 6 million by gas chambers] another person might commit, our sin is worse.

What is “our sin” here? Does Lehmann just expect us to fill in the blank with any given thing we’ve done wrong?

Whatever [genocide of 6 million by gas chambers] another person might commit, our [cussing when we stub our toe] is worse.

This is immediately morally incoherent, so let’s give Lehmann the benefit of the doubt and say, as I did above, that he like Harrison is playing a sloppy switcheroo instead.

Whatever [genocide of 6 million by gas chambers] another person might commit, our [sinful heart’s desire] is worse.

This is also incoherent, though we hear Lutherans speak this way so often that is has become a mantra for us. A shibboleth, of sorts. To set an actual sin up for comparison with concupiscent sin is apples and oranges. Both are sins, but in other respects a failure to rightly discern what makes them different (as SS. Paul and James show us how to do) will only lead to confusion.

The neo-Lutherans make use of the confusion brought about by this equivocation toward two ends.

Thwarting Pride

The first end is to snuff out pride. These men want to ensure that you do not attempt to self-justify, thinking that your sins are so light compared to the sins of others that you may escape notice altogether (a notion which Chemnitz disproves above). This is the essence of Middendorf’s repeated “scorekeeper God” phrase — he does not want you to think that life is a game of golf where scoring under par keeps you off the hook. Rather, as has been repeatedly said, concupiscence on its own is damnable sin, and we all have this in spades.

One can somewhat appreciate this goal. Indeed, Christ Himself showed in Matthew 5 that what proceeds from the heart is at enmity with the will of God, even if you never reach out your hand to carry out the corresponding actual sin. Certainly our concupiscence alone should cause us to cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ. However, it should not require the mental gymnastics of making ourselves out to be worse that pederasts to accomplish our own humbling before the Lord. Christ was not asking that the Pharisee blurt out like a Tourette’s sufferer that he was worse than the tax collector in order to be justified — rather, He was insisting that, when it comes to justification, comparison has no purchase before the throne of God at all.

That said, for all the good intentions of practitioners, when it comes to acting justly in our lives, this confusion is a hindrance. If we do not mark a distinction between the evil of our concupiscence and the acts of the pederast, then indeed what standing do we have to oppose those acts? This is to make of concupiscence an irremovable plank — as we will return to momentarily.

As Matthew Cochran aptly writes on this subject:

So do not fall into the false pride of superiority because you think your sins are milder than your neighbor’s. But as you avoid false pride, do not plunge yourself into a false humility that scares you away from proclaiming what is right to those who are doing wrong.

Matthew Cochran, “Sins of Inequality? No! Inequality of Sins

One need not — indeed, must not — resort to confusion and subterfuge in one’s attempts to thwart pride in another.

Sins the World Loves

The second end the neo-Lutherans turn this confusion toward is that of dodging accusations of bigotry.

It’s a simple enough tactic. Call sodomy a sin (“See God? I did the thing!”), then, before anyone can accuse you of bigotry, rush to “but I’m a sinner too, of course!” And of course, since the neo-Lutherans have chumps like you in the boat with them, they have to get you talking the same way, lest you embarrass them with a naked declaration of the sin of sodomy such as found in the mouths of faithful Christians throughout the centuries (see above again).

But it’s worse than that, because as we have seen above, it’s not enough for the neo-Lutheran regime that your sins be equal with sodomy. Rather, your sins must be worse.

Sins the world loves? Hurry, eject the I’m-a-bigger-sinner chaff! “Sure, it’s bad. But not as bad as my sin. I’m no bigot, after all!” (Psst! Quick, you fool, get down on your knees and supplicate! Supplicate!)

Sins (maybe even non-sins) the world hates? Well there the neo-Lutherans find their backbone. “This is evil. We condemn it in the name of Christ.” No quarter! Here and here alone they will posture as Menschen against noooance.

Once you see it, you see it everywhere, all the time, because being respectable to the world while still holding a plausibly Christian confession is the neo-Lutheran’s material principle.

Returning to Issues, Etc.

Wilken, alongside Lehmann and Harrison, deals in this same confusion about sin, so we now return to examining his words.

It’s an uncharitable reading of that particular essay to say that the essayist was simply referring to the crimes the sins of homosexuality and other sins as mere specks of sins. They were talking about— referencing Jesus’ own words. You gotta do something with Jesus’ words. You can’t throw them out. The attempt to say that we can’t call our neighbor’s sins specks flies in the face of Jesus’ own words. All sins are planks, as far as God is concerned. All of them. But Jesus speaks those words, and you cannot throw them out. They mean something. And he simply says, you cannot attend to what appears to be a speck in your neighbor’s eye while you still have the plank in your own. Remove the plank so that then you can deal with the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

It’s not about the relative size of sins. I really hope that there are Bible commentaries that deal with this. It’s not about the relative size of sins. It’s about whose sin gets dealt with first. If you can’t read Jesus’ words and draw that conclusion, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Todd is interpolating the concept of all sins being planks to God into this passage. Yes, all sin separates man from God. Yes, all sins are grievous to God. But as discussed at length above and in the last essay, not all sins are intrinsically as grievous as one another.

However, Wilken is very correct when he says that this passage is about whose sin gets dealt with first — an order of operations, if you will. First step: hypocrisy check; do not skip. Importantly, Jesus then assumes that there is a time after a man has removed a plank, at which point he will regain the clarity of vision required to perform spiritual eye surgery.

And this is where the confusion of concupiscence and actual sins can do harm. When Wilken, like Lehmann speaking for Mrs. Schmeling, demands that all of your sins are planks, and all of your neighbor’s sins are specks, he condemns us to never having the standing to address our neighbor’s sin. After all, as our confessions state: although the guilt of Original Sin is removed in Baptism, its effects upon our desires (as concupiscence) presently remains. As the presently intractable concupiscent desire to sin is itself sin, within Wilken and Lehmann’s framework it thus constitutes an irremovable plank. According to this reading, you will never have standing to address another man’s actual sin, because your concupiscence constitutes an even bigger sin; “That’s a categorical statement. It is absolute.”

But this cannot be correct as, again, Christ describes a stage in the sequence at which time we have standing to address our neighbor’s sin. Wilken and Lehmann are simply wrong here when they dispute the presence of the dimension of degrees of sin in Jesus’ words. While they correctly note that reckoning one’s own sin (actual or concupiscent) takes priority in the order of operations, their dismissal of the place of the relative weight of the sins in the equation leads them to gainsay Christ.

Lehmann preaches that 1 Timothy 1:15 is the proper cross reference for Matthew 7:3-5. But I would like to suggest that Matthew 23:23-24 (cf. Romans 2:17-24) — with its nod to hypocrisy concerning the relatively weightier matters of the law — is the true and intended parallel.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Matthew 23:23-24 NKJV

To mix Jesus’ metaphors, you could say, “And why do you look at the gnat in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the camel in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the gnat from your eye’; and look, a camel is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the camel from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the gnat from your brother’s eye.”

The point of the Matthew 7:4 check is not to make you realize that you are always guilty of a greater sin, in each and every situation, a la Wilken and Lehmann. The point is to avoid the gross hypocrisy of the pharisees. And, yes, when you take this step with the sins that vex you in others, at times you may indeed find that you are suddenly cognizant of previously unexamined sins in your life. Praise God for the tool by which He revealed this knowledge, allowing you to repent, and you will be more forgiving of your neighbor’s debts with the refreshed knowledge that your own debts have been cancelled.

To insist that Christians walk around blinded by irremovable logs in our eyes (always seeing, but never perceiving, you might say) in every endeavor is an absolute abuse of this text.

Concluding Remarks

As Wilken concludes by hoping there are commentaries which teach his reading of Matthew 7 that all of your neighbor’s sins are specks, it seems fitting for me to conclude with selections from one of the oldest extant commentaries on the text: the sermons of John Chrysostom.

What then can the saying[, “judge not, lest ye be judged,”] be? Let us carefully attend, lest the medicines of salvation, and the laws of peace, be accounted by any man laws of overthrow and confusion. First of all, then, even by what follows, He has pointed out to them that have understanding the excellency of this law, saying, Why do you behold the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in your own eye? Matthew 7:3

But if to many of the less attentive, it seem yet rather obscure, I will endeavor to explain it from the beginning. In this place, then, as it seems at least to me, He does not simply command us not to judge any of men’s sins, neither does He simply forbid the doing of such a thing, but to them that are full of innumerable ills, and are trampling upon other men for trifles. And I think that certain Jews too are here hinted at, for that while they were bitter accusing their neighbors for small faults, and such as came to nothing, they were themselves insensibly committing deadly sins. Herewith towards the end also He was upbraiding them, when He said, You bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, but you will not move them with your finger, Matthew 23:4 and, ye pay tithe of mint and anise, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. Matthew 23:23

Well then, I think that these are comprehended in His invective; that He is checking them beforehand as to those things, wherein they were hereafter to accuse His disciples. For although His disciples had been guilty of no such sin, yet in them were supposed to be offenses; as, for instance, not keeping the sabbath, eating with unwashen hands, sitting at meat with publicans; of which He says also in another place, You which strain at the gnat, and swallow the camel. But yet it is also a general law that He is laying down on these matters.

What then! say you: if one commit fornication, may I not say that fornication is a bad thing, nor at all correct him that is playing the wanton? Nay, correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. For neither did Christ say, stay not him that is sinning, but judge not; that is, be not bitter in pronouncing sentence.

And besides, it is not of great things (as I have already observed), nor of things prohibited, that this is said, but of those which are not even counted offenses. Wherefore He said also.

Why do you behold the mote that is in your brother’s eye? Matthew 7:3

Yea, for many now do this; if they see but a monk wearing an unnecessary garment, they produce against him the law of our Lord, Matthew 10:10 while they themselves are extorting without end, and defrauding men every day. If they see him but partaking rather largely of food, they become bitter accusers, while they themselves are daily drinking to excess and surfeiting: not knowing, that besides their own sins, they do hereby gather up for themselves a greater flame, and deprive themselves of every plea. For on this point, that your own doings must be strictly inquired into, you yourself hast first made the law, by thus sentencing those of your neighbor. Account it not then to be a grievous thing, if you are also yourself to undergo the same kind of trial.

Chrysostom, Homily 23 on Matthew

Let’s face facts. In the post-Christian West, sodomy advocacy is the chief persecutor of the Church. Missouri Synod affiliated congregations have for the last decade been amending their bylaws to ward against lawsuits from sodomite couples who might seek to be “married” in such a venue. News outlets are publishing hit pieces on LCMS pastors who commit the crime of denigrating sodomy before too large of an audience. LCMS seminary presidents are losing their children to gender transitioning. The television is evangelizing for sodomy to children in the impotent presence of the highest paid official in the Synod.

Sodomy is no trifling thing that Christians should be made to keep silence over. It is an abomination, contrary both to law and nature, a form of lawlessness which has no equal. Yet synod officials bow and scrape to their lobby while conducting doxing campaigns for so-called “alt-right” personalities and “condemning them in the name of Christ” explicitly for — I repeat, explicitly for — agreeing with the Ugandan government’s legal measures (which just so happen to mirror God’s prescription to ancient Israel) to deal with the matter.

This should justly be an outrage.

More to come in part 3.

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