Sunday, June 07, 2009

That Wishy-washy Love Thing

Sunday, June 7, 2009. Lindsborg, KS. Central States Synod Assembly--Day Four.

This would be a very long blog entry if I tried to capture all of this Synod Assembly in a single article. So I'll try a few impressions first, with a promise to write more later. Right now I'm actually still sitting in a session, so just impressions for now.

First, the Synod Assembly is a yearly gathering of ELCA members, rostered leaders (clergy, Parish Ministry Associates, Associates in Ministry, etc.), synod staff, and churchwide leaders. The Central States Synod is comprised of all of the congregations and associations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America located in Kansas and Missouri. The Synod Assembly is the highest legislative body in our synod.

We've all been in Lindsborg, Kansas ("Little Sweden!") since Thursday afternoon. There's been lots of business, but really we've been focused on sex. Again. Not sex, really, but human sexuality. Not human sexuality, really, but homosexuality. And not homosexuality, really, but the burning question before our denomination: Will we let gay and lesbian persons who admit that they are not practicing celibacy to be pastors in our church?

We're also talking about the blessing of same-sex unions, but that issue doesn't seem to have the heat around it. Not sure yet what to make of that. It seems like the two are connected, actually...

We had conversation--a one hour "Committee of the Whole," more about this later--about a Statement on Human Sexuality which will be affirmed (we hope) by vote at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis in August. We voted to memorialize (this is church speak for "ask") the Churchwide Assembly to affirm the Statement. That vote passed by one vote more than a two-thirds majority. A good mandate, I think.

We had conversation--another one hour Committee of the Whole--about the Recommendations of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality. I'll say more about the conversation in a later entry. After lunch, we voted on memorials to churchwide affirming the recommendations, which would allow for the recognition of persons in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships," the rostering of such persons, and a commitment to "honor the bound conscience" of persons who disagree across our church.


Some quick thoughts:

Tone of the Assembly: Anxious but respectful. There were few nasty remarks made at the microphone, and the only time the listeners reacted to what was being said was when a guy started in with Sodom and Gomorrah, which he informed us is "about homosexuality." About a hundred people said "no" at the same time, which is an interesting sound. Then the chair told us to settle down.

Number of hugs, high fives, winks, pats on the back, fist bumps and collegial arms-around-the-shoulder I received: I have no idea. I lost count somewhere after a hundred. Apparently people want this change to happen, realize that I will be a big beneficiary of the change, and are okay with that.

Final proof that conservatives just don't get Jesus: The most fascinating line of the whole Assembly was uttered at a red microphone during the discussion of the ministry recommendations on Day Three. The gentleman, having waxed irritated for a minute or so about how he didn't understand why we're even doing this, said, "I've looked at the [Sexuality Statement], and as far as I can tell, it seems to be based on some kind of wishy-washy love thing.

Yes, we mustn't be making decisions based on some ethic of love. Egads.

6 comments:

Ruth Ellen said...

*glad*

Elizabeth Sweeny said...

the burning question before our denomination: Will we let gay and lesbian persons who admit that they are not practicing celibacy to be pastors in our church?

We're also talking about the blessing of same-sex unions, but that issue doesn't seem to have the heat around it. Not sure yet what to make of that. It seems like the two are connected, actually...


It makes intuitive sense to me that the non-celibate queer ordinands issue might generate more heat than the same-sex marriage issue (though yes of course they are both deeply connected to the issue of "What does the church believe God's Will for human expressions of sexuality is?"). I know the United Methodist Church requires ordinands to Affirm the Book of Discipline's "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" (though I don't know if the ELCA has something comparable) so explicitly stating that certain non-married folk can be non-celibate and ordained is really threatening to the established Church's sexual ethic at a really big level.

The gentleman, having waxed irritated for a minute or so about how he didn't understand why we're even doing this, said, "I've looked at the [Sexuality Statement], and as far as I can tell, it seems to be based on some kind of wishy-washy love thing.

Yes, we mustn't be making decisions based on some ethic of love. Egads.


Did he maybe mean a wishy-washy version of love? A wishy-washy thing masquerading as love? I feel like what he was probably trying to get at was a recurrent complaint that liberals just say, "Oh, everyone can do whatever they want," and liberal Christians claim that they're acting out of love but conservatives would counter-argue that when you love someone you want them to stop doing things that hurt themselves. (And yes, you and I both agree that queer people are not hurting themselves simply by virtue of being actively queer -- though obviously all people are capable of being sexual and being relational in ways that are destructive to themselves and/or to others -- but if conservatives genuinely believe that this is not God's Will for human sexuality, then of course they would see it as something that Love would demand people turn away from so that they can turn more fully toward God ... just like you could love someone who's an addict but that love would compel you to try to get that person into rehab rather than compelling you to encourage -- or even "tolerate" -- them to continue being an addict.)

-Elizabeth (Ruth Ellen's best friend)

Ruth Ellen said...

Elizabeth:

I know the United Methodist Church requires ordinands to Affirm the Book of Discipline's "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" (though I don't know if the ELCA has something comparable) so explicitly stating that certain non-married folk can be non-celibate and ordained is really threatening to the established Church's sexual ethic at a really big level.

Yes, we do. From the Visions and Expectations (and whence the problem):

Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.

The way the Task Force's recommendations are structured, the ELCA would create a way to recognize same-sex relationships (blessings/unions/marriage) before considering ordaining people who are in those relationships, because of that very thing.

Maybe what's going on is that people don't see blessings or unions or what have you as really marriage, and they see that there are people in long-term committed same sex relationships and are okay with recognizing those -- so long as we don't call them marriages or think of them as being the moral equivalent of marriage -- but want to hold ministers to a higher standard. (Which is not, in principle, an inappropriate thing to do, and you know, the Visions and Expectations are good things, and ELM rostered pastors are expected to abide by all of them except the obvious. It's just that this particular definition of "higher standard" is not one that I am okay with.)

Carole said...

Hi! First let me say that I'm so happy to have found your blog!! I'm an ELCA member currently living in Las Vegas and had the privelge to attend the Grand Canyon Synod Assembly a couple of weeks ago. We also voted to affirm memorials asking churchwide to approve the human sexuality statement and to allow same sex clergy to practice fully alongside heterosexual clergy.

Not long after the assembly my husband received word that he had matched with an assignment at Ft. Leavenworth (he's an Air Force pilot). No offense to Kansas, but we're not super thrilled and would really rather stay here in Las Vegas. We're hoping for a miracle that will allow us to stay and finish his career here where there's racial diversity galore and LBGT people and families that commune along side our much too common family.

Anyway, I was looking at churches in the area and lamenting to a friend that I feared we wouldn't find any LBGT families in Kansas. The very next click brought me to your bio. Woohoo!

So, thank you for giving me a little hope that if we end up in that area that we may find the diversity that we're looking for. I'm truly enjoying reading your posts and will continue to follow your blog.

God bless!!

Donna said...

Welcome, Carole! Do look us up at Abiding Peace when you come to town. We actually have another family that comes in from the Leavenworth area. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the diversity that can be found in KC, and in Lawrence, which isn't far to the west of where you'll be. We've got a ways to go, and we're working on it. But this is a great place to be, and there are some terrific folks and community groups here.

Donna said...

Elizabeth,

First, thanks for commenting. Your comments are excellent.

What is frustrating for me about the church putting the ordination cart before the marriage horse is that it makes for a tautological argument. "You can't be ordained because you can't be married. And you can't be married because we say you can't."

In 2001, I was a witness at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly which mandated the Sexuality Study and Task Force. In the middle of the assembly, I got a call from a friend who was volunteering with the Youth Convocation, happening concurrently with the Assembly. The youth wanted to talk about ELCA policy re. sexuality, so they invited a couple of gay pastors and the director of the Division for Ministry to come and talk to them.

The Division head spoke and reitterated the church's policy, which was that only persons having sex within the bounds of holy matrimony could be ordained. We spoke and talked about why we wanted that policy changed. When time for questions came, a young woman of about 15 raised her hand and this exhange ensued:

Young Woman: "So they can't be ordained because they can't get married?"

ELCA Guy: "Yes."

Young Woman: "And who is telling them that they shouldn't be able to get married?"

ELCA Guy, with a moment of hesitation: "We are."

Young Woman: "So you tell them they can't get married, and then you tell them that they can't get ordained because they can't get married?"

ELCA Guy, after an even longer hesitation: "Yes."

There was a laugh, then, but the point was made. This is all wrapped up in the inequality afforded to same gender relationships. In the eight years since that Assembly, the nation has begun to move toward equity in marriage, and I think that accounts for the fact that conservatives are beginning to concede. When we have equal marriage, we'll have parity in ordination standards.

So it would be better if we would answer the marriage question first, but we're going to do it backward. I suppose it also has to do with the fact that ordination is solely a church rite, whereas marriage is still a sort of hybrid church/state event.