Somewhere in this country there is a young teenager who is getting ready to “come out” to her parents; she might well get kicked out of the family home for that. Somewhere else there is another teen that will soon discover that momma has a new boyfriend whose homophobia will soon lead to this kid’s expulsion from the house. Somewhere else a young woman will be walking down a sidewalk, minding her own business, when a carload of guys will drive up and throw beer bottles at her simply because they think she’s a homosexual. In Colorado I’m aware of at least one pastor who has done ministry with GLBT teens and young people who have been disowned by their families and ostracized and persecuted by the surrounding culture. This culture would also include the churches these young people had attended as well.
A flashback to 1996, and the ELCA Southwest Texas Synod Assembly held that spring. It was my first-ever experience of an assembly and I was pumped to be one of the delegates representing my congregation in Austin. Back then, the inflammatory discussion had to do with the synod merely offering an open welcome to gay/lesbian people to its congregations. The resolution had been submitted by the pastor of an Austin church known for accepting such folks and helping them integrate into the full life of the congregation as practicing Christians.
Well, it didn’t take long for the discussion to turn ugly. One Hill Country pastor in particular was particularly incensed that the church would even consider inviting such people–it’s like inviting a violent murderer or inviting a thief to come steal your silverware he said. Other pastors likened gays and lesbians to hardened criminals and bank robbers. Of course, they all came to the microphones carrying their Bibles–opened to the OLD TESTAMENT! Not one of them quoted Jesus, of course, since our Lord was strangely silent on the issue. All the people who spoke along these lines spoke words that reflected the churches they came from, along with the cultures that both shaped and were shaped by those churches. The resolution to merely offer an open welcome was narrowly defeated. The same thing happened two years later at the next assembly, after a similar debate in which homosexuals were labeled and categorized as abominable and evil. Afterward, in an adjacent hallway, a wonderful pastor and youth minister (who also happened to be gay) was doubled over in emotional pain, his deep sobbing causing huge tremors in his thin body. “I don’t know if I can serve among such people anymore,” he said in-between sobs. He was surrounded by a concerned group of colleagues, lay people, parents of the kids he cared for, and people like me who just wandered onto the scene and wanted to be of some help. “We’re sorry,” someone said, “We tried. We WILL get there. Please stay with us. Please forgive us.”
It took a few years, but the open welcome was passed. Meanwhile other synods throughout the country went through similarly toxic debates over similar resolutions, many of them proposed by pastors who found themselves in ministry situations with Christians who also happened to be gay or lesbian.
And now comes a national vote on the Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust report. This issue goes well beyond who is “clean” enough to serve the church in its ordained ministry. It connects with the very real world scenarios where people are persecuted, kicked out of their homes, beaten, even killed, because of their sexual identity. The ELCA will once again find itself in the national spotlight as recommendations are discussed and debated. What word will the church bring to the culture at large? What words will be spoken in discussion? Will Luther’s catechetical explanation of the 8th commandment give someone pause and prevent them from engaging in hurtful name-calling and vicious slander? What will the final word be, and how might that word impact the larger culture? Stay tuned………………….