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:
- An economic downturn that has reduced financial stability across the country, especially in non-profit organizations.
- A cultural shift that places less emphasis on centralized institutions
- Denominational shrinkage, both in numbers of church members and congregations across mainline Christian denominations
- 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.