Well, today is Reformation Day in the Lutheran Calendar — the other fun thing to observe besides Halloween festivities. On October 31, 1517 our intrepid and brash leader, Dr. Martin Luther touched off a firestorm in Europe by daring to challenge local church officials to debate him over the matter of selling indulgences. Using the church door as a bulletin board (the custom of the day), Luther posted 95 theses or points for debate.
Sounds like no big deal, except that to church authorities it was a sign of a major confrontation. And, with the printing press having been invented only a few years before, Luther’s ideas spread all over Europe almost instantly.
Fast forward to the 490th Anniversary of the Reformation. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is born, the love-child of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. These two pieces of the movement to open the Lutheran churches in the U.S. to the full participation of LGBT people–not only in the pews but in the pulpits–decided last February that they could be more effective if they combined their witness and resources.
So today ELM is born, by “virtually” nailing its theological statement to the door of the internet. How Luther-an can you get? (Go ahead: knock on the red door.)
News of this audacious step will travel all over the Lutheran church and be picked up by people who watch the continuing conflict between Christians and sexual minorities. How it plays out is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, of course (Acts 5:38–39).
Cynics may take this as a step toward breaking with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, after it’s churchwide assembly failed last August to revise or liberalize its anti-gay personnel policies. The compromise measure which passed that Assembly was to urge synods and bishops to refrain or at least restrain their discipline against congregations which choose to knowingly call (hire) a non-celibate gay or lesbian pastor, or act to official ordain them.
But Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is not a separatist movement like that racking the Episcopal Church and the world-wide Anglican communion. ELM is a consolidation of ongoing efforts not to break from the church but to be the church by raising funds to do real ministry, and calling qualified and committed individuals to carry out specific ministries.
If anything, it will be the homophobic, right-wing ultra-conservatives who will attempt to pick up their marbles and leave the game, but not the LGBT Lutherans. This is not because we, or “the liberals” have taken over the ELCA. Far from it, as the August Assembly votes clearly reveal. No, the LGBT Lutherans are “staying put” within the larger church for very clear reasons.
Being ultra-conservative is, after all, a matter of choice. Being homophobic is under one’s willful control. One chooses to fear and hate gay and lesbian people. One chooses to read scripture in a rejective, punitive way, rather than in a reconciling, healing and compassionate way. But for millions of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, one’s sexuality is not a choice. It’s a given. It is discerned over time, discovered and wrestled with until each person learns self-esteem, and makes peace with the emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions of his or her God-given personhood. The reason that LGBT people are “staying put” in this churchbody is that we are most often born into it, grow up in its graceful embrace, are nurtured by its proclamation of Gospel not laced with shame or hatred, and respond to the invitation of Christ to lay down our heavy burdens (Matthew 11:28–30).
Many conservatives at the Chicago ELCA Assembly hoped that, if discipline is being refrained from or restrained during this period of discernment (the ELCA’s Social Statement on human Sexuality is due out in less than 2 years), the “liberal” wing of the church would also refrain from calling and ordaining more LGBT candidates to ministry. This is the same issue which the ultra-conservatives in the Anglican communion (led by African fundamentalist power-brokers such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria) have tried to force on the Episcopal Church in the U.S.: don’t consecrate any more gay bishops!! Or else!!
We await the response of the ELCA and other Lutheran church bodies in the U.S. and around the world about the birth of ELM. There might be some “or else” conditions, but they cannot fall upon ELM itself or those of us who are on its professional Roster as pastors and candidates for ministry. The immediate reason is that the big bad churchbody had already kicked out many of the pastors who are rostered with ELM, or foreclosed ordination for seminarians who came out as lesbian/gay, bisexual or transgender.
But the bigger reason is grounded in the Word. Martin Luther and his movement defended themselves before the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 by staying grounded in the Word.
And Peter and John defended the brash actions which they and Jesus’ other disciples were taking by laying it out just as clear to their critics: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to bey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20)