On Friday, we invited you to watch live as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America debated whether to permit non-celibate gays to become clergy. They ended up voting yes, in what one group will see as a sign of progress and inclusion, while another will see it as a slap in Jesus’ face.
Earlier this morning, a voting member of the ECLA posted a comment on Queerty sharing an anecdote from Friday’s convention floor.
It was about the anti-gay Pastor Ryan Mills, who spoke out against ECLA’s gay-inclusive resolution, and because he happened to star in this website’s screenshot of the proceedings, Mills became the “New Poster Boy for Hate Speech.” But as one married gay delegate told him, good might come of it. Read this.
I’m a voting member at the ELCA assembly who voted in favor of all the resolutions for blessing and ordaining LGBT people in committed relationships. I was was seated about 6 people away from Ryan on the assembly floor, though I don’t actually know him personally. I did not agree with pretty much anything of what he was saying from the floor, and there were several times when I was down right pissed off by him. In fact, I found it rather hard to talk to him. But I want to share a story that someone shared with me.
One of the other voting members is a Lutheran man who has been married to his husband for 20 years and with their children have found a loving home (along with other LGBT families) in an ELCA congregation. He had spoken passionately several times on the assembly floor about his family, about the pain he has experienced, and the rejection of the church of which he is still a part. This man is a regular reader of this blog, and he spotted this photos and comments as soon as they were posted. While I, a straight white male, had trouble talking to Ryan, this man did not. When he saw this photo, he quickly saw himself in his brother’s shoes. He went up to Ryan and let him know that he was the “New Poster Boy for Hate Speech” on queerty.com. “Have you ever gotten hate mail before?” he asked Ryan. With a shocked look on his face Ryan shook his head no. “Well, I have. And let me tell you, it sucks. But I will walk with you, and help you through it.”
The transforming power of Jesus speaks the truth when it is hard, and calls Christians to cross into unknown territory for the sake of love of the neighbor. One thing that I have learned from this experience is that we are all brothers and sisters, and all carry great pain. When we reach out from our suffering with love rather than hate–and can bear our brother or sister’s burden as if it were our own (even if that burden is homophobia) lives can be transformed, and old, old wounds begin to heal. It breaks my heart that we as the Church have failed to do this miserably (and in fact have done the opposite), especially for LGBT people, and that the conservative backlash is likely to make it even worse. But pay attention for quiet Christian voices (particularly Lutheran Christian voices) that are whispering words of reconcilation to one another.
What the ELCA has voted to do, at risk of its own institutional life, is to create an organization in which LGBT pastors and pastors like Ryan can be in one family. If there is room enough for Ryan, there is room enough for me, and room enough for you too. And if you think its strange that Christians would talk this way it is, but its what it means to follow Jesus. I’m glad we’ve made steps to reclaim what that is really supposed to look like.