When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.

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ELCA moves forward to include committed homosexuals as clergy

Saturday 22 August 2009

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how the media created shocking headlines that tinted the facts a bit about an ELCA vote regarding homosexual pastors.  Well, hours after more big steps were taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the media titans were at it again, this time with an AP story title being pretty blunt and shocking (and, of course, not the whole story): “Lutherans to Allow Sexually Active Gays as Clergy“.  There were also some factual errors in the story, which are likely explained due to the quickness of the writing, but one also has to wonder who just wants to grab your attention so you will read their story!

Luckily, by morning, story titles had calmed down and content appeared accurate.  Here are a few examples, if you’re into reading all about this topic:
“Monogomous” Gays Can Serve in ELCA (Washington Post – good but short)
Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy (NY Times – good, a bit longer)
Lutherans lift barrier for gay clergy (LA Times)
ELCA votes to allow gay pastors (Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Conservatives  mull future after ELCA lifts gay ban (AP’s “updated” article)
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans (ELCA news release)

While those articles, as a whole, give a good idea about the changes, let’s quickly look at what actually happened in Minneapolis this week, using actual words that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

First, a social statement, basically a declaration of belief, was approved on Wednesday .  It needed 2/3 of the vote, and actually got exactly that with a vote of 676-338.  I’m not going to get into that here, as it’s a long, though important, document, but you can read the statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” as well as a news article and the legislative summary from the ELCA website.

Now, in terms of gay clergy (all references ELCA website):
First, the assembly agreed to “respect the bound consciences of all,” thus basically allowing for those willing to agree to disagree to remain united under one organization.

Secondly, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”  (This vote passed by about 60%, 619-402.)

Thirdly, a few hours later, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”  (This vote passed by about 55%, 559-451)

And finally, the assembly basically allowed for individual churches to be flexible in their implementation of the previous resolutions and directed necessary formal changes be made to implement the previous agreements.  (See specifics here.)

So that’s the news, but what’s the big deal?

What we have now might be viewed by many as a “local option.”  As a whole, the ELCA will not exclude anyone who is in a “life-long, monogamous” relationship from being called as a pastor.  However, it allows particular congregations to do as they wish in recognizing same-gender relationships and calling pastors in such relationships.

So what’s the critique?  How can people not be happy if everyone can basically do what they want?  If I believe same-genedered relationships to be sinful, I don’t have to accept them in my church, and I certainly don’t have to have a pastor that is in one.  And if I believe all is well with the Lord in such relationships, I can be a member of a church that expounds this belief, too.

Well, that right there is the critique.  ELCA members who do not condone same-gendered relationships feel that by this action, the ELCA is saying same-gender relationships are OK.  Even if one doesn’t believe such relationships are supported by God, why would she or he remain part of a church body that (essentially) does?

It’s unfortunate for the sake of Christian unity that the “bound consciences” way of thinking is hard to follow through with.  If it does, somehow, find a way to work, that’s certainly a good sign for those looking to further unite the “holy catholic church.”  But Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Roman Catholic (capital “c”), simply made a new church, from which sprang many, many more.  And the growth, prominence, and flourishing state of non-denominational churches in this country shows, I think, that many who call themselves Christian aren’t that interested in unity any way.

It’s likely that those who can’t accept this new turn of events will go elsewhere, with churches and individuals leaving the ELCA, possibly creating a smaller Lutheran church body or finding some other group to join up with.  One could hope that it might bring about ties across denominations that actually do bring further Christian unity, but in this age of individuality, that seems unlikely.

I welcome your thoughts and views on the subject: your feelings about the action of the ELCA this week, your plans of action (if they be any) in response to this vote, and your thoughts about the future of the ELCA as a whole and its current (some of which are sure to be former) congregations.

Can a denomination survive and “agree to disagree?”  I don’t know, but the ELCA appears to be the petri dish for such an experiment.


ELCA “acts” on gay pastors (or: the title sells the story)

Saturday 11 August 2007

(Looking for information on the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and information regarding pastors in same-gender, life-long, monogamous relationships?  Click here for that blog.)

After following the ELCA Churhwide Assembly this past week, I saw the title of a Yahoo! News article (written by Reuters and now circulated everywhere), “Lutherans to allow pastors in gay relationships,” and thought to myself, “That’s not quite what happened.” While it was passed by the assembly, via this motion (by the bishop of my “current,” technically, synod), that bishops should show restraint in disciplining pastors in “faithful committed same-gender relationships,” it did not, in fact, change any policy or policies of the ELCA. In fact, motions to actively seek a change in policy were defeated, largely, from what I can tell, due to a desire to wait until a social statement on sexuality is developed for the 2009 assembly (to be held in Minneapolis). Additionally, after about 40% of the voting members had already left, it was passed a motion for ELCA bishops to discuss their own accountability to “the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA,” seeming in a response to the first motion which, in simple language, told bishops it’s OK if you decide to break the rules (or let others do so).

So what? The assembly seemed to say that we (the entire 4.8 million members of the ELCA, as represented by the assembly) aren’t ready to make formalized changes of policies and procedures, but if certain areas (via their bishops) don’t want to abide by the rules established, then we’ll accept that. As Phil Souchy of Lutherans Concerned said, it’s basically a call by the assembly saying, “Do not do punishments.” Now while this doesn’t technically change anything, it’s an obvious step in a new direction and a likely indicator of where the ELCA is headed. There is technically no “official” change, but the Yahoo! News article’s title would have you think there had been. It’s truly the title which sells you on the article, and if you only read the title (and maybe even if you read the article, too), it’s easy to get the wrong picture about what transpired @ Navy Pier in Chicago. (A Chicago Sun-Times online article, “Gay clergy OK’d by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” has a similar title shock value effect.)

Are you still asking “What does this all mean?” Some might say this is a procedural ploy to allow gays in committed relationships to continue on in their positions without actually changing the rules, and I surely wouldn’t disagree with them. The current policy continues to officially require pastors (and I believe other rostered leaders, though don’t quote me on that) in same-sex relationships to be removed from the rostered rolls (which has happened 3 times thus far) and does not allow seminary students in such relationships to be ordained into such roles either. In a way, the motion passed by the assembly is a way to help bishops feel more comfortable supporting and not reprimanding gay or lesbian pastors currently serving churches who are in committed relationships . It still allows bishops to call for disciplinary hearings, but it, in reality, puts the onus on the bishop to make the decision whether to allow the pastor to continue on in their position or not, a state which was really already true but not openly supported by the ELCA as is now the case.

While I support the ordination and rostering of people in same-sex relationships, it will take me some time to decide if I agree with the motion the assembly passed. If I had been a voting member, I’m not sure if I would have voted for or against the motion. It definitely puts control of the situation in a more regional context, which I think may be the best answer, but was this the right step to take at the current time? I don’t know. In any case, it was an interesting day for the ELCA, and it will likely be a very interesting road ahead as pastors, church leaders, and congregations in and outside the ELCA react to these events.

Your thoughts?

(I could throw in ways in which I see these actions as paralleling, in some ways, the occurrences that led to Seminex, but I’ll leave those thought for another day.)