Monthly Archives: June 2010

Stonewall: Forty-one years and counting

This is essentially a reprint of my Stonewall post from a year ago.  The response to the police raid on Stonewall, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, June 28, 1969 marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. For many, progress toward full equality and inclusion of LGBT folks seems slow; yet, for one like me who thinks like a historian, the progress since 1969 has been remarkable, and the same is true for the advances since this post first appeared.

In the last year, two major, mainline protestant denominations took significant steps toward full inclusion of LGBT folk.  Following the encouragement of Integrity (an Episcopal LGBT advocacy group), the Episcopalians now offer “all the sacraments to all the baptized”.  In practical effect, this means that the episcopate is fully open to gays and lesbians, and the year saw the election and confirmation of suffragan bishop Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, to the diocese of Los Angeles.  My own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) committed itself to recognize and affirm publicly accountable, monogamous, life-long same gender relationships and to allow persons in such relationships to be fully rostered as ordained clergy.  There were also advances in Judaism, which already boasted an enviable record of inclusivity.

2009 & 2010 saw advances in LGBT legal and political rights: gay marriage became the law of Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C.;  partners of gay federal employees received expanded benefits; and the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” appears to be in its last days.  What will the next year bring?

The following is my post from a year ago under the heading “June 28, 1969: Where were you?”

Many of you probably weren’t born, so I guess this is a question for the baby boomers, like me. But, I encourage the young’uns to read along, anyway, to get a better understanding of who and where we are this Sunday, the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall.

Here’s my answer. I had just turned 21 and had just finished my army infantry training in the heat and amongst the snakes and spiders of Fort Polk, Louisiana, “Fort Puke, the arm pit of America,” we called it. Pilfered from

“If’n one of them coral snakes bites ya, here’s the proper military procedure,” droned the drill sergeant. “Spread yer legs to a comfortable military stance, put yer hands on yer knees, bend down at the waist as far as you kin, and kiss yer sweet ass goodbye.”

A few weeks earlier, over Memorial Day weekend, our battalion received back to back three day passes, a rare treat toward the end of our training. We were all headed to Viet Nam to become “grunts”, anyway, might as well allow us a good time. My new girlfriend of less than six months drove down from Minnesota — along with my parents, brother Mike, and his girlfriend — and we all camped out at Aunt Carol’s place in nearby Lake Charles. In front of a sultry red sun of dusk, under the bearded Spanish moss that hung from the live oaks that leaned over a dusty country lane, I had proposed, but the girlfriend had turned me down.

But now, three weeks later, I was back in Minnesota on a 30 day leave before departing for my one year tour of duty as an infantryman in Viet Nam, and the girlfriend had finally consented under my relentless urgings, and she allowed me to purchase an engagement ring. I needed that lifeline, that sense of commitment and belonging, that sense that there was a future beyond the jungles of Southeast Asia, and her assent to one day becoming my bride gave me that grounding. Lynn still wears that ring, today. I didn’t know then what a privilege it was to ask the one I loved to be for me; to hold my hand and keep my heart close; to send and receive trite, and silly, and melancholy missives; and to wait and to be there when I returned.

Bobby Dylan was singing and saying that the times were a’changing, but it wasn’t clear in what direction. Tricky Dick was in the White House. Dion was lamenting the losses of Abraham, Martin, and John: “but it seems the good, they die young,” and in my narcissism I knew the song was about me. I wasn’t much concerned about what was going on in Greenwich Village, NYC.

If there were any gay people in my life then, I didn’t know it. Oh, there was elderly Emil, a hapless figure who would buy the small town boys cigarettes, but we all knew not to go behind any buildings with him. Maybe some did, I don’t know. I suppose somebody had to be the source of the giggling about the comic old man. In hindsight, I know that an older cousin later died in alcoholic squalor, never fully able to come to grips with who he was, and I have a younger cousin who thrives in a long term relationship with Robert. Perhaps there is symbolism in the differences between the older and the younger. In a reunion with my younger cousin a few years ago, he laughingly recounted how he loved to come and spend time with us in Minnesota and with dear old Grandma Olga because she allowed him to dress up in girl’s clothes.

Queers were deviates, so said the medical and psychological establishment. Fags were outlaws and security risks, so said the FBI, State Department, US Postal Service, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. Homosexuals were sinners who had chosen the wrong path and needed repentance, so said the word from Christian pulpits. And these others, whoever they were, were mostly invisible:

a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else. Wikipedia, the Stonewall riots.

Stonewall Inn When the eight police officers knocked on the Stonewall door at 1:20 a.m., June 28, 1969, and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!”, they didn’t know they were about to make history, any more than the bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger 14 years earlier. Spurred by the successes of the civil rights movement, the bra burning feminists, and the college students protesting the war, the response of the gay community of Greenwich Village to the routine police raid on the Stonewell Bar of Christopher Street, said Dylan was right, the times were a’changin’.

We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration…. Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

Michael Fader quoted in the same Wikipedia article.

Will the occasion be noted from any pulpits this Sunday? Some, I hope, but only a few, I fear. Probably not in my own church, even though I know my pastor is willing, but the congregation isn’t ready. Not yet. But, someday, and sooner than you think. It’s blowin’ in the wind.

Minnesota Progressive Catholics

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Australian born Michael Bayly is a leading spokesman for the local (Minnesota) gay Christian community.  He serves as the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice, and co-chair of the Minnesota-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).  Earlier this year when an international group of progressive Catholic bloggers decided to collaborate on a new blog called Open Tabernacle, a pair of Minnesotans, Michael and I, were invited to participate.

From the CCCR website:

We are the Church. In our understanding of Church, all the baptized are one big community of smaller communities, we are all equal, we all participate in different ministries (lay, clergy, bishop), we communicate with one another, and we share a vision and a self-critique. The five words we have been using to summarize this model of Church are community, equality, participation, dialogue, and prophecy. It is a model arising out of Vatican II and seems to us most in line with the Gospel message. It has been promulgated by the Asian bishops and it also fits well with the positive values of our U.S. culture.

Dignity Twin Cities

Formed in 1969, the same year that the gay rights movement was born in the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village, Dignity USA continues as the leading LGBT advocacy group within American Roman Catholicism.  Here is their vision statement:

DignityUSA envisions and works for a time when Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics are affirmed and experience dignity through the integration of their spirituality with their sexuality, and as beloved persons of God participate fully in all aspects of life within the Church and Society.

A local chapter, Dignity Twin Cities, was formed in 1974.  Initially accepted by the local Catholic hierarchy, the organization was eventually booted out of Catholic property and now holds its liturgies and meetings at Prospect Park United Methodist Church.  The Rainbow Sash movement is associated with Dignity.  The current president of Dignity Twin Cities is Brian McNeill.


The Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement is small but energized, and I have blogged previously about the women who challenge the patriarchal Catholic hierarchy at the cost of excommunication (here and here). 

Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on May 29, 2008 stating that the women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated latae sententiae.” Roman Catholic Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit’s call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women. Our movement is receiving enthusiastic responses on the local, national and international level.  We will continue to serve our beloved church in a renewed priestly ministry that welcomes all to celebrate the sacraments in inclusive, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered communities wherever we are called.

Bishop Regina Nicolosi Bishop Regina Nicolosi of Red Wing, Minnesota is a leader of the national Womenpriest movement.

Regina Nicolosi, MA, was born in a small town on the Rhine River. She was a teacher in Germany. 1969 she came to the USA to marry the love of her life, Charles, a radiologist and deacon. Together they raised four children, one of them from Colombia and one from Korea. Regina participated fully in Charles’ preparation to the diaconate. She earned her Masters Degree in Pastoral Studies. Regina has worked as a housing manager for seniors, as a chaplain in a correctional facility for boys, in a drug and alcohol recovery unit and in a nursing home. She is retired now. She helps prepare women for ordination and celebrates Eucharist with Dignity and other small faith-communities.

On Thursday, June 24th, I met Michael, Brian, Bishop Regina and other leaders of the progressive Catholic movement in Minnesota at a gay pride mass held in south Minneapolis. Following the liturgy, I was honored to be the guest speaker at this gathering of committed, Catholic, Christians.  Michael’s personal blog reports on the events of the evening in his post entitled LGBT Catholics Celebrate Being “Wonderfully Made”.  Click on the link to Michael’s blog for many pictures and Michael’s excellent reporting of this pride mass foursome

From left to right: Art Stroebl (event coordinator), Obie Holmen, Brian McNeill, Michael Bayly.

WordAlone exercises the nuclear option

nuclear explosionWas it something we said?

In a posting on the WordAlone website dated June 23rd, WordAlone vice president Tom Walker announced an “irrevocable change of direction”—suggesting, of course, that it was the ELCA that has shifted course.  Remember the infamous line “we aren’t leaving the ELCA.  The ELCA is the one leaving us.”  Well, label it what you will, but Walker, on behalf of WordAlone, announces that they are leaving the ELCA, once and for all.

Walker claims that WordAlone has been the “loyal opposition” for more than a decade.  Wrong.  Disloyal agitators is a better description, and now all pretense is gone.  Walker writes:

For over a decade, WordAlone has assumed the role of the loyal opposition in relationship to the ELCA. We clearly voiced opposition to prevailing trends, but always with the intention of getting the ELCA back on a faithful track with a future.

Here’s my interpretation of Walker’s comment. 

We kept running our candidates and proposing our resolutions, but we kept losing.  Failing to take over the ELCA, we finally realize that if we want to be in control, we must start our own church.

Just as WordAlone President Jaynan Clark earlier warned ELCA presiding Bishop Mark Hanson that his mortal soul was in danger, Vice President Walker now expands that message to the rest of us … “disassociate with the ELCA,” he warns “for the sake of [your] spiritual well being and particularly for the spiritual well being of their children and grandchildren.”

Go straight to hell.  Don’t pass go.  Is there no end to their narcissistic self-righteousness?

Clark’s earlier meltdown focused on the ELCA presiding bishop.  Walker indicts the rest of us.  Our sixty-five synodical bishops are “weak-kneed”.  The voting members to the momentous CWA09 “rejected Biblical authority.”  And the broad rejection of WordAlone and fellow travelers can only be attributed to “the pervasive apathy of the membership at large”.  Or, maybe we’re doing mission: teaching Sunday school, quilting, singing in the choir, or one of the thousands of ways the healthy congregations of the ELCA keep on keepin’ on.  Failing to jump when WordAlone says “jump” is not a sign of weakness but of the strength of the thousands of ELCA congregations that aren’t cowed by the WordAlone propaganda.

See ya’.

What did Paul the Apostle look like? UPDATED

Paul watercolor Last year an ancient watercolor of Paul was discovered in Rome, and last week it was announced that laser cleaning of the same 4th century catacomb revealed ancient icons of other disciples.  Peter iconOn the left is the watercolor of Paul and on the right is the icon of Peter.

These discoveries raise the question, what did the apostle Paul look like? The answer, of course, is that we don’t know.  Neither his own writings nor the Acts of the Apostles, the two canonical sources of information about the apostle to the Gentiles, contain any physical description.  The first known description comes from a work of popular fiction dated to the end of the 2nd century entitled The Acts of Paul and Thecla.  Although this work is obviously fictional and the description purely speculative, its influence persists.  This is how Paul is described by the unknown author:

he was a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long, and he was full of grace and mercy; at one time he seemed like a man, and at another time he seemed like an angel.

Walt Wangerin in his work Paul, a novel picks up on this ancient description:

Here was a small man sitting cross legged … his head a monument for hugeness … eyebrows thick and dark and joined in the middle; his nose both narrow and hooked; his eyes red-rimmed in that tremendous skull; a swift mouth, moist red lips … an orange worm of a scar at the hairline.

For my part in A Wretched Man, I deliberately shied away from the traditional image of the bow legged tiny man.  Instead, I made him tall and gangly but the pointy nose remained, all the better to tug on for inspiration.  With legs too long and a beak nose, his young friends teased him with the nickname “Stork” at the outset of the novel.

Rembrandt Apostle Paul When it came time for the publisher to design the cover for A Wretched Man, we quickly narrowed our focus to a pair of Renaissance portraits.  I liked Rembrandt’s Apostle Paul because it seemed to capture the angst of the man, and it fit the novel’s title.  But, since the novel had already been written, and the long nose oft described, there was something about the man’s impudent, elongated nose—prying and eager to poke into matters that were not his concern (from the point of view of Paul’s nemesis, Ya’akov), we chose instead the portrait of Paul by another artist of the Renaissance, the Spaniard who went by the name of “The Greek”—El Greco.el_greco_st_paul

The artist in each portrait painted pages or notes to signify Paul the writer of letters—an anachronism since Paul would have written his letters on papyrus scrolls rather than individual pages, but the Renaissance artists failed to note that historical detail.  Obtaining the rights to use El Greco’s portrait of Paul was quite simple and not expensive.  Turns out there is a New York brokerage that handles such issues simply and online.

UPDATE: July 5, 2011

Another ancient Fresco of Paul has been discovered in Naples, dating to the sixth century.

A photograph released by the Vatican shows the apostle … with a long neck, a slightly pink complexion, thinning hair, a beard and big eyes that give his face a “spiritual air.”

Of human bondage

What motivates us as human beings?  Why do we do what we do?

I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 

Of human bondageThese words of Paul the apostle from the 7th chapter of his letter to the Romans serve as the epigraph to my novel and the source of the title, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle.  As these verses from Paul suggest, we have long wrestled with the problem of the human will.  The wonderings of philosophers such as Schopenhauer & Nietzsche; psychoanalysts such as Freud & Jung; and literary figures such as Somerset Maugham & Thomas Mann suggest it’s complicated and self-awareness is difficult.

What about homophobia?  What is the source of this phenomenon?  Let’s start with a definition–this one is Merriam-Webster’s online version:

irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals

and Wikipedia’s description:

Homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and people identified or perceived as being homosexual. Definitions refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-heterosexual orientation. In a 1998 address, author, activist, and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King stated that “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”

Let’s take it a step further; what is “internalized homophobia”?  Here’s the opening paragraph from a UC-Davis Psychology Department study:

Among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, internalized sexual stigma (also called internalized homophobia) refers to the personal acceptance and endorsement of sexual stigma as part of the individual’s value system and self-concept. It is the counterpart to sexual prejudice among heterosexuals.

In other words, it is gay folks accepting negative societal, cultural, or religious stigma and applying such negative values toward oneself.  Self-condemnation.  Self-doubt and low self esteem en extremis.  It doesn’t take deep psychological insight to recognize that internalized homophobia is not healthy.  High incidence of suicide.  Drug and alcohol abuse.  Inability to have meaningful relationships. 

And sometimes, the internalized homophobia results in outrageous behavior toward other gays.  An extreme example is Andrew Cunanan, the murderer of Gianni Versace; political examples include US Senator Larry Craig & California State Senator Ray Ashburn; and religious examples include Ted Haggard, “rentboy” William Rekers, and now Minnesota pastor and outspoken opponent of the ELCA gay friendly policies, Pastor Tom Brock of Hope Lutheran Church of Minneapolis (Hope Church is not ELCA but AFLC—Association of Free Lutheran Churches–a small and conservative Lutheran denomination). 

The “outing” of Pastor Brock was a journalistic abomination for which there is no excuse, and the offending magazine has received appropriate condemnation.  Yet, the exposure of Pastor Brock raises the question of other outspoken anti-gay religious leaders.  Let me be perfectly clear, I make no suggestion that this is the sole or even the primary motivation for those religious leaders in various denominations that oppose gay inclusive policies.  Yet, one wonders whether Pastor Brock is merely an isolated and atypical example or merely the tip of the iceberg.  What is it about human sexuality that makes some squirm?  How often does sexual angst undergird homophobia?

Whatever the motivation, religious leaders who bash gay folks over the head with their Bibles need to seriously question themselves—are they really offering a solution to gay suicide, gay drug and alcohol abuse, and gay casual relationships or are they part of the problem?  Are they advancing the kingdom of God or stalling it?  Are they truly seeking God’s will or merely proof texting the Bible to justify their own biases, prejudices and even their own homophobia? 

Don’t, please don’t, respond with the horrific notion that you hate the sin but love the sinner,  at worst a self-justifying excuse for murky motivations behind hurtful behavior and at best a misunderstanding of the reality of self-loathing that may be triggured by such seemingly benign comments.

WordAlone drama queen rants

Jaynan Clark is the president of the WordAlone Ministries, and she has gone ballistic in an email to ELCA presiding bishop Mark Hanson, which she has made public.  The acerbic email is not an attempt at reasoned dialogue; instead, it is a personal attack on the ELCA leader.  Clark, who famously fell to her knees during her keynote sermon to the WordAlone annual convention to beg forgiveness for not doing enough to resist the ELCA, accused Hanson and the 65 synod bishops of strong armed tactics, and her sanctimony soared when she threatened Hanson with end times judgment:

I wonder if you will enjoy as much the final ‘stage’ at the end of time when you face your Lord.

After criticizing Hanson for issuing a statement about the Israeli shooting of ten volunteers aboard a blockaded ship, Clark then blasted Hanson’s recent meeting with African Lutheran leaders in which he attempted to calm their concerns over CWA09.  Clark warned the bishop to stop messing with the Africans’ demons, suggesting that for the Africans (and, presumably for herself):

demons Demon possession is a reality that no one tries to dismiss as impossible, pre-enlightened thought or mental illness. Spiritual warfare is real and engaged in appropriately by preaching, teaching and confessing Jesus as Lord over life and death, this world and the next, Crucified and Risen. [The Africans] don’t mess with the truth. We now are the ones sorely in need of such missionaries and evangelists in this emerging pagan land.

Brimming with false modesty, Clark insisted her rant was not about herself …

who am I to protest? … I am just a country pastor … [leader of] a lowly group of Christian, Lutheran confessors … I am nothing. I am no one. I have been treated as such by you and yours. How dare I question you and your ways? Who am I to question your judgment, your leadership? You have power. You have position. You have international voice and exposure. I have none of those and for that I thank God, literally, because they would perhaps tempt me to believe that any of this was about “me” or my importance or my personal opinions.

but, she quickly revealed her self-righteous arrogance:

A word of caution: don’t continue to make the mistake of underestimating what and whom it is you oppose with your words and deeds. It is not me. It is not WordAlone or LCMC or LCORE. You are at odds with the only “Head” and “Shepherd” the true Christian Church has ever had.

In an ironic twist of unintended self-condemnation directed at Hanson but apropos of her own schismatic organization that foments internal strife and disunion:

the ELCA has become embroiled in the worst internal conflict in its history. Congregations and members have become like sheep without a shepherd, scattered and led astray. That is not the work of the Good Shepherd but of His temporal adversary, the Wolf in sheep’s clothing and his hirelings.

Can I hear an amen, sister?

I am mindful of the lesson taught by my legal mentor during a trial many years ago when our opponent destroyed his own case with an angry, ranting, convoluted final argument.  When I leaned over and asked my mentor why he didn’t object to the falsehoods and innuendo offered by the other attorney, my boss just smiled and whispered “he’s making a much better argument for our case than I possibly could.” 

In the spirit of hoist on her own petard, I invite you to read Clark’s WordAlone tirade in its bombastic entirety.

Author appearances and advocacy

Regular followers of this blog know that I haven’t posted much lately, and that’s because I have been on the road promoting my novel, A Wretched Man.  Most recently, I spent four days with the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodists (UMC) in La Crosse.  I managed to sell a goodly number of books and network with numerous congregations and organizations that may use my book for an adult forum or book club discussion.  The study guide that I prepared as a pdf document proved to be quite popular.

The trip to La Crosse had an unintended benefit: my exhibitor’s booth was placed next to Kairos CoMotion, an LGBT advocacy group within the Wisconsin UMC, and I had plenty of time to visit with Jim and Steve, a gay couple who have been together for many years and who were married in Toronto four years ago.  Steve has long been an LGBT leader and spokesman  within the Wisconsin UMC following his rejection for admission to a UMC seminary because he was gay.  At the conclusion of the convention, I accompanied Jim and Steve to a meeting and communion service for the Kairos CoMotion supporters.  I hope to post more about this group and the status of LGBT issues within the Wisconsin UMC later.

Switching from past book-related appearances to future ones, I note that in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, I was lumped together with a couple of heavy hitters of progressive Catholicism under the header “Controversial Roman Catholic speakers are coming to Twin Cities.”

First on the scene is author Obie Holmen, who will be reading from his new book, “A Wretched Man,” Thursday at the House of the Beloved Disciple, 4001 38th Av. S., Minneapolis. The reading will be preceded by a 7 p.m. “mass of celebration for our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

I must smile at the article headline since I am not Roman Catholic nor do I think my support for the majority position of the ELCA on this blog qualifies me as “controversial”.  But any press is good press, as they say, and to be linked with luminaries of Roman Catholic progressive thought such as British theologian James Alison and feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether is flattering.

Early in July, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will hold its national, General Assembly in Minneapolis.  Cokesbury functions as the official booksellers for the Presbyterians, and their bookstore will offer my book for sale during the weeklong Presbyterian assembly that promises up to 8,000 attendees.  On Monday, July 5th,  at 2:30 pm, I will be present in the Cokesbury bookstore at the assembly to autograph copies of the novel.

let justice roll Finally, Lutherans Concerned North America (the ELCA gay advocacy group) will hold its biennial convention in Minneapolis beginning July 7th.  The theme of the gathering will be Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters.  On Saturday morning, July 10th at 8:30 am, I will present a workshop entitled “Paul the Apostle–History’s Greatest Homophobe?”  The LCNA convention will close with a celebration dinner back at the Minneapolis Convention Center (after the PCUSA clears out) to remember and relive the historic vote in that venue last August.

On the evening of Saturday, July 10, we are having a night on the town! We will head over to downtown Minneapolis to revisit the historic place where the ELCA voted for full-participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It’s appropriate to revisit the site. Many people said that celebration felt “stuck in their throats”. We hope that we will be able to clear our throats and cheer with joy. It will be an evening of reconciliation, celebration, and defining our path moving forward.

Busy.  Busy.  Busy.  But also extremely rewarding.  Hope to see you along the way.

June numbers of ELCA congregational defections

Lutheran CORE prepares for its August Convocation when it will birth a new denomination called the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  The WordAlone Network has become WordAlone Ministries and has revised its strategy away from influencing the ELCA toward supporting dissidents, but with an apparent tilt toward CORE and its progeny, prompting a Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) supporter to whine, “I thought that Word Alone was going to be supporting both LCMC and NALC.”  Meanwhile, the LCMC eagerly welcomes the vast majority of defecting ELCA congregations into its loose association while sniping at the anticipated high church structure of NALC:  “ … this is why I am glad to be LCMC … Among the members of the [NALC] Ministry Processes Working Group are six former ELCA bishops,” and “We certainly don’t need any more rings to kiss.”  At local congregations pondering defection from the ELCA, dueling representatives of LCMC and CORE make appearances to advocate for their preferred brand of schism.  (LCMC quotes from “Friends of LCMC”, a Google online discussion group)

Meanwhile, in central Minnesota, the local newspaper is running a letter to the editor that wonders why such a small percentage of eligible voters actually voted in two local congregations that voted to sever ties with the ELCA. 

[P]erhaps the support for leaving the ELCA wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the church leadership might have people believe.

The writer then questions the level of pastoral manipulation behind the process:

[D]ecisions are often made based upon information shared with the members through the pastor. Indeed, the direction that any church takes often reflects the direction the pastor wishes to take that congregation. Truly, if only one point of view is presented to the congregation through the pastor and the elders of the church, and contrasting views aren’t embraced or encouraged, it would stand to reason that the church membership would vote in line with the church leadership.

One day when the smoke clears, it will be interesting to correlate pastoral leadership and congregational defections.  From the evidence available thus far, it would appear that defecting congregations almost always are led out of the ELCA by their pastor.  Talk about shepherding the flock.

Finally, the latest statistics from the ELCA (June 3) are reported in an email received from the office of the ELCA Secretary:

As of June 3, we have been advised that 419 congregations have taken first votes to terminate their relationship with the ELCA (some congregations have taken more than one first vote).  Of these 419 congregations that have taken first votes, 283 passed and 136 failed.   Synods also have informed the Office of the Secretary that 161 congregations have taken a second vote, 140 of which passed and 21 failed.

I have previously characterized the number of defecting congregations as a trickle and not a torrent.  Ten months after CWA09, that characterization still holds true, and the vast majority of the 10,400 congregations of the ELCA remains in place.  While the dissidents have stirred up hard feelings and created conflicted congregations, they are far from “realigning North American Lutheranism” as CORE professes. 

As we approach the the birthing of NALC and the one year anniversary of CWA09, it will be curious to watch the strains on the publicly professed coalition of LCMC, WordAlone, and CORE.  A commenter on the “Friends of LCMC” discussion groups suggests:

Where much of the 20th century was spent with “mergers”, bringing many smaller synods into one large tent, the early years of the 21st century are being marked with many of these mergers being “undone” in a way, with smaller synods once again emerging, each with its own unique polity and structure to it.

Reminds me of the old saw, “if you keep leaving a church to find another that is a perfect fit, soon you will be a church of one.”

Looking forward to Presbyterian General Assembly (GA219)

More Light Logo The 219th General Assembly of the PCUSA (Presbyterian) will convene in Minneapolis on July 3rd.  This past Sunday, many Presbyterian congregations anticipated GA219 by celebrating “More Light Sunday” in reference to the Presbyterian LGBT advocacy group known as More Light Presbyterians (MLP).  Pastor John Shuck, a Presbyterian pastor and provocateur to more conservative Presbyterians, noted the occasion in his Shuck and Jive blog.  Here are the ten MLP affirmations.

1. We celebrate the unity we create in the midst of our diversity.
2. We affirm the inherent beauty, worth, and dignity of every GLBT and straight person.
3. There are many paths to the sacred. The spiritual paths of GLBT persons are among
4. The choice is not whether to be GLBT or straight but whether or not to live an
authentic life.
5. Coming out is a courageous and spiritual act.
6. Sexual expression is one of the many sacred ways that GLBT and straight adults can express the depth of love in their relationships.
7. We support each person’s journey of integrating spirituality and sexuality which
leads to wholeness.
8. Marriage is a sacred union for people who are committed to each other without regard to gender. Love makes a family.
9. Spiritual leaders must take responsibility to lead, protect, and affirm GLBT people:
children, adults, and their families.
10. No one is free when others are oppressed.

The issue of gay and lesbian clergy will certainly arise again at GA219 as it has in previous years and as in other mainline denominations.  Coincidentally, the venue of GA219 is precisely the same Minneapolis convention center that was the site of last year’s momentous decisions by the ELCA regarding gay clergy and LGBT relationships.  The precise provision at issue for the Presbyterians is known as G-6.0106b, which restricts LGBT persons from serving as clergy.  Yet, Pastor Ray Bagnuolo of Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House in New York City suggests that removal of the onerous G-6.0106b would be a mere formality, a de jure recognition of the de facto status quo.  In the following article, he spoke of ministering to a homeless man:

It didn’t matter that as the pastor of the church I am gay. In fact, being gay in the PC(USA) no longer matters any more than being straight does. People will argue about that, but we, as a church, have already deleted G-6.0106b. It’s gone in our hearts and in practice. True, some still find comfort in the same kind of teachings that once held women and people of color to be second-class in God’s eyes. However, the reality is that we already work together and serve God as a community of great diversity that includes gender identity fully.

I honestly do wish to continue to dialogue with those who disagree, because I believe they are being faithful in their own ways and we need to pray and talk together. However, those who are unable or unwilling to accept the truth that this artificial division between us is no longer valid cannot be allowed to prevent others who believe differently from full inclusion in this church. The lives of faithful people cannot be divided along gender identity any more than they can along the lines of the sexes or color.

In a short time, we will all gather in Minneapolis for our General Assembly. We will worship together, work together, share meals, cabs, and conversations. We will pray and seek God’s will. And, the “we” will include many of us who identify themselves as gay, whether spoken aloud or not. We will agree and disagree. Sooner or later, it will be apparent that, in fact, G-6.0106b has been deleted in the way God has moved this church and its people. Sooner or later, the constitution will catch up. In the meantime, none of us can be held hostage by what we know in our hearts to be wrong.
Like the gentleman who found us on that cold night, there are too many people “seeking God” for us to deny any qualified candidate from ordination based on G-6.0106b.

Scott Anderson is clearly qualified to be ordained. To hold G-6.0106b against him or anyone else is to hold this church hostage to an aberration in our constitution. We no longer allow the few who still hold onto prejudices against women and people of color to hold us hostage to their beliefs, nor should we allow those who have yet to embrace the gay community to marginalize or exclude us.

It is no longer about G-6.0106b.

Scientific study: children of same sex partners are well-adjusted

Opponents of the ELCA ministry policies that allow gay clergy frequently trumpet the Reformation cry Sola Scriptura.  The WordAlone Ministries bases its name on this slogan, and ELCA critics decry any other influence in ethical discernment beyond strict application of Biblical law.  Such critics conveniently overlook Luther’s own two-pronged analytical approach–“the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason”–to inform conscience.  One expects that the Lutheran CORE, WordAlone, & LCMC spokesmen would cite scientific or empirical evidence if they could, but they are left with unsound science such as reparative therapy (CORE brought along fellow-travelers from the debunked Exodus Ministries to CWA09).  Lacking sound scientific support for gay-EXCLUSIVE policies, it is understandable why ELCA opponents wrap themselves in unscientific and uncritical Biblical interpretations.  Oh, we hear platitudes now and again about “family values” or “traditional marriage”, but the evidence doesn’t support their case.

Thus, we don’t expect the CORE types to pay much attention to the scientific study report in today’s issue of Pediatric Journal which concludes “Being raised by a same-sex couple is no hindrance to healthy psychological development”.  In fact, 17 year olds who had been raised entirely by a lesbian couple following artificial insemination of one partner, actually seemed better adjusted than their counterparts who had been raised by heterosexual partners—except when subjected to homophobic bullying.

When comparing the results to how mothers living in conventional families rated their teenagers, children of same-sex couples were more competent in school, had fewer social problems, broke fewer rules and were less aggressive.

Based on what the children reported themselves, they did just as well whether or not they knew the identity of their biological father.

However, those teenagers who — according to their mothers — experienced homophobia and bullying did turn out to be more anxious and have more depressive symptoms than their peers.