Saturday, August 22, 2009

Post Assembly

Surprisingly, I've cried much less than I thought I would, although I haven't been tear-free.

The church of my entire life (via the predecessor body, the American Lutheran Church), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has voted to make a way for same-sex couples to enter into publicly accountable, monogamous relationships. Or something like that. I'm not getting the language exactly right. Basically, we can now have "commitment ceremonies" in the church. We can stand before our church families publicly and without fear of censure for the couple or for the pastor officiating or the church hosting the ceremony. There will be a process to this. There are rites to develop and what not. But the door is open.

Which opens the door for the ordination of men and women in monogamous, lifelong, publicly accountable same-sex relationships. This, too, will be a process. I don't expect things to change on Monday down at the Lutheran recruitment centers.

But it's all set in motion.

Today, I wore a red shirt to work. It is the same red shirt I bought to wear for Pentecost last year. I intended the connection, if only for my own quiet celebration. I intend to remember August 21, 2009 like a birthday, anniversary, or holiday (holy day).

Tomorrow morning, when I go to church to see how my home congregation is taking all this, I will wear more subdued clothes. I honestly don't know what will happen at church tomorrow morning. My pastor has sent out a call to meet during the Sunday school hour and talk about the Assembly. This is good and important. I suppose there will be some there who are upset. I will wear more subdued clothes because it is insensitive to celebrate when others are hurting over the same thing.

The presiding bishop of our church, Mark Hanson (who has proven himself to be a rock star of a bishop and I could not be more happy with his handling of the assembly), has asked that we hold each other, not gloating, not celebrating in the face of others' discouragement (I'm paraphrasing, of course). I hear his wisdom and will try to keep my happiness at bay when others are hurting. We must remain in conversation about these and other important issues facing the church. Some actually have to do with things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick.

I just ended a big of vigorous debate with someone on the ELCA page of Facebook. Well, I didn't end it, it just got to late to continue and he's a pastor and has his hands full for tomorrow as well. Blessings on his ministry and the people he pastors. What I think that conversation really highlights for me, however, is that this is truly about how we read scripture, what pieces of scripture we hold more important than others. Despite endless scholarship discussing how the few passages in scripture that might be refering to homosexual practices have little to nothing to do with how we understand and experience monogamous, committed homosexual relationships today, we still have a tendency to grasp at them as somehow inviolable, while we are able to squirm our way around such harder passages about divorce or usury. (Do you know that some churches actually have credit cards in their names?!?!?)

This discussion will ultimately not be about gay and lesbian couples. It will finally be about how we as a church read and use the Bible to guide our lives. We, as a church, as never used words like "infallible" or "inerrent." We refer to the Bible as "inspired." This allows for the many culturally bound elements of the Bible we no longer hold as true. The writers did not have the science to know the earth revolves around the sun. They did not understand that women provide half the genetic material to make a baby (men planted a seed, which held all of the child's life while the woman was either a fertile or barren field for the planting). They did not hold the same kind of regard for reportage that we expect today of our newspapers, or else we wouldn't have the conflicting stories of Judas's death (even if we may find something true in each account for our edification). Our tradition has always approached the collection of writings we call the Bible with a critical eye. Martin Luther spoke of a "canon within the canon" and condemned the Letter of James as an "epistle of straw." Still, no one would accuse father Martin of not taking the scriptures seriously.

I do believe this needs to be the site of our discussion, how we speak of, refer to, regard the Holy Scriptures. The scholarship on homosexuality has been done. I know of no credible scientific body that regards homsexuality as a chosen orientation. There are copious amounts of biblical studies done on how the biblical writers didn't understand homosexuality as we do and how their references were about idol worship, pederasty, or other abusive or unequal relationships. This sways too few people.

What has to happen is that we have to address how we read the Bible, hold each other accountable when we read it capriciously to support our comforts and prejudices.

If I may expose my canon with the canon, I would propose we start this process with these two pieces of biblical advice.

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.

2. Let us put on the mind of Christ who, though found in the form of God did not count equality with God as something to be grasped at, but emptied himself, putting on the form of a slave.

In joy and sorrow, let us move forward with the work of God.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Methodists and Gays and the Holy Spirit

Years ago, especially when I was in seminary, the workings of the ecumenical dialogs were of great interest to me. As a very small child, I didn't understand why there were so many churches in our small community and as a young adult, I was very much enamored of the idea of working towards "full communion" with other denominations.

Today, I smile at the vote at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to approve entering into full communion with the United Methodist Church. To be honest, I've lost count of how many full communion agreements this makes for the ELCA. I'm thinking at least half a dozen. Anyway, the Methodists had approved the agreement at their last national gathering (I don't know exactly what they call their gatherings).

This comes at a time when the ELCA is making apparent strides toward accepting GLBT folk into the full ministry of the church. The UMC, by all accounts, is taking steps away.

I'm reminded, once again, that my existence as a gay man who believes in the Good News of Jesus, is a part of the problem of church disunity.

This hurts me more than I may show.

If only I could denounce my faith, go back on the baptismal promise, and just be a godless queer like so many want to believe I am! (I guess there are days when I do all the above. I'm guessing at about the same rate as your average Christian, gay or straight. But perhaps that's another discussion for another time.)

Well, who knows? We're still 24 hours (give or take) away from knowing what the ELCA will be doing with GLBT clergy and commitment rites for same-sex couples. Maybe this will not be a hindrance to our relationship the Methodists for the immediate future .

What amuses me at these gatherings is how different groups are claiming the movement (or lack thereof) of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I would like to think that the passing of the social statement on human sexuality (which is more of a teaching document than a legislative one) is attributible to the Holy Spirit, but I will try to have the humility to say I can't be sure of that. I would like to think all the full communion agreements are signs of the Holy Spirit regathering us scattered sheep into one fold. Again, I can't be sure of that. Therefore, I will make no claim of knowledge as to how the Holy Spirit is moving.

I'll simply rest in the sure knowledge that the Spirit moves and groans with us creatures as we strive to be a people of Good News. Or try to rest. I do have restless moments, too.

There are some interesting conversations going on in the Facebook community. Somone brought up the "inerrant and infallible" word of God. There were more than one responses pointing out that the ELCA has never used those words to describe the Bible. We refer to the Bible as "inspired." Not quite the same thing. For one thing, the Bible is clearly just wrong about some things. Hares do not chew their cud. Men are not the sole bearers of new life (the seed) and women are not merely fertile or barren ground (this passed for sex ed in the Bible). And I don't care what narrative gymnastics you want to perform, the two stories of the death of Judas cannot be harmonized in any way that makes sense. The attempts I've seen require a lot adding of detail and if you're going to be literalist, that should make you pretty anxious given the last few lines in Revelation.

Honoring the Bible as the inspired word of God lets us be a part of the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We share in the same Spirit at the biblical writers, we share in the same baptism as the writers of the New Testament. Trusting in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to always move the church, we are better able to understand how Jesus and his first followers were able to re-interpret the inspired words they inherited. Inspiration---the breathing in---continues. We are not a people of a stone God. Our God is made of wind!

So, is all this activity of the Churchwide Assembly part of the movement of the Holy Spirit? Well, in my congregation's Faith of Book Bible readings, we recently read in Acts, chapter 5, the story of the pharisee Gamaliel. When speaking of the new Christian movement, he said, "if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them---in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" (NRSV)

In other words, we may have to wait a few generations to know how that plays out.

But right now, I say yes to Methodists and I say yes to the ordination of GLBT pastors, sinning boldly and trusting more boldly still in the grace of God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Day two of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I'm less anxious today. I have nothing to which to attribute that. Maybe when it comes to anxiety, I just can't do a marathon.

I have been thinking about schism. Mostly, I think that's a poor word choice. It suggests that another church body could form, that the ELCA will be like an amoeba splitting by the end of the week. For one thing, as my pastor pointed out to me some months ago, forming a new denomination is no simple task. Ask any of the independent Catholic groups that sprung up during the 1990s. I don't know if any of them are still in existence. I do know that, tiny as they were, they were splitting into factions within 5 years of forming.

I think the more likely scenario is a migration to other church bodies. Episcopal or United Church of Christ seems likely for one group, maybe the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Presbyterians, Methodists are more likely for another group. Maybe some will go to independent churches, maybe some will become unchurched. But the formation of another church body? It would take a body of well-organized and focused individuals with significant resources to pull it off.

I've said before that someone has to choose to leave and if they make that choice, they are the cause of the schism, not the ones who stay.

But of course, the desire is that none leave, that we manage to remain a united church body that is able to agree to disagree. This maybe an impossible goal. And maybe the best we can do is strive to keep the unity, let those who chose to leave go with blessings and prayers.

That's easy to say on the second day of the assembly. What if things don't go "my way" by the end of the week?


Two weeks ago, I would have said I would be disappointed, deeply so, but I couldn't imagine leaving my lifelong church home. Then, this past weekend, as my anxiety ramped up, I started imagining leaving.

I'm not saying I will, not saying I won't. Being Lutheran, I'll probably make a decision after some study, prayerful reflection, and maybe some committee meetings. All I'm saying is that I could, that I think there are reasons to do so. I think I'd rather have a leg ripped slowly from my body for all the pain it would cause me, but I think I could leave. I think there are options.

Which made me more compassionate for anyone who might find that a reasonable option for them.

If things go "my way" by the end of this week, I would like to ask those who consider leaving to consider this as well.

Ask yourself if this issue is enough to leave your church home. Ask yourself what it costs you if a Lutheran church somewhere else has a gay pastor (because I can tell you that's already happening, and in some places, it's more open than you might imagine). Ask yourself if a local option for gay clergy is such an awful thing, ask yourself, given how we go about assigning clergy, if it's a real possibility that your congregation will call a gay clergy person within your lifetime. I'm quite certain that there are places that will go decades before they even consider it---just as there are congregations that have gone 4 decades without ever considering a woman pastor. Really, the local option is nothing new. Congregations have been exercising it ever since the ordination of women became a reality. (If you don't believe me, ask some women clergy where they get to interview for calls.)

If after all that, you still feel you must leave the ELCA, I'll ask you to find another church home. Don't let this issue keep you from Jesus altogether. There are options and if we cannot stay within the same denomination, then let us stay within the larger body of Christ. Find a place that still preaches Christ crucified and risen and the grace of God and forgiveness of sins. Find a place that still will feed you with word and sacrament. Do so with as little anger and with as much sadness as you can muster. That last part is important for your own soul. I know. I have angry days and it is rough.

And if I decide I must leave the ELCA, I promise to do the same. I will find a place to receive word and sacrament, a place to remain in the larger body of Christ. I will do so with as little anger as possible (some will be inevitable, but pray for me that it doesn't consume me) and the sadness will be like a brick I'll carry with me all the days of my life. I also know that tears are good for the soul, the grieving over our brokeness and our irreconcilable differences this side of eternity.

I'm less anxious tonight. I'm still overwhelmed with what this week might mean for many, many people. Let us keep praying.

(a small postscript: today, I was telling a young lesbian friend about our Churchwide Assembly and the measure to be voted upon this Friday. She asked me if she could come to my church, that she and her girlfriend needed to find a church. I tell you, I truly believe allowing for GLBT clergy is going to turn out to grow the church . . . )

Monday, August 17, 2009

Churchwide Is On

Tonight, there are even more Lutherans than usual in Minneapolis. The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA has opened. Reports of a lively opening service and productive first plenary session are flowing over the internet. even has live video of the sessions as they're happening, although I doubt I'll follow those. I'm glad they're there, but for me, it's enough to catch reports from Facebook friends who are there. I'm obsessing over the Assembly enough as it is.

Honestly, over this past weekend, I've been surprising myself with how obsessed, and I mean anxious I am over this assembly. Two weeks ago, I would have said it is an important gathering, and I've been saying for weeks that whatever happens, I imagine I'll be in tears before the weeks over---whether joy or disappointment remains to be seen. But this past weekend, this feeling has ramped up and I'm full fledge anxious and a little moody about it. I'm daydreaming about what I will do one way or another. I hadn't consciously thought about it much, how much this Assembly might create paths for me. Sort of, a little, but I hadn't let myself dwell on it. This week, I'm dwelling on it. This assembly has some life-changing potential for me. And I'm in knots. Tears by the end of the week? I've had to find a private space once or twice to dab my eyes already.

I'm being vague. Well, I swim in the sea of ambiguity (as my campus pastor once told me). Let it suffice for now that I'm finding an even more personal stake in this assembly than I've allowed myself to acknowledge.

But of course, this assembly isn't all about me. (Shocking, but true.) I'm gay, I have an M.Div., and I admit I've been hearing God knock on my metaphorical door for about 3 years now. But there is much more at stake than what path lies before me.

What's at stake is the next generation, the kids who don't even know yet if they're gay or straight. What's at stake are the kids who were picked on by their teachers, as reported last week, because they were perceived to be gay. It's about the 11-year-old boy who killed himself last spring because he was bullied at school, because the kids at school perceived him to be gay. It's about endless incidents like the above that go unreported but happen because there are not enough places standing up for these kids. Whether they are gay or not is beside the point. I can't find the reference, but in at least one incident, a suicide left a note saying he wasn't even sure if he was gay or not, he just couldn't take the bullying anymore. It's the way "gay" is used to demean and bully and destroy kids. That's what this is about.

We need another church body to openly say, "you are fully welcome here, not just tolerated but fully allowed to explore the full range of vocational options in this church." As long as bullies see the church denying us full inclusion and participation, the bullies find a loophole to justify their cruelty.

And that's what this Assembly is about. It's about saving kids lives, literally and figuratively.

That is what is at stake.

Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reconciling Lutherans

For those who followed my lenten blog about GLBT experience in the ELCA, you will know that I am anxiously awaiting the Churchwide Assembly to see if GLBT folk (like me) will be affirmed and welcomed fully into the life and ministry of this church.

If you, also, would like to see this come to pass, I entreat you to go to this link to add your name to the Reconciling Lutherans roster, a public list of individuals who support full inclusion of GLBT in the life and ministry of the church.

As noted in the previous post, the passage of the statement on human sexuality and the recommendation for ministry policies are two of the items before the Assembly.

I've said about all I know to say about the issue during my 40 day discipline of blogging this past lent. If you want to see (or revisit) those thoughts (some more serious than others, I admit), the blog is still up.

From all angles, whatever your opinions on any of the issues before the assembly, remember to keep all the voting members in your prayers in these final days of preparation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ELCA Churchwide Assembly---Next Week

I've made no secret of it: I'm Lutheran. Next week, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be holding it's Churchwide Assembly. Like every organization these days, money will be discussed. Budgets and the like (but then, that's always up for discussion at Assembly). Also on the floor:

---A malaria initiative to combat the disease with other organizations.

---A proposal for full communion with the United Methodist Church.

---Consideration for a social statement about justice for women.

---Funding an HIV and AIDS strategy.

---A statement on human sexuality.

---A report and recommendation on Ministry Policies (mostly having to do with GLBT clergy)

All this an more will be discussed in Minneapolis. The ELCA webpage has a pretty easy-to-navigate page for learning all about these things. Click here to look around.

I have little to say about these things just now, except to raise up the Assembly in thought and prayer. Prayers for the voting members and other participants are important as they prepare to travel.

This is going to be an emotional one for me. I know I will be weeping no matter what happens.