Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seeds of Irony

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day; a day set aside for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, or transgender persons to make a public declaration of their sexual identity.  Attention was amped up this year because of the recent string of young gay people who have committed suicide.

The irony was not lost on me that the big news of the day in the ELCA was (for once) not about the debate over human sexuality, but about restructuring the Churchwide organization.  Yet, in some ways, what happened in the Lutheran Center was an extension of how volatile conversations about sexuality have become.  

Reductions in the Churchwide organization were a necessary response to these four factors:
  1. An economic downturn that has reduced financial stability across the country, especially in non-profit organizations.
  2. A cultural shift that places less emphasis on centralized institutions
  3. Denominational shrinkage, both in numbers of church members and congregations across mainline Christian denominations
  4. Congregations that have left the ELCA and/or withheld their financial support to ELCA synods and the Churchwide organization after changes to ministry policies were approved at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

In the 14 months that the ELCA officially became “gay-affirming” there have been many more individuals and organizations that have reduced their giving than have increased their giving.  

Whether people like it or not, the ELCA is the largest Christian denomination that allows congregations to call openly gay persons in “monogamous, life-long, publicly accountable relationships” to serve as pastor.

And we aren’t capitalizing on it.  

We are, as Len Sweet says, “missing our moment.”

I think lots of people - many of them unchurched - believe that Christian churches are full of judgmental hypocrites that refuse to acknowledge their own sin while amplifying particular sins of others.  The ELCA has taken a different posture, embracing the “simultaneously sinner and saint” dialectic and committing to live together faithfully in the midst of our differences.   I think that this posture has a chance to help bring about reconciliation and healing for people - regardless of sexual orientation - to hear the gospel in a new way.

What are we doing to capture the imagination and inspiration of people who think the ELCA’s acceptance of gay pastors is a really good thing?  

We are certainly good at licking our wounds and grieving the loss of people who think we are apostate.  Perhaps it’s time to be more creative about how we engage the world.  

I’ve said it many times -- the Lutheran expression of Christianity just might be the perfect vehicle to bring the gospel to an emerging, post-modern realm.  

The ground is fertile.  It’s time to start planting seeds.


  1. our "theology" does matter in 2010... duh! people/youth really long for something more REAL than the moralistic therapeutic deistic coolaid that is our culture's "faith". It may well be time for our "denom" to fade/fizzle... but the gospel that claims us has such beautiful power - we ought not fear but proclaim ie lift high the cross... the Lord of all things enters into our death and despair and pulls us kicking and screaming into new life as messy, idiotic people. Jesus' words "i have conquered the world" take on new life in times like these!

  2. Erik, I think part of the problem is the way we so carefully backed into this. In essence, the ELCA HAS no stance on gay clergy or gay relationships. Congregations, of course, can now publicly welcome glbt people in relationships and call gay clergy. Maybe that's enough. But what can the ELCA actually say in promotional material, for example? Officially all we've agreed to is to disagree with one another. I think this is going to prove increasingly untenable. At some point the ELCA needs to clearly state a theological position affirming full-inclusion of glbt people. No, not everyone agrees with that but that was also true (and still is!) for women clergy. Yet by taking a clear position, the ALC and LCA were able to unambiguously affirm and promote women's full inclusion in the life of the church. That's the example we need to follow.

  3. This issue has me completely torn. On the one side I feel proud that the ELCA is making a stand affirming inclusiveness. Growing up LC-MS I had my fill of hyprocritical, judgemental church messages.

    Unfortunately, I feel the approval of gay clergy is an affront to God's law. What also worries me is what is next for the ELCA, first it's gay clergy in monogomous relations (hard to monitor), so it becomes a situation where they allow gay clergy in any sort of relationship? Then what comes next, the church moving further and further away from what the Bible teaches?

    I feel the synod is bending to follow the will of popular culture/media/hollywood. I do not want to appear that I am anything but a mortal sinner, in no position to judge another, but on the same note...is the ELCA following the word of God when it blesses something the Bible teaches is a sin? Is the ELCA putting itself above the Bible?

    Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns. I continue to pray that the Lutheran church can grow together by following the teachings of Jesus and not farther apart.


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