Tears * Tears * Tears
It's been one of those times when my emotions are so close to the surface that it doesn't take much to get the tears flowing. I remember feeling the same way during our last presidential election. They are tears of joy, to be sure. And yet, they are more than that. When you hope for something that you believe you may never see in your lifetime, and it comes to pass, it's overwhelming.
And what an opportunity this is for our Church. We are poised to make a powerful witness to the world. A witness to the gospel of inclusion, a witness to God's amazing grace, and, I hope, a witness to the diversity within Christ's church, where we can have such different ways of understanding our faith and yet live together in unity for the sake of the gospel.
I'm writing this blog on Saturday morning. Yesterday, I was exhausted and at a loss for words. I'm not sure I've gotten beyond that today. The mood at the assembly today is anxious. Voting members are concerned for our church. This concerns me too. I feel the pain of our brothers and sisters who strongly disagree with the direction our church has taken. On a deep level, many of them feel that they have lost the church they love. I think we need to give this some time to see what might happen after the dust settles and we've given careful and prayerful consideration to how we will continue to live together. I hope those who are unhappy with the decisions of our church will have the grace to stay with us. Certainly, those who have supported full inclusion in the church have felt alienated for decades, and we stayed. It hasn't been easy, but for the sake of the Body, it's the faithful response.
It is one of those ongoing paradoxes of our life together that, when we decide to include everyone, we are, in effect, excluding those who cannot live with that kind of open inclusiveness. There's no way around it. It was true for Jesus, too. When he included those whom others had excluded, they couldn't tolerate it. Should members of our ELCA choose to leave the church, it will not be because the church has excluded them. It will be because they can't tolerate the church's decision to include all.
What will be our witness to the world? For the sake of the gospel, it has to be that we have welcomed ALL as Christ welcomed all. Because we are a declining denomination, we have focused too much on our numbers and not enough on the gospel. The fear is that this recent decision of our church will result in the loss of even more members. I think we all know that we will, in fact, lose some folks along the way. But it will not be because we have asked them to leave; it will be their choice. I also believe we will gain people along the way as those who have felt estranged from the church in the past will know now that there is room for them at the Table of God's grace. Even more significant than any impact this decision may have on our numbers is the witness it makes to others. As we proclaim the unconditional grace of God, the witness of our actions at this assembly tells the world that not only do we talk the grace talk, but we are doing the hard work of walking the grace walk.
We don't know what walking that grace walk is going to mean for us as a Church, but we have done the right thing and by God's grace, we'll figure it out as we move forward. I'm counting on that. The Spirit who brought us this far by faith will see us through it. Pray that our church doesn't miss this opportunity to offer a powerful witness of God's love to the world. It's time for us to be known for our Christlikeness, not for our bickering. Can we do that? Well, I didn't think we could do what we have already done. God is full of surprises!