My stomach is in knots over our upcoming ELCA Churchwide Assembly. This morning a friend forwarded me a copy of letters exchanged between the first bishop of our ELCA and one of our most respected theologians. They reminded me of two enemies engaged in trench warfare lobbing grenades at one another, and I had knots in my knots. As the knots tighten, I find myself praying more. It’s not mindful prayer, or heartfelt prayer. It’s prayer from the gut. In fact, it’s gut-wrenching.
Why do I care so much about this? Well, there are many reasons. For starters, there is the injustice of singling a group of people out and telling them that in order to become acceptable they need to pretend they are people other than the ones God created them to be. This is not only unjust, but it is an insult to our Creator. Then there are ecclesiastical reasons, like the fact that Christ’s Church has always been in the process of being transformed by the Spirit to meet the changing needs of the world around us. The Scriptures are filled with this kind of movement among God’s people, and we need to be open to the Spirit leading us to new understandings of old truths today. All of that gets me stirred up inside, but it’s not really what wrenches my gut. What gets me in the gut is that fact that, for me, the level of inclusion that our ELCA offers to the LGBT population is personal. I dearly love a heck of a lot of people who happen to be gay.
I have deep friendships with formerly-rostered persons who have been rejected by their Church. These are gifted people whom God called to serve just as surely as he called me. Their only offense is the people they love. Right now, among the people I pastor, there are those being called to serve in the Church and they are holding their breath, waiting to see what our ELCA does. There is no question about their calling or their gifts. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the larger church will stand in their way or not. I pray that God will forgive us for the damage we have done to so many lives in the past, and that we will repent of that damage for the sake of those who stand waiting to serve.
Although I’ve never gone through our membership to count, mainly because I don’t care to make that kind of distinction within our faith community, I suspect that, in the congregation where I’m serving as pastor, at least half of our members are gay or lesbian. They have been deeply hurt by the actions of our North Carolina Synod and our ELCA over the years, and yet, they remain faithful. Frankly, I don’t know if I would have done the same if I were in their shoes. God’s grace working in their lives amazes me.
The people at Holy Trinity in Charlotte are so hopeful about our upcoming Churchwide Assembly that they wanted to be there. Since the commute from Charlotte to Minneapolis makes that impossible, they decided to send me to represent them all. Without my knowledge, they took up a collection and gathered enough money to pay my way. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Most of the people at Churchwide Assembly will be there because they were elected to go by their respective synods. I’ll be there because I was elected to go by my congregation. Of course, that doesn’t give Holy Trinity a voice or a vote on the assembly floor. But we will be there. With knots in our stomachs. Praying.