Monday, May 11, 2009

Arcing Towards Justice--the Longer Report

When I first said I could be our congregation's delegate to the Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly, I had no idea that we'd be doing much of importance. I thought we'd just be electing some folks to do Synod work, and those elections are often between similarly qualified people. Still, no one else from my congregation could go, and I have some vacation time that is just going to vaporize at the end of June; so, when they asked me if I would go, I thought, sure, why not.

I am SO, SO glad that I went. It was powerfully moving to see the Synod approve the sexuality statements (go here to read all of the statements). I was pleased to see that the discussion was polite and respectful. Even when I disagreed with people, they made their arguments without resorting to vituperative spite.

Maybe it's easier for me to be gracious because I was on the winning side. Still, I felt powerfully moved. We're not a young Synod. It's not like the resolutions passed because the predominant age in our Synod is 30. No, we're much more likely to be 60 or 70 years old in this Synod.

So, why did they pass? I spent some time with the Reconciling in Christ people afterwards; they were having a wine and cheese reception at the same time as the Outdoor Ministries reception, and the area for Reconciled in Christ was much less crowded. I asked them why they thought that the resolutions passed. They, too, expected a harder, uglier battle. They saw the Holy Spirit at work.

I heard other possibilities. Some people think we're all just tired of battling about this issue. The sexuality statements do give us all (individually and as individual churches and the larger church body) room to stay bound to our consciences, even if we may have different opinions because of our bonds. It's a compromise that might work.

Or perhaps it's because we've done the hard work of winning hearts and minds. Or maybe it's because we live in a state where we're more likely to have met lesbigaytrans people, and the issue has become personalized. Maybe we reached a tipping point, after years of working to sensitize people.

The proposals to support the sexuality statements passed by wide majorities. The vote to approve the sexuality statement passed with almost a 2/3 majority (270 voted yes; 163 voted no). The vote on ordaining and calling lesbigaytrans clergy was closer (basically, this social statement lets individual churches decide--but if a lesbigaytrans person is in a committed relationship, they would no longer risk their ordination, even though an individual church might choose not to employ them); 239 people voted for the proposal and 172 voted no.

Still, some people were upset because they want the church to take a firmer stance. One of my conservative friends asked, "How can we differentiate ourselves if the larger ELCA gives us no guidance?" I understand her concerns, but I disagree.

I find myself wishing the church would go a bit further in a different direction. If we really think that marriage is as important as our social statements say, I'd like to see us work to offer marriage to same gender couples. I'd like us to call it marriage, not commitment ceremonies. While we're at it, I'd like us to declare that Luther was wrong and that marriage should be a sacrament, every bit as important as the Eucharist and Baptism.

I'd also like us to acknowledge that marriage might not have to be just between 2 people. I could see that three or more people might want to commit to each other, and that would be cool with me.

It's the commitment that's important. That's the word that focuses my attention. Others I've talked to have focused on the words lifelong and monogamous, which are also in the social statements. I think we've already settled the divorce issue, and need not redo that work. And I'm not about to blog about monogamy and its value or lack of it.

I heard one pastor predict schism. I said, "And to do what? Align with the Lutheran Church in Nigeria? We're not Episcopalians!"

But we might very well end up in schism. That doesn't scare me as much as it scares others. If a conservative wing wants to break away, that wouldn't have to be a disaster, although we already have conservative Lutheran options out there, like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Yes, the use of the word Synod here might confuse people--these two organizations are completely separate from the larger Lutheran body.

Now it's on to wait and see what happens at the ELCA National Assembly in August. It's hard to predict. Part of me thinks that if my conservative Synod is approving the statements, the National Assembly will too. Part of me agrees with my conservative friend, who thinks the National Assembly will be contentious and ugly, because everyone there is much more organized and fierce. I will pray for the Assembly, and trust the Holy Spirit.

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