While I was on vacation, the ELCA (my Lutheran church body) was busy voting on policy. The most groundbreaking vote concerned ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy who are in committed relationships. The old policy said that ordained gay and lesbian people needed to maintain celibacy to continue to be ordained. The new policy does not, but it does stress committed, lifelong relationships. It's a move that makes sense to me. I've always thought that God cares more about the quality of our relationships than about the sets of genitals involved.
I know that some people will be deeply hurt/alarmed/stressed by these actions. I know that some churches will align themselves with more conservative branches of the Lutheran tradition. I know that some people will leave. I know that God has a greater vision for us than we have for ourselves, and I'll continue to pray for the gift of Kingdom living.
I think it's also important to stress that the ELCA did more than talk about people's sex lives. We voted on a malaria initiative that hopes to wipe out malaria in parts of Africa. We voted to become fully communing with Methodists (I thought we already were). We voted on a social justice statement that concerns justice for women, a social justice area which I've already said on this blog deserves more of our attention. I'm appalled at the situation in Congo, and frankly, many women's lives across the planet are not much better. I see much backsliding in the arena of women's rights across the world, and it distresses me. But still, I will rejoice at justice in one area, in the hopes that all oppressed people can ride that wave of justice some day (and let me say here that I don't feel particularly oppressed as an educated, middle-class woman in the U.S., but I realize that I'm very lucky, and most of the planet's women are not).
If you want to see various reports from the Assembly, they can be found here. I particularly like our Bishop's closing remarks, which can also be found there, in various forms. I love the way that he envisions how he would respond to various groups (with Bible verses for all the groups). I thought about just extracting some of my favorite parts, but then I was so impressed with the way it was written, the way it worked as an essay (yes, once an English Comp teacher, always an English Comp teacher), I decided to post the whole thing below:
2009 Churchwide Assembly: Pastoral Response of the Presiding Bishop
Pastoral Response Following the Ministry Policies Decision
Made to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly
by Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson
August 21, 2009
After the ministry policies vote on Friday evening, Presiding
Bishop Mark S. Hanson delivered the following message:
I want to share some words. As one you have called to serve
as pastor of this church, I have been standing here thinking about
my 23 years as a parish pastor and how differently I would go
into various contexts. Gathering with a family or a group of
people who had just experienced loss, or who perhaps were
wondering if they still belonged, or in fact felt deeply that ones
to whom they belong had been severed from them, I would
probably turn to words such as Romans 8:
"Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes,
who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who
indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the
love of Christ? [. . .] For I am convinced that neither
death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate
us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"
(Romans 8:34–35, 38–39).
But then I thought, what if I were going into a family, a
group, or a community that had always wondered if they
belonged, and suddenly now had received a clear affirmation that
they belonged? All of the wondering about the dividing walls
and feelings of separation seem to have dropped away. That
would be a very different conversation. I would probably read
to them out of Ephesians:
"But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off
have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he
is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into
one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the
hostility between us. [. . .] In him, the whole structure
is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the
Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually
into a dwelling place for God" (Ephesians 2:13–14,
But then I thought, what if those two groups were together,
but also in their midst were those who had neither experienced
loss nor the feeling of the dividing wall of separation coming
down, but were worried whether all that had occurred might
sever the unity that is ours in Christ, and might be wondering if
their actions might have contributed to reconciliation or
separation? If all those people were together in a room, I would
read from Colossians:
"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe
yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if
anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each
other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also
must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which
indeed you were called in the one body. And be
thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with
gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word
or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him"
That passage gives invitation and expectation that those
deeply disappointed today will have the expectation and the
freedom to continue to admonish and to teach in this church.
And so, too, those who have experienced reconciliation today are
called to humility. You are called to clothe yourselves with love.
But we are all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
remembering again and again that we are called in the one body.
I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful,
prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life
together. But what is absolutely important for me is that we have
the conversation together.
I ended my oral report with these words: “We finally meet
one another not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at
the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is
present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we
are one in Christ.”
Let us pray. Oh, God, gracious and holy, mysterious and
merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross, and there we
kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that
you would give the life of your son so that we might have life in
his name. Send your Spirit this night, the Spirit of the risen
Christ that has been breathed into us. May it calm us. May your
Spirit unite us. May it continue to gather us. In Jesus’ name,
feeling the feelings…
10 months ago