religious dispatch

4 Things the Lutheran Gay Vote Doesn’t Mean. And 5 Things It Does

ross-murray

Following August’s vote by ECLA to permit noncelibate Lutherans to become clergy, Queerty has brought you straight pastor Erik Samuelson’s perspective, and queer pastor Lura Green’s as well. Today we hear from Ross Murray, interim associate director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group that actively lobbied for inclusion of LGBTs in the Lutheran Church. Here, he shares what the vote did, and didn’t, mean.

I was raised as a life-long Lutheran. To be perfectly honest, I think that being Lutheran is just as much of my identity as being gay is. I grew up in Northern Minnesota, on the Canadian Border, and my small hometown was not known for its gay-friendliness. I didn’t dare come out until I was ready to move to Minneapolis. However my pastor was a major part of my coming out process. I came out to him long before coming out to others, He put up with a lot of angsty shit. He also pointed me in the direction of ministry, even knowing that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America policy would not allow it.

When I was in high school, my pastor was a voting member to a previous Churchwide Assembly. There was a brief debate about sexuality and changing the discriminatory policy of the ELCA. As he told me about the debate, he mentioned, “I think that the Church has come a long way, but I don’t think that policy change is going to happen in your lifetime.”

A note from Mr. Murray: Thanks to the editors for actively reaching out to get as many perspectives as possible on the recent actions of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I’m going to attempt to put these events into perspective. You have seen other reports and commentary on here, but I may be able to describe the week in terms of the strategic intentions of the people who were working toward full inclusion.

I became active in Lutherans Concerned/North America because of a small discriminatory experience I had with a Christian ministry not associated with the ELCA. I was on a traveling music ministry team and was kicked out after coming out to my teammates. I went home discouraged and found a lot of comfort in the Twin Cities chapter of LC/NA. My involvement in the Twin Cities chapter led to attending an assembly for all of LC/NA. I found the people to be warm and hospitable, like a large family. Since then, I’ve served on the Board of Directors, and eventually the staff of LC/NA.

So what is this LC/NA? It’s an organization committed to education and advocacy for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the Lutheran Church, its ecumenical and global partners. (Our membership includes people from the ELCA, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, and a host of other Lutheran and pseudo-Lutheran organizations.) LC/NA has been around since 1974, starting as a sanctuaried worship movement. LGBT people (mostly G at that time) would have worships in secret locations because they were too afraid to worship in a congregation. Sanctuary is still important to our organization, as there are still places and denominations that are not as safe for LGBT people.

LC/NA works toward making the whole Lutheran Church a more welcome place to LGBT people. This is where our work with the ELCA comes in. Formerly, the ELCA had a policy that called for its ministers to be either married or celibate. There was a particular line that read, “Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.” So a minister would be gay and single and technically still be allowed to serve, but if that minister was known to be partnered (or dating…or even suspected of wanting to date), then that minister could be removed from the roster of clergy serving. It was a system that removed a lot of good pastors, either through trial or through intimidation.