Oh, it’s synod assembly time again, and the miracle of Lutherans moving forward continues. It’s not always pretty to watch, but eventually we seem to get to where we need to be.
Since moving to the North Carolina Synod back in 1998, I have been to every annual synod assembly. And at every single one of them we have struggled, in one way or another, with the issue of sexual orientation. Year after year, voting members stood in the aisles waiting for their turn at one of the microphones so they could make an impassioned speech in response to one resolution or another that either supported or refuted homosexuality. Some would make a case for loving the sinner but not the sin. Others would insist that homosexuality is neither a sin nor a choice, but simply the way God created some of us. And then there were those who insisted that the best way to love a gay person is to help them change. Some of the speeches brought me to tears and others made me so angry I wanted to spit. But it was all part of a process we had to go through as we discerned where God was leading us.
This is nothing new for God’s people. If you read the scriptures you can see that we have always stewed over who to include and who to exclude in God’s realm. Folks got really peeved with Jesus for hanging out with people who were undesireable, unclean, un-male, and un-just-about-everything-else. Paul and Peter got into it over whether non-Jews could be part of the church. And the thing is, if you pay attention to the way the story unfolds, there is no question that the way the Spirit moves God’s people is always toward inclusion, never toward exclusion. So, the direction of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was a no-brainer. We were going to fully include gays and lesbians. It was bound to happen. The only question was, when?
It happened for us a couple years ago. At our churchwide assembly we decided that if a gay person had the good fortune to find someone to love, and if that person decided to make a lifelong commitment to the one they love, it was okay. Well, what we said was that it was okay for such a person to serve as an ordained (or rostered) minister in the ELCA, but, essentially, that was how we told all gay folks that they were okay by us. It was the right decision to make. And, apparently, it was the time to make it.
This year, someone has brought a resolution to our synod assembly asking us to rescind that decision. It reminds me of the classic horror film where you think the monster has been killed and all is well and then, just when you let down your guard, all of a sudden the monster comes back to life and makes one last lunge at the screen. It gets me every time. You’d think I’d see it coming, but I’ll scream, and grab onto whoever is next to me. Well, you’d think I would have been ready for this one last ditch effort to return to the homophobic days of yore as well. But I wasn't. It doesn’t leave me screaming, just shaking my head and wondering what the point is. Have these people never read the Bible? Can they not see that God’s people are constantly being transformed by the Spirit and that the direction of that transformation is always toward expanding the circle of God’s grace to include those who have been excluded?
I’m not all that worried about the people who can’t deal with the direction our church is headed. It would be nice if they’d get on board, but whether they do or not, the train has already left the station. If they choose to stay behind, I have won't be standing beside them holding their hands. The only hand I’ll be extending is the one I use to wave to them from the train window.
Every year I hope that this will be the assembly where sexual orientation is a non-issue. Well, it looks like this won't be that year. The monster needs to jump up for one last gasp of breath. So be it. We'll move on. Maybe next year will be the year.