What an opportunity we have in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America right now. For a week or two we may have the world's attention. "What will be our witness?" That was the question Bishop Hanson asked us in his sermon at the opening worship of our Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. What will be our witness? Will we witness to the amazing grace of our God who includes all people in his loving embrace? Or will they know we are Lutherans by our bickering?
Many people may not realize that when we passed the recommendation allowing people in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" to serve as pastors and other rostered leaders in our church, there were other resolutions that led up to this historic step. In fact, voting members considered one of those four steps so crucial, that they they voted to change the order from the original recommendation. Number three became number one: "that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all." Our Churchwide Assembly knew that a change in our ministry policies had the potential to become a divisive issue for the church. And an overwhelming majority of those present were committed to hang in there with one another no matter what the decision of the assembly might be. Of all the resolutions that were passed related to ministry policies, that was the most significant for our life together. And yet, it seems to be the one that we're losing sight of.
The media loves stories of conflict and, so far, our church has given them plenty of juicy material. I'm praying that will not be our witness to the world. God help us not to miss this opportunity to proclaim the gospel, not only in the decision to include those who once were excluded in our church, but also in the way we strive to live together in the midst of our disagreements. Jesus said that the world will know we're his disciples by the way we show our love for one another. The world is watching now. This is our chance to show who we are.