religious dispatch

This Straight Lutheran Pastor Is Reaching Out to His Anti-Gay Peers. Will You?

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[Ed: Erik Samuelson is a Lutheran pastor who previously shared his experiences with Queerty from the ELCA conference last week, where the church voted to accept clergy in same-gender relationships. Here, he gives us an insider’s view of what the vote means to the millions of Lutherans across America — and, most interestingly, how the vote suddenly made anti-gay clergy the “queer” ones.]

Well, I must say this is a first for me—writing a guest editorial for a queer website—but I’m guessing that it is the first time an ordained Lutheran pastor has been invited to write for this website so we’re all in uncharted territory. And I’ve read a bit of how religion (especially Christianity) gets spoken of on this site, so I suppose I’m opening myself up for a shit-storm of comments and emails—and many of them I’m sure based on horrible personal experiences you all have had, which I get. And for what its worth, I’m sorry that we Christians have allowed this unchecked hate to go on for so long and have been such hypocrites. I don’t intend to defend my faith, the Bible, or my church, or to try to convince you that you should believe what I believe or do what I do. But these things are important to me, and so I’m glad to tell you about them. Do with it what you will.

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First, a little explanation of why I’m here: I just returned from the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) where I was one of 1045 voting members who passed a teaching document we call a “social statement” called “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” that (among many other things) makes room for the blessing of “publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships” as well as policy changes to allow congregations that wish to do so to bless those relationships. Once this was approved it opened the door to a vote that would allow people in same-gender relationships to be ordained and serve as pastors (previously gay and lesbian pastors—like all unmarried pastors—were supposed to remain celibate). That one passed too. We also did some other stuff like commit to raise $10 million over 3 years for work on HIV and AIDS, create the Lutheran Malaria Initiative to end malaria in Africa, authorize development of a social statement on justice for women, recommit to advocacy work in Israel and Palestine, affirm our commitment to Lutheran Disaster Response, and issue calls for action and advocacy in the US government on health care and immigration reform. Dunno why that other stuff never seems to make the news.

(Pictured, above: Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson at an ELCA news conference last week.)

It’s easier to hate people when you don’t have to look across the table and say “pass the salt” to them. But the witness of the Gospel of Jesus (when we are getting it right) is that everyone means everyone, all are welcome at the table—and that means anti-gay folks as much as gay folks, as hard as that may be.

During the assembly I commented on one of the posts on Queerty which got turned into another post both of which told the story another voting member relayed to me. (Apparently a stereotypical “magical homo” tale, according to one commenter. The “homo” in question did pay for my beer the night before, so he was a bit magical to me, but the story is true.). The reason I added my comments is not to put forward some sort of “See, gay people can be nice too!” or “If gay people just became Christian everything would be OK” kind of message, but because by his action I was put in my place and challenged to see the world differently. I thought here, of all places, you would want to hear the story of someone reaching out to someone very different from them in an act of self-giving love. To see someone who has put up with a lifetime of discrimination and hardship reach out to someone who is the object of ridicule and a bit of hate speech (from you all) with love and empathy rather than more of the same was pretty impressive. Shocking actually. More than I did at the time.

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A bit about me. I’m a 31 year old Lutheran pastor, serving a small congregation in Eastern Washington. (That’s me in the picture, on the right, waiting to speak at the ELCA conference.)

I was ordained 3 years ago after a 9 year adventure in higher education that resulted in a B.A. in Religion and Classics, a Masters of Divinity, and an M.A. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology with an emphasis in Lutheran Confessional Theology. All of which is a long and expensive way to say I’m a big nerd. I grew up in the Lutheran church in the Pacific Northwest; my father and his father were Lutheran pastors (as was my great-great grandfather). I’m married to an amazing woman and we have two fantastic children (though right this moment they are being a bit obnoxious). I’ve recently started tweeting and blogging at pubpastor.com. I brew my own beer.

The reason I love being Lutheran is the emphasis we Lutheran Christians place on God’s grace. We are all broken, Lutheran theology asserts, and can’t fix ourselves. But God gives us grace—this outpouring of love and reconciliation that leads us into wholeness, and God gives us grace especially when we don’t deserve it. God loves us not because we are lovable, but precisely because we are not. God loves us into wholeness so that we can love other people into wholeness The truth, however, (as many of you have experienced) is that we are better at claiming this on paper than we are actually living it in real life. But I think what happened at the assembly this past week is a step in the right direction.