Monthly Archives: March 2012

Jen Rude Rite of Reception

Like much of the country, the greater Chicago area is enjoying unbelievable early spring weather.  Last Sunday, I drove through NW suburbs to Evanston.  There were bikers, joggers , and dog-walkers everywhere.  Leaves are budding, flowering crab apple trees exploding in pink, and brown lawns are turning green.  Life abundant, life abounding, life amazing.

I attended a festive celebration at Grace Lutheran of Evanston where Pastor Jen Rude became the latest to join the official roster of the ELCA through a Rite of Reception.  Grace is a delightfully diverse congregation that had plenty of gray haired ladies, but also a healthy contingent of blacks, and a growing LGBT community, especially following the breakthroughs of CWA09.  “Here is a church where we are welcome” is the word of mouth message that spreads through the gay community just to the south, which Pastor Dan Ruen jokingly referred to as “Grace Lutheran south campus”.

A Rite of Reception is the process worked out between ELCA leaders and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) that recognizes earlier extra ordinem ordinations but also celebrates in a formal way when the pastor joins the ELCA clergy roster.  Bishop Wayne Miller of the Greater Chicago Synod laid on hands and presided over the rite and the Eucharistic celebration.

Pastor Rude was extraordinarily ordained in 2007 at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago.  She is called to minister to homeless youth, many of whom are gay, at the Night Ministry in Chicago, a ministry of “presence of faith in the nighttime streets”.  She also serves on the board of directors of ELM and as director of “Proclaim”, a new auxiliary of ELM:

“the professional community for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians. This network of rostered leaders and seminarians from multiple Lutheran rosters are committed to changing church culture and transforming society through their ministry as publicly-identified LGBTQ rostered leaders.”

As a seminarian, Jen was the first recipient of the Joel Workin scholarship.  From my research into my current book project, I have learned that Joel was a seminarian in the late eighties who “came out” along with three of his fellow seminarians during the candidacy process.  Though he and the others were initially approved, the newly formed ELCA caved under a public outcry and yanked the approvals.  This is all part of a larger and fascinating story of the extraordinary ordinations in San Francisco in the early 1990s.  Joel died of AIDS in 1995 after distinguished service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.  Rising from his coma, Joel proclaimed to the family and friends surrounding his deathbed, “We’re all children of God.  Can I get an amen to that!”  ELM is currently re-releasing a book of Joel’s writings.

Check the ELM website for more about Pastor Jen.

Congregation pastor Dan Ruen offered a prophetic, emotional, and inspiring sermon, reminiscent of civil rights oratory, and punctuated with plenty of amens from the congregation.

Ah, ha, ha, ha stayin’ alive

March 12, 1978.

I spent the late winter Sunday in the Burtrum Hills, west of Upsala, Minnesota.  My dad was in his mid-fifties, and he and mom had not yet retired to the snowbird’s life.  So, if you live in Minnesota in the wintertime, you either hibernate or you adopt a wintertime hobby—snowmobiling & ice fishing were two of dad’s favorites, but that winter he spent making wood.  He bought stumpage rights to a 40 acre parcel of hardwoods.  Now, there was no practical reason why he made wood—after all, his business was as the fuel oil distributor in Upsala—but it was something to do to stay active.

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

We brought a six-pack along, as always.   Dad would work the chain saw, and I would split logs.  Then I would gather the lopped off small branches and heave them atop the bonfire started earlier with glugs of fuel oil.  Flames must have leaped twenty feet in the air.  His transistor radio blared the number one song of the day by the Bee Gees.

Well you can tell
by the way I use my walk
I’m a woman’s man
no time to talk
Music loud and women warm
I’ve been kicked around
since I was born

I had my own wintertime hobby.  And summertime too.  I drank.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

We finished up as the red sun dipped behind a stand of white pine.  We covered some of the gear with a canvas tarp and piled ourselves into his pickup.  Mom had chili cooked back in Upsala, which I washed down with a couple more beers.  Soon my wife, six-month old baby daughter, and I headed to our own home along the Mississippi River north of St. Cloud.

And now it’s all right, it’s ok
and you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Lynn put Karin to bed while I chipped some ice for a Beefeater’s martini.  I was a classy drunk.  I only drank the best.  I rolled a joint.  Before long, I was exquisitely high, and Lynn looked away.  She knew it was pointless to say anything.

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

But this night was different.  I had a secret plan.

Whether you’re a brother
or whether you’re a mother
you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin
and everybody shakin’
and were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive

The next morning, I went early to work as a young associate at the leading St. Cloud law firm, and I placed a letter on the senior partner’s desk.  Then I drove a few blocks to the St. Cloud hospital where Karin had been born the previous fall.  The lady at the information desk said the Alcohol & Chemical Dependency unit was on 2 South.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

The folks at the nurse’s station weren’t quite sure what to do with me.  They didn’t usually get Monday morning walk-ins in pin stripe suits.  I called Lynn and told her where I was.  She came as soon as she could arrange a babysitter, and my boss showed up too.

Well now I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin man and I just can’t lose

You know it’s all right, it’s ok
I’ll live to see another day
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Life goin’ nowhere
somebody help me
Somebody help me, yeah
I’m stayin’ alive…

That was thirty-four years ago, and I’m still clean and sober.  Saplings that we left on the slopes that day are pretty high by now.  Karin’s three years sober herself.

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’

UMC leadership structure

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the five, principal mainline Protestant denominations lately (UMC, ELCA, PC(USA), Episcopal, and UCC).  The ELCA is a full communion partner with each of these, and I heard Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts Schori speak highly of the Episcopal/ELCA partnership at an Episcopal Diocesan Convention.

Both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church function with a national presiding bishop, a full-time, long term position.  Bishop Mark Hanson, only the third ELCA Presiding Bishop since the denomination was formed in 1988, is nearing the end of his second term.  Presiding Bishop Schori serves out of the Episcopal Headquarters in NYC though she was previously Bishop of the Nevada Diocese.  She is only the 26th presiding bishop in Episcopal history which goes back to Revolutionary War days.

The UCC has a General Minister/President, the Presbyterians have a General Assembly Moderator, and the Methodists have a President of the Council of Bishops who serves a two year term while continuing to serve as bishop of his or her regional body.

At the upcoming UMC quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, delegates will consider revisions to their organizational structure.  Among the proposed changes is the creation of a full-time President of the Council of Bishops without responsibility for any jurisdiction other than the national church.

Would this position be more like the presiding bishops of the ELCA and Episcopal Churches?  “Commenters have called the proposed position everything from a United Methodist archbishop to the denomination’s CEO.”

Click here for full details from a UMC News Service report.

Sweet Home Alabama

Have you seen the British Petroleum (BP) produced ads extolling tourism in the Gulf?  They’re actually done quite well and make the region from the Florida panhandle, across Alabama and Mississippi, and ending in Louisiana look pretty appealing.  After despoiling the gulf with their oil spill, I assume the ads are part of BP’s payback.

Many years ago, I spent a little time in Louisiana, home to an aunt and cousins, but the rest of the region could as well be a foreign country, as far as I know.  I hear they play really good college football down there, and the ads make the beaches appear attractive and the cuisine sounds delicious.  However, the politics and the religion down there scare the beejeebers out of me.

For a century, this was the “solid south” for the Democratic Party, the days of segregation and Jim Crow, and the Republicans were remembered as the party of Lincoln, the Union Army, and carpetbaggers.  That began to change at the 1948 Democratic Convention when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey offered a stirring speech promoting civil rights, and the “Dixiecrats” led by Strom Thurmond stalked out, determined to protect what they portrayed as the southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government while proclaiming “segregation forever.”


Hubert Humphrey’s famous civil rights speech–1948


The circle was completed in 1968 when Richard Nixon recognized that he could turn the south into the Republican promised land by exploiting racism.  This “Southern Strategy” has defined the last forty plus years of American politics.

Tonight, the Republicans of Alabama and Mississippi hold their primaries, and the eyes of the nation are again focused on the politics of the region.  The pollsters tell us that not much has changed.

  • Interracial marriage ought to be illegal according to roughly a quarter of the Republican voters.
  • Three to four times as many think President Obama is a Muslim compared to those who think he’s Christian.
  • Two to three times as many do not believe in evolution compared to those that do.
  • Twice as many in ‘Bama prefer the Crimson Tide football team to the Auburn Tigers.  Ok, I guess that’s irrelevant.

Despite those appealing ads, I don’t think I’ll be heading southeast anytime soon.  I admit it, I’ve got prejudices of my own.

Interpreting Paul the apostle

Paul is such fun.

While his preeminent importance in the development of normative Christian doctrine is indisputable, his writings are enigmatic at best and indecipherable at worst.  What is the heart of Paul?  Does Paul reveal himself in Galatians 3:28, the so-called “Christian magna carta” —no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female—or in other writings that seemingly support slavery and the subjugation of women?

Paul also finds himself plopped down in the midst of 21st century debates over gays.  Again, the question arises whether he was the great inclusivist who encouraged Gentile participation in the early church without precondition, without the proper male genitalia, against the wishes of church leaders, and contrary to scripture and centuries of tradition, or was he the greatest gay-basher in history?  Though his “vice lists” have been dubiously translated to include homosexuality, his ranting in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans may be the favorite “clobber passage” of modern gay-bashers.

they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

How do modern exegetes unpack these harsh words?  Yes, this passage is about idolatry, first and foremost.  The evils of homosexual behavior are his assumption not his point.  Yes, Paul’s words must be viewed from the cultural perspective of the 1st century Greco-Roman world, and yes, Paul must be understood as a Jew learned in the law to include the Levitical abominations.  These influences certainly colored his perception, and it is unfair to ask a 21st century question of this 1st century man.  He simply would have harbored a radically different understanding of human sexuality than we do today.

But, we can go further.  What was Paul’s central theme of his letter to the Romans?  Grace.  That humankind is made right with God through God’s own offer of welcome and not through human effort, achievement, or merit—“works of the law” in Pauline terms.  Trust God and rely upon that promise (faith).  Paul works this out as he wrestles with the premise of Hebrew religion that Jews are God’s chosen over against his view that Gentiles should also be included.  Justification by grace through faith and not by works is the simplified summary.  So, if these are Paul’s themes in his letter to the Romans, where do his introductory remarks (quoted above) fit in?

Paul is setting a trap.  He is speaking to Jewish listeners, and he gets them nodding as he recites their cultural stereotypes about the unclean gentiles.  But wait, he suggests as chapter two unfolds, aren’t we Jews also guilty of breaking the rules?  How are we different?  Don’t we also depend upon God’s grace?  And then Paul is off and running with his interplay of the themes of grace, faith, works, Jew and Gentile, etc. throughout the remainder of his letter to the Romans.

In doing research for my current book project about the history of the movement for full inclusion of gays in the life of the church, I came across a succinct version of this exegesis, which came in a 1977 Presbyterian debate.  George Edwards of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a member of a Presbyterian Task Force on homosexuality, spoke these words:

Paul says here that “God gave them up to dishonorable passions”.  Is this, then, Paul’s theology?  Of course not!  God never gave anybody up!  What kind of theology would that be?  Paul is here using a rhetorical device to get his legalistic reader all worked up in self-righteous frenzy before he hits him over the head with his own inadequacy and dependency on God’s grace.**

Perhaps we can take meaning from this passage of Paul after all.  Perhaps it is a clobber passage that offers an analogy for our current debate, but no, not to strike gays but to slam the “self-righteous frenzy” of 21st century legalists and to point them, and all of us, toward our inadequacies and dependency on God’s grace.

Paul, you sly fox.  What a wretched man you are.  Sounds like a good book title.


**Quoted in Chris Glaser, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988) p. 164.

Lutheran Gay Clergy Retreat

In 1990, a pair of Lutheran congregations in the “Castro”, the San Francisco neighborhood called the “gay capitol of the world”, ordained an openly gay man and a lesbian couple.  That was the start of Lutheran Gay and Lesbian Ministries.  Later renamed Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), this agency would ordain and roster over thirty gay and lesbian Lutheran ministry candidates because the ELCA refused to do so.  Of course, ELCA policy changed with the momentous churchwide assembly of 2009.

So, what should ELM do now?  A new course was charted for ELM at their January board meeting.

Far from feeling it was time to close our doors; we concluded that by creating a network for publicly-identified LGBTQ rostered leaders in a major Protestant denomination, we can participate in changing the church and transforming society. Furthermore, we concluded that we are strongly positioned to provide much needed support to LGBTQ people seeking to become rostered leaders in the Lutheran church. LGBTQ people know what it is like to be on the margins of the church. Through their ministry, LGBTQ rostered leaders are poised to offer an evangelical outreach to many and to work alongside others longing to be connected to a church that truly welcomes all.

ELM will soon be hosting a workshop/retreat at Stony Brook Conference Center in New York.  Here are the details, cut and pasted from the ELM website:

Proclaim logoThe Proclaim retreat is a gathering of publicly identified LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development. The 2012 retreat will be held at Stony Point Center, New York, April 18-21. Our keynote speaker is Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who will join us for most of the retreat.

This retreat is open to members of Proclaim, significant others, and children 3 and under. For information on joining Proclaim go here.

The retreat begins with dinner on Wednesday evening and concludes with lunch on Saturday.

More about the Event:

This retreat will be the second gathering of Proclaim. We will gather together and embrace what it means to be publicly identified leaders as we care for ourselves, as we live in and amongst our communities, and as we serve as public witness to the Gospel.

The keynote speaker this year is Bishop Gene Robinson, the current bishop of the New England diocese of the Episcopalian church. Bp. Robinson is the first publicly identified gay person to be elected bishop in a major Christian denomination. His story is featured in the 2007 feature-length documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So,” and his book In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God (Seabury Books, New York) was released in 2008.


Here is a sample of sessions and discussion items for our time together:

  • What is the banquet that we are invited to? What motivates/propels us forward? What feeds our souls?
  • Discuss how LGBTQ leaders can shape and reshape church and community in the present and into the future.
  • Examine how LGBTQ leaders are a gift to the church.
  • Offer opportunities for LGBTQ leaders to hone and sharpen skills for ministry.
  • Create a vision of what this community and church might look like in 10 years–when we are all moving/going together.

Registration is OPEN. Go here to register.

Registration Deadline is March 16, 2012.

If you have questions, please contact Rachael Johnson,

Tampa, Washington & Chicago: hope to see you there

Here are three upcoming events that I’m marking on my schedule.  Perhaps a reader or two will decide to attend, but all of you should follow from afar.

April 24 – May 4:  United Methodist General Conference, Tampa, Florida

The national (international) convention of United Methodists only convenes every four years.  Thus, when they do gather, there is a lot of business to take care of.  The first week consists of committee meetings and hearings, and the plenary sessions take place the second week.

The Methodists are the largest of the “mainline” Protestant denominations with over 8 million members.  For comparison, the ELCA has around 4 million, the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches slightly over 2 million each, and the UCC slightly over 1 million.  Of these five denominations, the Methodists are the remaining holdout for ordaining gay clergy, and that will certainly be the issue at the forefront of the upcoming General Convention.

The Methodists are also the most international of the American denominations.  While the ELCA belongs to the worldwide Lutheran Federation, that is not a governing body that decides ELCA policy.  The same is true with the Episcopalians who are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  But, within the polity of the UMC, their international sister congregations and conferences are not mere affiliates but actually belong inside the denomination; thus there will be large numbers of international delegates to the upcoming General Convention.

This is also a significant part of the reason why the UMC has not yet voted to ordain gay clergy—the international delegates tend to be much more conservative than the US delegates.  The principal gay advocacy group within the UMC is the Reconciling Ministries Network, and  I recently visited with Troy Plummer, their executive director, and Pastor Bonnie Beckonchrist, their board chair.  Both are cautiously optimistic about prospects for favorable legislation in Tampa, but suggest it will take nearly 65% favorable vote from the US delegates to bring the total margin to 50% or better.

I’m hoping to be there for the plenary sessions to do some live blogging.

June 25 – 28: UCC Coalition National Gathering, Elmhurst College, Illinois

The United Church of Christ has the most progressive history regarding gay inclusion of any of the five principal mainline denominations.  The UCC Coalition is their advocacy arm, and this year’s national gathering will be historic.  In June, 1972 openly gay seminarian William Johnson was ordained in a UCC conference in northern California, and this year’s gathering will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his ordination.  Elmhurst College of Elmhurst, Illinois (a west Chicago suburb) will host the gathering and will also be the home of The William B. Johnson “Guestship”.

William JohnsonElmhurst College has named its annual LGBT Guestship in honor of an esteemed alumnus, the Reverend Dr. William R. Johnson. A member of the Class of 1968, Johnson is a United Church of Christ minister and vice president for member relations of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries. In 1972, he became the first openly gay person in modern history to gain ordination to the mainstream Christian ministry.

“For four decades, he has worked tirelessly and effectively on behalf of the rights and dignity of all people and, in particular, of LGBT people of faith and their loved ones,” said President S. Alan Ray in announcing the William R. Johnson Guestship. “He has provided counsel and support to hundreds of LGBT seminarians and clergy in the UCC and beyond.” Ray noted that a scholarship in Johnson’s name supports openly gay UCC seminarians studying for parish ministry.

July 6 – 10: Biennial Assembly of Lutherans Concerned, Washington, D.C.

I attended the 2010 Biennial in Minneapolis, and I hope to attend this year also.  In 2010, LCNA celebrated the momentous changes at the ECLA Churchwide Assembly of 2009.  The preacher during the primary worship service was former NY Synod Bishop Stephen Bouman, who currently works within the ELCA home office as Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission.  His participation symbolized that gays and their advocates were now insiders, and Bouman’s sermon encouraged LCNA to use their gifts of advocacy for those who remain on the margins, especially the immigrant.

This year, the symbolism will be heightened as the keynote address will be given by none other than Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.

LCNA Reconciling Works logoReconciling Works 2012 is more than a conference. It is an opportunity to explore and live out the work of reconciliation that we are called to do. Justice requires reconciliation, and reconciliation takes effort. Throughout our time together, we will work on justice issues from the intersection of oppressions (racism, sexism, ablism, etc.) and through the lens of full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the Lutheran Church.

We’ll worship together, using a rich variety of traditions of the worshipping community. We’ll provide a blend of the familiar and the unique drawing on our Lutheran heritage and the wealth of liturgical practice in the area. We’ll network with one another, hear stories of joy and frustration, and make decisions together about the future direction of Lutherans Concerned / North America and our Reconciling in Christ communities.

Bringing down the “fat man”

Maltese FalconHumphrey Bogart, reprising the role of detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, battled evil in the Sidney Greenstreet character of Kaspar Gutman, aka “the fat man”.  Though bested by Bogart’s character, “the fat man” slipped away to Istanbul, no doubt to prepare for a sequel.

What about real life?  Can college coed Sandra Fluke bring down the fat man of conservative radio: the bombastic, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited Rush Limbaugh? Have his comments degenerated beyond chronic bad taste into the legal realm of slander?

Sandra Fluke is the law student from Georgetown University who was prepared to offer testimony before the Issa Committee on contraception, but she was excluded and only five conservative men were allowed to speak.  Later, she was invited back and offered testimony to a House Democratic committee.  She testified in favor of health insurance coverage that included contraceptives without a co-pay.

It was her testimony before that committee that caused Limbaugh to become ballistic.

Sandra FlukeWhat does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

In my former law practice, I never handled a slander case, but I know they are generally very difficult to pursue, especially against public figures.  But I hope she does it.  I hope she sues the blathering idiot.

We could echo journalist Edward R. Murrow’s ringing challenge to a fat man bully of an earlier time, Joseph McCarthy–Have you no decency?— but in the case of Rush Limbaugh, the answer is only too clear.