MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (BP)–A day after tornados and storms slammed the Midwest, John Piper, a prolific author and preaching pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, called an out-of-the-blue tornado that struck downtown Minneapolis Aug. 19 a “warning” from God to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose delegates were meeting there to debate a liberalized policy on homosexuality.
The tornado tore off part of a 90-year-old steeple of the Central Lutheran Church and ripped apart large outdoor tents set up to serve breakfast to the delegates to the ECLA convention which has been holding its meetings this week next door at the convention center. Some meetings also are taking place at the church. The tornado also damaged the convention center, where delegates were at the time.
Piper, who has been a leader in a surge of Calvinism in America, wrote Thursday on his blog that the tornado was a “gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.” Piper added one caveat, citing Jesus’ teaching about the tower of Siloam in Luke 13:4-5: All calamities, whether “in Minneapolis, Taiwan or Baghdad” should be viewed as warnings to repent.
No deaths were reported from the tornado, which did other minor to moderate damage to some of the city, including a middle school.
On Wednesday the Evangelical Lutheran Church adopted a task force’s 34-page report on human sexuality that acknowledges the denomination is divided on the issue of homosexuality. It urges that its members “live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements.” The report — which barely passed by the required two-thirds majority — describes the position of both sides but takes no stance on homosexuality, although that could change Friday when delegates will vote on whether to allow practicing, non-celibate homosexuals to serve as ministers. That vote requires only a simple majority.
The tornado caught meteorologists by surprise and hit around 2 p.m., when delegates were beginning to debate the task force’s report.
“Although thunderstorms had been forecast Wednesday, the sudden force at mid-afternoon was a surprise to residents and the National Weather Service,” the Star-Tribune newspaper reported. “There were no severe thunderstorm warnings in effect when the service received a report of a tornado near downtown Minneapolis.”
Piper, also known for his Desiring God ministry and radio program, quoted a friend who said he was an eyewitness and described it this way: “[T]he tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents [set up around the church], breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two … and then lifts.”
Piper then listed six points and accompanying texts as to why he thinks the tornado was providential:
1. “The unrepentant practice of homosexual behavior (like other sins) will exclude a person from the kingdom of God. ‘The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
2. “The church has always embraced those who forsake sexual sin but who still struggle with homosexual desires, rejoicing with them that all our fallen, sinful, disordered lives (all of us, no exceptions) are forgiven if we turn to Christ in faith. ‘Such 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).
3. “Therefore, official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.
4. “Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados. ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (Mark 4:41).
5. “When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms — an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment. Jesus: ‘Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ (Luke 13:4-5)
6. “Conclusion: 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.”