It is now over three weeks since the ELCA 2009 Churchwide assembly adopted provisions allowing gay clergy and possibly gay marriage. In my own congregation, I have heard that a few may be leaving as a backlash, but a couple of my friends who earlier voiced disapproval of the ELCA actions are still there—yesterday, one served as communion assistant and one will be leading the men’s group that reconvenes next week after a summer hiatus. Another said, “I will never agree, but so long as I am allowed to disagree, this is still my church, and I won’t leave.” Last week, our synod bishop hosted a meeting that I perceived as hopeful, an indication that fallout may be slight.
The organized opposition, Lutheran Core / WordAlone network, will be hosting a gathering of the disaffected next week to consider options; for now, their website counsels patience and avoidance of rash decisions. It appears that Lutheran Core may lean toward creating an alternate power structure within the ELCA, a formally organized opposition synod. On the other hand, they also speak very harshly about the ELCA actions and urge withholding of financial support of churchwide activities. Last week, I linked to Lutherpunk’s blogpost that rejected the idea of a financial boycott because the ministries and missions most in need of funds would be harmed by blocking the monetary pipeline.
A new blog entitled Lutherans Persisting has appeared as a voice for the “traditionalists” within the ELCA, and I earlier commented on theologian Carl Braaten’s missive that appears there. Over the weekend, professor David Yeago of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of South Carolina offered his own musings entitled, In the Aftermath. It is pretty thick reading, as theological writings often are, and laypersons may find his essay difficult to probe. Yet, his tone is conciliatory and directed toward the traditionalists who disagreed with the actions of the voting members at the Churchwide 2009 Assembly.
He calls on the traditionalists to offer grace rather than judgment toward those with whom they disagree. “Is this the point at which we must judge that this branch of the church has died and withered?” Yeago answers the question with another: “How could it ever be my place to make the judgment that God has rejected a fellowship of his baptized children?”
Rather than pointing judging fingers at the ELCA and those who support gay clergy and gay marriage (he calls them “revisionists”), Yeago tells the traditionalists to look inward, not to revisit their deeply held opinions, but to engage in fellowship despite disagreement, “the wrong of another is not seen as a reason to separate but a reason to draw near.”
Yeago gives theological voice to the sentiment of my friend … “as long as I am allowed to disagree, this is my church, and I won’t leave.”
For myself, I cannot see that these decisions prevent me from continuing to do what I have been charged to do as a seminary teacher. If someone in authority were to tell me that I must suppress what I teach about marriage or the law of God because of these actions, then the situation would change. But that has not happened yet, and I do not know that it will ever happen. Likewise, I do not see that these decisions prevent me from hearing the gospel in my local congregation and being formed there as a disciple. Indeed, if I attend to what Luther says, the Assembly actions give me a great if painful opportunity to learn discipleship, to practice love. It seems rather a distraction to speculate about leaving when I have barely started to learn what I could about following Jesus right where I am.
How, then, shall the traditionalists live and act within the ELCA?
Let us traditionalists be the ones who live most deeply in the Scriptures, who bring forth the bread of life most richly from the Scriptures, who let themselves be most drastically challenged and remade by the word of God, who live most intensely in prayer, who are able to teach prayer to others. Let us traditionalists be in the forefront of ministry among the poor, the apparently hopeless, the despised; let us be the ones who volunteer to go to the hard places. Let our revisionist brothers and sisters, let homosexual persons in the church, be conscious when they meet us mostly of how much we care for them, how far we are willing to go for them, of the respect and honor with which we treat them, despite our clear disagreement with aspects of their teaching and/or life.
I encourage you to read and ruminate on Professor Yeago’s thoughts. Of course, as a “revisionist” according to his definition, I disagree that the ELCA’s actions were wrong, but I think he expresses the Christian love behind the “bound conscience” provisions of the various assembly resolutions. Though platitudes often seem trite, they sometimes are the simplest expressions of the truth; and so it is with the admonition that “we must agree to disagree”.
As one of the commenters to Yeago’s essay suggested, his call “to be the ones who live most deeply in the scriptures,” … etc., should be everyone’s calling—the traditionalist’s and the revisionist’s–the Christian call. This is not a time for judgment but for grace.