Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Warning: Sexuality Rant

Monday night I went out to dinner with my wife at a nice restraunt. We were talking about what had happened at the recent ELCA churchwide conference, and I was saying that I could accept the decision of our relatively conservative congregation not to support same-sex marriage as long as they would take a positive stance to welcoming gay and lesbian Christians into our congregation (as seen in Recommendation #2 in Orlando). My wife wondered whether they even have any intention of welcoming gays and lesbians (they claim they do, though this stated goal is patently not accomplished).

As we talked, my wife handed me a scrap of paper that said, "Consider what God says: 1 Cor. 6:9-10" Now my wife and I have very similar views on this, so I thought it was a very odd thing for her to do. It turned out that a woman sitting at the table next to us had handed the note to my wife on her way out, and she did so so subtly that I didn't even notice. So I ran through the verse in my mind, and I thought, "Maybe she thought we were slandering the WordAlone people" (see 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Then last night I went to a meeting of the local chapter of WordAlone. On the way in, I was handed a brochure about how a congregation might become a member of "an association of confessing churches". I found out after the meeting, that my congregation has already done this! Apparently, if I have the order of events correct: (1) the Common Confession was posted on our web site as what we believe, (2) about a week later, our congregational board voted to approve this confession and join the "association", (3) about a month later, at a meeting of the local chapter of WordAlone, the invitation to join such an association was made "public." Very nice. One of my friends compared it to how the U.S. got involved in Iraq.

So meanwhile, back at the WordAlone meeting that I crashed, we got the pastor's update on what went down in Orlando and his statement that he wants to affirm (1) no more gay bashing, (2) everyone is welcome in our church, and (3) we should be clear that our church believes marriage is between a man and a woman. OK, number three is abundantly accomplished, and number one, giving them the benefit of charity, is a bit subjective. So in the Q&A period, when they accidently gave me the mike, I pointed out that the statement on marriage sent the implicit message that gays and lesbians are not welcome, and I asked if we had considered balancing that with an explicit statement on the web site affirming that they are welcome (I don't see any logical reason a congregation can't be WordAlone and Reconciling in Christ).

Naturally, you don't get to be head pastor at a large church by giving a straight answer to a question like that. But what happened next completely floored me. A woman in the back got the microphone and, looking directly at me, asked why we need to label people -- why we can't just say everyone is welcome (of course because we're all sinners in need of redemption) and leave it at that. In case anyone reading this doesn't know the answer, here it is from the Lutherans Concerned web site: "It is assumed by most GLBT people that they are not welcome in any church unless told otherwise. Even a general statement of welcome is heard as really meaning 'everybody but me,' so it takes a special effort to communicate the same welcome."

So this is where I am today. The conservatives in my church have a majority. They've used that majority to pack the congregational board with their own kind, directly thwarting efforts by our leadership development committee to construct a board that evenly represents the congregation. They've put in place a provision for people to be sure none of their giving to the church goes to the synod or the ELCA. And now they've put us in "an association of confessing churches."

I know the perfect church doesn't exist, but this is ridiculous.

All I'm asking is that they take recommendation #2 from the churchwide assembly seriously. They can affirm, along with the bishops, that they can't bless same sex unions. But will they now accept the challenge to "welcome gay and lesbian persons" into the life of our church? Will they seek to "discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care" to gay and lesbian Christians?

What should I do?

20 comments:

*Christopher said...

I'm sorry but such is no welcome at all. I wouldn't darken the door of such a church, and neither would most self-respecting gay and lesbian people. It's a bunch of bullshit disguised in pretty language. Better to be honest; "you people aren't welcome here" than to continue using such florid language to disguise the case. If welcome means we can take a seat in the pew, there are far better places to go where we'll be treated as sons and daughters of G-d.

*Christopher said...

Such a welcome means nothing. NOTHING. Stop trying. We aren't welcome at this church, and lying about it actually does more damage. Send us to a parish in the area that truly does want us there...who isn't going to bash us with "love the sinner, hate the sin" or "marriage is between a man and a woman." The ELCA needs to get clear with itself as well, "what does our welcome mean." In a word, "nothing".

*Christopher said...

Sorry for the rant, but it needs to be said without the mushmouthed liberals stepping in with "welcomes" that have no meat on their bones--better to say it how it is. I've seen enough parishes where "welcome" is a plaque on the door for those people, but the parish itself hasn't done a lick of work about what that means, and they end up hurting people a great deal who've already been kicked in the teeth.

Andy said...

The rant is totally welcome. You're absolutely right that the current state is not welcome. I'm trying to push the people who are saying "welcome" to actually put something behind it, but I can understand your anger and your feeling that we just can't get there from here.

Having not been "kicked in the teeth" myself, I don't know quite where the line of "worth it" is, but I do know that we're no where near it now.

*Christopher said...

M-I know you're really trying, and I hope you don't think my anger is directed at your efforts.

But look at where your pastor is at, as a WordAloner (my partner was devastated by one of those at the seminary--nuts, completely nuts, with no recourse for the abuse incurred) how can he or she pastor gay people without bashing? Their very point of view is bashing. He or she can't pastor one of us without likely causing a great deal of spiritual damage. What happens when someone commits suicide because of such pastoral views or care? Then what? I've seen it happen.

So what is the point of a welcome? You can't pastor us. So we can get a Jesus cracker without a lick of loving community? When you can't even discern the Body in us? (see 1 Cor.) To cover over that at heart it's untrue that all are welcome here? And no one will admit it to themselves and be at least honest. Or to hide that the welcome we're offering to those people is our welcome on our terms to our table and not the same one G-d extended to us unconditionally at G-d's Table? Because there's a whole lot of unLutheran heterosexual self-righteousness in some of the statements you quoted. They too sin in their sexual lives as married folk, and likely abominably.

Given where your parish is at, what meat can you offer? A seat in the pew to milk us of finances, time, talent, life and spit us out without tangible neighbour care or a word of support? Pastoral care and welcome are so much more than that as clearly the heterosexuals in your church take for granted. Again, I want to reiterate, until you've done the work of discerning the nastiness in your own hearts as a parish, and recognizing your welcome is not G-d's welcome, don't hang that plaque out, especially with some fancy special welcome, you'll only do damage.

Please, don't make us an experiment in trying to get there (do the work first)...too many of us have been harmed by such do gooders. Just to make it very clear how your welcome would be perceived by most queer folk, go preach the welcome you're prepared to offer in the Hawthorne District and see what sort of positive responses you get.

In the meantime, compile of list of truly lgbt friendly and lgbt parishes Lutheran and non-Luthern to refer us to where we will be invited to minister with and to everyone else (rather than being condescended to) just like every other baptized Christian and where we will be truly pastored by loving and affirming folks who know our issues and who will pastor us not only in the pastoral care closet of the pastor's office, but will provide us with rites and such to pastor our lives just like heterosexual folks take for granted in marriage and baby blessings and whatnot. I know of at least one parish in Clackamas that is such, and one downtown. Not to mention a couple of Episcopal parishes, the UCC, and so forth...That's at least honest enough to say we're not there, and here is a place that will treat you better if that's what you're looking for...sometimes getting honest with ourselves about the way we treat an other and about the nature of our welcome is the first step toward reexamination.

toujoursdan said...

I just find it bizarre that someone would overhear a private conversation between you and your wife and feel obliged to slip her such a note.

In the 5 years I've lived in Dallas, in the Bible Belt I've never seen that happen.

I totally identify with your pain. My ostensibly welcoming parish became much less so after the elective of +Robinson and while I'm involved in some of its ministries, attending on Sundays was liking walking through a minefield.

My prayers are with you.

Andy said...

Hi Dan! It's good to hear from you, and I appreciate your prayers.

Andy said...

Christopher,

Thanks for taking the time to write what you wrote. You have spoken a word from God to me -- really. But I'm not entirely sure what to do with it. One thing you've made clear is that I shouldn't ask for "welcome" until it really means "welcome." Believe me, I'm clear as to what acceptance really means, and I would welcome you as an equal among beloved, not an equal among sinners. I have a dream that our whole congregation could be like that, but maybe not yet.

Our pastor gets uncomfortable having to tell someone their shoe is untied, so I can't imagine he would cause the kind of damage you describe, but you did make clear to me that he wouldn't be able to offer the kind of support necessary.

But here are the concerns I'm left with, and I present these as dilemmas on which I'd like your input, not as articles for debate.

1. How many congregations can we give away? Aside from my own personal reluctance to leave a church where I have some roots, I am also reluctant to just throw up my hands and leave the church to the conservatives. It's the old question of whether it is sufficient for me to not involve myself in injustice (leaving the church), or whether I am called to resist injustice wherever I find it (staying and working for change). I really don't know the answer.

2. GLBT folk don't just come into the Church from outside. This is, I think, a much more serious problem. We've got a large, and relatively young, congregation -- lots of families. Even if not a single gay person comes to our church because we've said we are "welcoming", there's a good chance that someone who's already in the church will struggle with their identity.

*Christopher said...

M-

1) I accept that I am an equal among sinners and among beloved. Living with a Lutheran has helped with that paradox. I just don't think my sin is primarily my homoaffectional/sexual friendship, though I sin in sex like everyone else. Frankly, it's not the primary locus of my sinning. But as a fellow sinner, I do need beloved community as well, I think we all do, and so...

Agreed. You can't just cede per se. And if G-d brings you gay people who wish to stay in your congregation. Good. But be clear with them upfront about where the parish is at. Don't candycoat or whatnot. I think so many liberals in their wish to see things better than they are candycoat and that does more harm than the conservatives who are upfront they don't want us there. I know this because this has often been my personal experience. The condescension and little heterosexist structural habits are often much worse than outright rejection. Outright rejection is obvious, whereas the others are harder to spot unless you're on the receiving end.

Were I to come to your parish, could you offer pockets of community within the parish where my partner and I would find support through smaller group meetings, house church, dinners together, prayer groups, an lgbt group? Or would we feel completely isolated? Or the poster child/token? To assuage our sense of guilt or pretend to be more than we are as a community. Bid to hide? Because I won't hide. I won't get in your face either (it's easier on the net, but I'm quite shy, and you really have to push to get me in your face), but if I wish to put my arm around my BF in Mass, I will (once he's completely out). If someone asks, we're partners or blest friends and a gay male couple. No lying. What is preached from the pulpit on the subject, if at all? Because I will walk out on nasty sermons. Is Eucharist open to us, or would we be refused? Because I will make a point about that with regards to 1 Cor. Could we serve in any way beyond the pew? We too have gifts and ministries; in order to offer these, will we have to be other than ourselves? These need to be stated up front to any out gay person who happens upon your parish. If you and others who are more accepting can provide pockets of love within the congregation, identify yourselves openly as such (with a small rainbow-cross pin or whatnot) that's a start, and a way to leaven toward justice (and also a way to help those queer folk in your community already). And I might even consider joining knowing that I won't be completely isolated or abused or that others are in solidarity with me. If you cannot, be honest about that to any potential gay member. But in the mean time, no special plaques of welcome. Those indicate a congregation that has and is doing the work, and it doesn't sound like this one has.

Also, we are deserving and worthy of good pastoral care. Do you have alternatives to offer any potential queer member? Link them up with Pr. Askey or another in the area who supports lgbt folk? I'm sorry, but anyone who advocates a Word Alone position in my opinion has no business pastoring out and proud gay folk. I've seen the abuse such can render no matter how nice they are. In the pastoral care office a lot of power is wielded, and I for one am perfectly comfortable getting up and walking out with the comment, "I'm going to look for a pastor," but not all people have such inner strength...

2) You likely do have queer folk hiding in the congregation and some who are just discovering they're queer if you have lots of teens, so your presence and witness there is an alternative to the dominant pov at the parish (see remarks on identifying yourselves). My BF served in a parish as an intern where since then three teens have come out...so we're there, we're always there, so identifying yourselves as safe persons is important. You may save someone's life and not even know it until later...

Andy said...

Thanks Christopher. That helps a lot. My wife and I have been struggling over what we can do, and what you've suggested makes a lot of sense.

*Christopher said...

M-you've inspired a post for tomorrow hopefully with less rant and more practical thoughts...

j said...

Melancthon,

My prayers are with you and your church. It would be interesting to see if there is a Word Alone and RIC congregation. My guess is that it is possible, however I have a feeling that one or both of the organizations would question how you could be both. The material on the Word Alone website really makes me think it might be impossible, at least if you are one of these "confessing church," considering the Dorado covenant, etc. etc. etc.

Christopher is right on the whole welcoming piece. As a gay pastor who has publicly refused to follow V&E, I have seen what kind of damage good Christian folks have done to the glbtq community. It makes those of us glbtq folks who are also Christian in a "no man's land" if you will where both groups think you're nuts: "How can you be both?" Yet, one can't run away from ones sexuality or from ones baptismal vocation.

j said...

One other thing: I'm not sure if everyone reads resolution #2 the same way. There is a lot of ambiguity there and I'm pretty sure that the bishops are coming down on many sides where the resolution is concerned. I read it that a pastor is allowed to perform same-sex blessings. But of course, I've had a "blessing." In my mind, of course, it was a wedding and is a marriage, although there's nothing legal about what we did. I see my relationship in the same way as a marriage: just as blessed and screwed up as any other.

Andy said...

Hi. Thanks for stopping by.

Let me say that when I claimed that a church could be both WordAlone and Reconciling in Christ, what I meant is that the stated purposes of the two aren't incompatible. How those work out in practice is almost certainly incompatible. But what I wanted to do was to call a reality check on the WordAlone folks.

According to their mission statement, "WordAlone is a Lutheran grassroots network of congregations and individuals commited to the authority of the Word manifest in Jesus the Christ as proclaimed in Scripture and safeguarded through the work of the Holy Spirit." Now certainly there's nothing there that is in any way incompatible with Reconciling in Christ, as will eventually become clear if they're serious about letting in the Holy Spirit.

Of course I am not so naive as to not realize that the overwhelming majority of them would absolutely bristle at the mere suggestion I've made, and honestly that was a large part of why I said it.

I also understand the wide variety of interpretations of recommendation #2, but my thinking was that if I can get these people to at least take it seriously it will force them to adapt the way they think -- at least if someone objective gets to tell them whether or not they've met the goal.

All this having been said, Christopher's sage advice is forcing me to rethink how much I want to really put in their hands versus simply offering an alternative presence.

*Christopher said...

M-I have offered some further thoughts on the subject...

Becoming also Reconcililng in Christ would be a good counter in some ways or a way to foster a shift. I have no object to the Word Alone statement per se that you've quoted, but how that is fleshed out is another matter, but I'm not from a sola Scriptura tradition (I think Trent was right to condemn that position for now we see where it can lead) and that's where Word Alone goes.

It's never just about an objective measure. It's about how those you welcome would wish to be treated if they were you. It's relational. Objective/subjective are Enlightenment categories, not Christian ones (and even science has come to recognize the limits of such), and often hide how the "objective" person is playing G-d, hiding politics and emotions on a particular issue/concern/type of people behind "objectivity" and logical discourse. This comes out when you challenge, say a systematic theologian on a point, say women, and he goes off the handle (I've seen this happen.). Objective? Not likely? Only G-d is "objective", and G-d's "objectivity" is relational.

Kurt Wall said...

Of course, "providing faithful pastoral care" was understood by both Recommendation Two's antagonists and protagonists to permit individual pastors and congregations could make their own decisions about whether to bless same-sex unions. So, out of one side of its mouth, the ELCA pays lip service to the 1993 pastoral letter that finds no Scriptural basis for same-sex unions. Out of the other side of its mouth, the ELCA tacitly permits its parish pastors to do precisely what the body as a whole can't endorse. On my planet, that's called hypocrisy.

LutheranChik said...

Sorry to come late to this discussion, but I agree that, if I moved to a new community and walked into an ELCA congregation with your congregation's "welcome" statements posted front and center, I'd probably walk right back out again. What it sounds like to me is, "If you're gay or lesbian, you are welcome to sit down and shut up until we can 'fix' you and hook you up with an appropriately gendered person."

One of the constant anxieties of my life is that more conservative members of my normally apolitical, unconditionally "everyone is welcome" congregation are going to one day make a power play and start ramming these kinds of decisions through our council. My pastor is on the record as being inclusive/affirming, but one of these days he's going to retire or leave for another call, and then what's going to happen?

LutheranChik said...

I wonder what would happen, in your parish, if some phantom Information Disseminator started anonymously placing resources from Lutherans Concerned, local GLBT support groups, etc., on the bulletin boards, on the information table, etc. You know...sort of like that woman slipping your wife a clobber verse in a restaurant. Just a random thought.

Andy said...

A while ago someone anonymously posted an article Marcus Borg wrote about the Bible's opposition to the misuse of wealth. It was just removed without comment.

Do you think it would help? Or might it create the sort of false impression Christopher talked about?

LutheranChik said...

Mel: If nothing else, it would let others know that not everyone in the parish walks in lockstep with the power brokers.