George Bernard Shaw once said, "Certainly all great truths begin as blasphemies." On April 11, 2010, those who identify as people of faith and as "non-heterosexual" were given particular cause to celebrate Shaw's wisdom: a most unlikely church has given a most unlikely people a gift of love and truth, and I cannot stop smiling.
After twenty-five years of deliberation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Council has abolished its anti-gay policies, effective immediately. Following from discussions at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly last summer, the ELCA will now allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as rostered leaders. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) human beings are no longer considered abominations but blessed church members with full standing. Same-sex partners and families can now fully participate in the ELCA Pension Plan.
Best of all, the ELCA is reinstating people who were removed from ministry positions because they were truthful and came out of the closet, as well as those who conducted holy unions for non-heterosexual couples. The ELCA has practiced restorative justice.
The Lutherans -- breaking from Garrison Keillor stereotypes as shy, retiring, or stoic -- said, "Just do it!" All votes passed overwhelmingly, with no votes against and no drawn-out hassles about how to implement the policies.
I'm particularly grateful to the ELCA for adding restoration to its reforms. My colleague, Rev. Paul W. Egerston, faithfully pastored and served as Bishop in the Lutheran church for 31 years. He resigned one month before the end of his term in 2001. Why? He ordained a lesbian as a Pastor and took a public stand for justice in opposition to the official anti-gay policy of the ELCA. Now, Paul and his wife, Shirley, and their six children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren can take a day off. I believe that through the ELCA's restoration, God has sent them a message, "Well done, my good and faithful servants."
In the midst of this week of celebration, I have been asked, "What about the rest of the churches? How can we get them to change their minds about gay people and our rights as human beings?"
Let me suggest a simple formula: praise, publicize, and participate. It is important that we actively support the ELCA leaders and the early adopters with our public affirmation and praise. Write a letter of commendation of the ELCA to the editor in your local paper and send a copy to the denominational headquarters. Carbon copy your letter to the leadership of non-affirming denominations. Financially support the organizations who "push the envelope" of denominational resistance to change. Anti-gay fundamentalists outspend pro-gays by a ratio of four to one. Participate in community-based engagement efforts. These have proven highly effective in shifting attitudes of fundamentalists towards gays.
The good news is that science is on our side. Consumer adoption theory tells us that the rate at which people accept change or innovation accelerates once early adopters embrace the idea and people hear about the change. This makes sense when you think about the way in which people buy new technology. There are always people who buy the first release. They tell their friends and families. They weather the challenges of operating systems that are less than perfect.
The ELCA has served as the beta test site for a process through which a very traditional faith community can reverse its thinking and policies. They will continue to push the envelope and all of us will learn from their experiences. Other denominational leaders and congregants will be glad that they tested the waters first.
And, soon, as we've seen with microwaves, cell phones, the Internet, and even the Model-T, the rest of us will wade into the water as well.
The Lutherans have made a crack in the dam of religious bigotry that is now set to break wide open for the rest of the fundamentalist world -- we are at a tipping point.
The ELCA has conducted itself with grace and dignity, and many of us are longing for some of that type of public civility. Their example is going to make people within other embattled denominations long for a better process within their own communities. The ELCA members didn't wage war in public with one another. There was no public outcry that diminished everyone while they worked their way through a quarter century of discussion.
The ELCA press release about the decision reads:
These actions are important because they are a major milestone along the journey of full inclusion. We have a policy that recognizes the gifts of its members [...] and that will allow the return of those who have been removed or alienated [...]. [There will] be new life in the church through new leaders. [...] [W]e have lifted up crucial questions for the church: What is the relationship of sexuality to salvation in Christ? What is the diversity in God's wondrous creation? What is sinful? [...] Who continues to face barriers to ministry and mission? How do we journey together faithfully, in spite of so many differences? What some people have dismissed as a narrow issue has both opened up and profoundly deepened our moral and theological life.
Amazing. It sounds like the Lutherans think LGBTQ people have helped them get closer to God. A great truth has been realized today that Jesus Christ demonstrated throughout His ministry 2000 years ago. It is not blasphemous to include and embrace the prayers and relationships and service of those outside society's gate. In fact, it's a blessing.