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.


‘unconditional support’ for Israel questioned (damn straight!)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Though it has similar thoughts to my previous post, you can read my letter to the editor for the Crescent-News (Defiance, OH) here or below.  I’m excited that more people will be hearing these truths (especially in such a part of Ohio as this!).

Many one-sided pieces regarding the current Gaza/Israel conflict have graced these editorial pages in the past weeks, and I wanted to interject some thoughts that don’t come out much in the US press which give reason to question the seemingly unconditional support given to Israel by so many.

First, I want to say that I in no way condone violence, no matter who is perpetrating it; I support neither the rockets being launched by Hamas nor Israel’s military violence made in the name of retaliation.

In the US, Israel is portrayed in politics and the press as a peace-seeking democracy, and many cite Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as a good-faith act toward peace in the region. However, this was done without consultation of Palestinians, and many agree this simply has allowed Israel to focus its efforts on the occupation of the West Bank, where Palestinians continue to suffer daily (something I experienced firsthand this past Spring).

In fact, while Israel has not had anyone stationed in Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal, they have continued to control its borders, sea coast, and air space. In recent years they have created a blockade around Gaza that completely restricts or extremely limits the movement of much needed food, medical supplies, fuel, and electricity. A recent statement from the Vatican went as far as to compare Gaza to a “concentration camp.” Israel continues to ignore international law in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires an occupying power to provide for the welfare of the civilians it occupies (which should be applied to Gaza and certainly to the West Bank).

Most Palestinians did not choose to live in Gaza but are refugees, driven from their homes by the Israeli army at the creation of Israel in 1948. These Palestinians have never been compensated for their previous lands and homes, similar to the way Native Americans were treated in respect to the lands of this country.

Also, while Hamas is considered a terrorist entity by the US and others, it is also a political party that won Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. The legality of this election is not in question. This was in large part a response to the corruption in the Palestinian government previously, not a sign that the people as a whole seek the elimination of Israel, even though this is stated in the Hamas party charters. Israel, the US, and many others continue to ignore Hamas’ right to rule based on these legitimate democratic elections.

Finally, much has been made about Israel’s “right to defend itself,” including recent resolutions passed in Congress stating just that. However, no one cares to describe the oppressive circumstances Israel has continued to place upon Gaza (and the West Bank). So while I do not agree with Hamas’ violent resistance tactics nor Israel’s retaliation, I ask: Should not Hamas have the same “right to defend itself” from an oppressive situation imposed by Israel, a right that so many give to Israel itself?

Also, check out this great piece by Rashid Khalidi last week in the NY Times with some similar sentiments.


my protest

Wednesday 19 March 2008

As we mark today the 5th anniversary of the start of the current US war in/occupation of Iraq, (hopefully) a million or more will take to the streets around the country and the world as a protest to this war many call a quagmire. I’m all for taking it to the streets, and I think it’s a very valuable and necessary thing to do, but right now I wanted to take a portion of my lunch break to offer up my protest.

Did you hear of the “Winter Soldier” event held this past weekend? It brought together Iraq War veterans to speak about their experiences. The stories I listened to were heartbreaking, and I know the brought tears to many eyes. This story by Jon Michael Turner was perhaps the worst for me:

“On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him ‘the fat man.’ He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t let that happen.’ So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away. We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.” (More of his stories can be found here.)

Democracy Now! has been covering this story all this week (including Tuesday and Today), but as DN noted “Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.” If we ever come to prosecute for war crimes in relation to this war, will we hold these sources as accomplices? And as John Michael Turner said, “… any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books.”

And while we’re talking about the media, what about Lynndie England chastising the media for their role in uncovering the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? In her words: “If the media hadn’t exposed the pictures to that extent then thousands of lives would have been saved.” There was definitely retaliation by insurgents after the photos were revealed, but does that mean they should have been hidden instead? That’s almost like blaming the fire department for the water damage they left in your house as they attempted to put out the fire instead of looking at the arsonist who actually set the blaze. Why do we so easily fail to look at the root causes of situations and instead blame intermediaries (i.e. we blame the homeless war veteran instead of the one who sent her or him to war in the first place)?

We must open our eyes to the world around us. We must examine the motives of all people — those we despise and those we hold dear. We must work to put people in leadership positions who will truly work for the betterment of ALL people, not just “the rich,” and not even just Americans. As H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama said, we are to contribute to others’ happiness, and he gives no distinction to nationality or other barriers. If we want a revolution — as another great peacemaker said — “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Ghandi) Let’s actually be that change.


buried on page 9

Tuesday 5 February 2008

I’m sure most of you reading this blog right now have some idea about the outcomes of the various primary elections and caucuses held across the country on “Super Tuesday.” There are so many stories out there, I won’t even link to any of them. But another interesting story caught my eye as I was checking my e-mail on this Tuesday evening: U.S. Acknowledges Use of Waterboarding. I first saw the headline on a Yahoo! link, and it was actually the same AP story as the NY Times had on their website — but that was once I found the article on the Times website. I hunted all over, in every section I thought possible, and I finally found it when I actually searched under “waterboarding.”

Now I really hope I’m not the one to break this story to you — especially if it’s already a few days past my writing of this — but I wouldn’t really be that surprised if I was. Why? Well, what better day to let your CIA Director (who is also a General in the Air Force, by the way) spill the beans on such a volatile subject as waterboarding than on the day when most of the country and the world — including and especially the media. I’m not saying the election isn’t big news — it will decided some of our fate for the years 2009-2012 — but how about this waterboarding thing?

And you can’t tell me this isn’t very coordinated and strategic planning to let this “slip” when it did, can you? As the blog title alludes to, I’m sure this story will be slipped somewhere inside the pages of the news that many may not have time to get to as they look at all the data and numbers from Tuesdays voting and caucusing. I hope it will be there at all!

I’m sure you’ll hear about it later — things like, “In early February, the CIA admitted to the waterboarding of three ‘terror suspects’ during 2002 and 2003” — but there will be no front page news, no shock to the system.

I don’t know about you, but how can something like that not disenfranchise you from our government and military at work? Something needs to give.


question your sources

Friday 21 December 2007

Being off for a few weeks, I’ve been able to do a lot more reading and watching of media coverage of world and current events (and too much Clash of the Choirs, too, I might add). Today I was reading an AP article about pilgrims flocking to Bethlehem for Christmas where I read, close to the end of the article, this sentence, dropped in rather nonchalantly: “Israel is building the [West Bank separation] barrier in an effort to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Because of the witness of a friend of mine, I’ve become engrossed in the Palestinian situation in the past few months, reading testimonies by peacemakers from groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and Michigan Peace Team and individual blogs by those currently in Palestine. Thanks to these reading, I was able to take this sentence and other words and comments we come to hear daily for what they really are: falsehoods.

It’s easy to accept this separation wall — 25 feet tall in most places completed — as being about national security. I mean, they want to build a wall at the border of Mexico for that reason, right? Unfortunately, things aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem. Firstly, he wall being built isn’t being built on political borders because, really, there aren’t any other than the supposed border set up in the late 1940s. Because Israel later captured these lands in 1967, there is really no longer an official border.

So one might expect if there were to be a wall to protect a border, you’d at least build it on the border. But as it goes, the wall is being built to encompass land that belongs to Palestinians, in reality illegally stealing land for Israeli settlers.

The situation is much too complicated for me to explain fully here, but I encourage you do to not take my word for it and do your own research. Read stories from the links I’ve posted here and examine other media sources. But above all, question what you read and see on TV, asking if there might be another side to the story or an ulterior motive for the way something is reported. It might take some time and effort to uncover reality, but don’t you owe it to yourself to know the truth?


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.)