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.