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 . . . )


  1. Regarding the difficulty of forming another church body, I think it depends on how we imagine that body. For Protestants and even for Catholics whose understanding of the faith is influence by teh Reformation, word and sacrament are both central elements. Luther and Calvin understood this. As Bonhoffer articlated so delicately in Life Together, developing a common life is also important. Buildings aren't, however, nor are sermons or choirs or pews or professional clergy.

    Forming another church body can be as simple as gathering with one or two other Christians who have a similar need for life together and can no longer find that in the denomination of their childhood. It doesn't have to become a big production.

  2. All that is true and I've certainly experienced church on that level as well. I can't argue with you on that and wouldn't try.

    What a denomination does that 2 or 3 people can't do is organize money toward disaster relief, as the excellent Lutheran World Relief organization does. Among other thigns. I think this is the sort of thing that the independent church movement of the 60s and 70s learned and why they started forming "associations" which serve as quasi-denominations.

    The earliest documents of the church tell us that immediately set about organizing the new believers. It can be argued that this represents the worst, not the best, of humanity. Certainly, as soon as you form an organization, it becomes it's own animal and fights to survive, often to the detriment of it's supposed reason for existing.

    But while I think we all might benefit and grow from a more "kitchen table" breaking of bread gatherings, I'm not ready to give up what the larger structure gives me, too. I just can't help but appreciate that the very few dollars I offered to a world hunger appeal got multiplied into a check for a couple thousand dollars. Alone, my few dollars can do nothing. Together, our few dollars become something that affects hurting people far away. (how the kitchen table type of spirituality might affect people nearby is an important question, though, worth some consideration. And then, action.)