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.


  1. Neil - beautiful prayers and thoughts on the ELCA assembly. I share your obsession and was watching the video stream last night until the 2/3 vs majority vote rule concluded.

    I'm 55, been married 32 years with 2 sons and think for my generation this is a similar issue that race was for my parents and grandparents. The popular view now is that Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement has benefited the United States - not just African Americans, but all people. But that certainly was not the view when I was a teen. I repeatedly heard from older relatives how King was a communist and caused riots everywhere he went. When I asked any questions about this issue, I was often corrected with "because that's the way it is - when you are older, you'll understand." I guess I never grew up.

    And now I'm told by those who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians who are in committed relationships that this is wrong "because that is what the Bible says - if you were older (in your faith and doctrine) you would understand. I can't "understand" when I see my lesbian and gay brothers and sisters in longstanding and committed relationships where they really care about a significant other - where they deal with a lot of the same day to day communication hurdles my wife and I work through and continue to love and journey with that person.

    I just got back from New Orleans where I was an adult leader for our church's nationwide youth gathering - it was wonderful - the repeated message from our leaders was to be reach out to the world, be inclusive in mind and action and make a difference in your community. I had lots of time to observe teens in a large group. And my heart just aches for the vulnerability and self consciousness at this stage of life - you are right - kids do not need yet another hurdle as they struggle to hear the good news - that they are Loved and fully accepted by God and his people.

    Thanks for your thoughts - I think the statement will pass. There will be a lot of newsworthy commotion - and then we can go on with the business of learning how to be God's people.

    Bruce Matthias

  2. Thank you for your comments Bruce. Also for your work with our youth in New Orleans. I especially endorse going on with the business of learning how to be God's people. Amen.

  3. "Being Lutheran, I'll probably make a decision after some study, prayerful reflection, and maybe some committee meetings."

    I'm just imagining the meetings of the "Should Neil Ellis Orts Leave the ECLA Committee" meetings. Raucous caucous, indeed!

    I'm praying for the ECLA (and for you, in particular brother!), that (a) God's will be done and (b) we all work through things as brothers and sisters, without hate, and with hurts being healed miraculously quickly.

    "By this shall all know that you are my disciples, that you achieve doctrinal purity." Nope, can't find that one. "By this shall all know that you are my disciples, that you achieve doctrinal unity." Nor that one. "By this shall all know that you are my disciples, that you love one another."


    That's hard.

    Let's go with one of the doctrinal ones, OK? Um, God? hello?