Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Get it Together, Church

I read and reread Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's letter about the Orlando shooting about a half dozen times this morning, and I am left with the same question.

Your words about coming together and admitting where we have "othered" and start working towards a better world - the Kingdom of God are great.  But will I be able to serve in any ELCA church as an openly gay man in a relationship?


Not with our policy of "bound conscience" - the very same policy that allows for the discrimination of women and people of color in our churches, by the way.  Not to mention any number of other possibilities for discrimination which range from physical ability to age.

And all of this discrimination seems to be legally sanctioned by the church.  Each congregation has the ability to turn away a pastor because of any number of these different reasons, because they are "bound by their conscience to not have a pastor that fits into each of these categories because they aren't sure if this candidate is living the appropriate moral life to be a pastor" (I'm paraphrasing many of the excuses I've heard over the years.)

And frankly, I don't know that this policy is going anywhere anytime soon.

Because in 2009, this policy was upheld by the ELCA when it reached a decision that openly LGBTQ clergy could be ordained even if they were in a relationship, but each congregation could make that determination for itself.

And while many were elated that the possibility existed for the first time within our denomination, I felt that it was essentially a step forward and a step backward.  For while LGBTQ folk could become pastors, they could not be comfortable or confident that every church in the ELCA would welcome them as one who has heard God's call - to the point that we still have the designation Reconciling in Christ as a way to identify which congregations will allow LGBTQ pastors.

There was no acknowledgement that sexual orientation had no bearing whatsoever on someone's ability to be a pastor.  That sexual orientation in all of its expressions is not inherently sinful.  And that, most of all, the church still doesn't feel that "it's ok to be gay."

Which is another way of saying, we don't really know what to do with you, but we're not entirely ready to say you are not "other," but we know that we ought to.

Or, in my more cynical moments, "we are more concerned with having a falsely united church that will weaken the gospel, than letting you know that you are God's chosen child and can experience the same call to ministry that any straight person does."

So, if the ELCA is going to be serious about moving forward, I have some thoughts on the matter.

1) Stop requiring pastoral candidates to self identify on the RLP (Rostered Leader Profile).  My gender has absolutely no bearing on my ability to pastor folks.  Neither does my sexual orientation.  Or age.  Making me put this information on the page before the congregation gets the opportunity to meet me (on paper and in person) puts an unfair bias towards me, whether good or bad.

1a) Yes, I'm aware that this means more congregations will assume they are getting paperwork from straight, white cis men, but only by continuing to reverse these expectations will they change.  See also, why feminism is important.

2) Require congregations to say more than "we didn't feel like it was a good fit."  I don't know if I entirely agree with the placement process of our UMC and Catholic sisters and brothers, but I do think that a congregation is able to get away with a lot of discrimination by using those words.  That reason for a good fit could be because the candidate is a woman.  Or black.  Or may be in a wheelchair.  Failing to give reasonable and concrete reasons why the congregation does not feel the Spirit is moving in this direction only legitimizes discrimination that our country claims to not tolerate in any other aspect of the workforce.

3) A resounding statement from the ELCA that revolutionizes and radicalizes our churches by saying, we do not feel that there is inherently anything sinful about the existence of LGBTQ folks.  That being gay, or bi, or transgendered or gender queer does not have anything to do with sin before God and before others.  And that to be a part of the ELCA means to be able to say that, the same way that we confess that we believe in God the Father.

3a) Again, this extends to those who are also "othered" such as people of color, women, folks who are differently abled, older folks, younger folks, etc.

I know this is radical.  I know this will not happen overnight.

I also know this will, to put it bluntly, piss off a lot of people.  The ELCA may lose a lot of members and congregations who cannot abide by any of these (but mostly 3 and 3a).

This does not mean it should not be done.

To not do what is right, even out of fear that others will leave, is not a good enough reason to not do it.

*Disclaimer, not comparing the struggle of LGBTQ folks with the struggle of black people in America ahead*

Abraham Lincoln could have not freed all slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation, and doing so may have prevented the Civil War.  That does not mean he should not have done it.

To do what is right, especially when the Gospel is concerned, is going to make folks angry.  It's going to make people leave.  But that does not mean we should not boldly proclaim the Gospel.

Will we, as a church, do what is right?  Will we proclaim the Gospel boldly, even though folks will get upset and leave our buildings?  Or will we continue to try and walk a middle ground, trying to appease both sides and angering everyone, becoming more and more lukewarm with each passing moment?

I hope, I pray, that we will be empowered to proclaim God's Gospel, regardless of consequence. "Empowered to do this thing by Christ who strengthens us."

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