Please indulge me with some more Casablanca analogies. Last week, I sarcastically used iconic Casablanca movie lines to criticize the Lutheran Core announcement that they are taking their football and leaving. Well, that’s not exactly what they said. In a rhetorical slight of hand, they claimed that the rest of us ELCA types remaining on the field of play are the ones who have left them. Whatever.
So how are we to respond?
One approach is to wring our hands and cry in our beer. This is the anxiety laden, sky is falling, response. A fellow named Jim Smith offered a comment on Pretty Good Lutherans blog that exemplifies this attitude:
This is a very difficult time in the ELCA, and it is far worse across this nation in terms of congregations in conflict and pain than many imagine. I have many friends across the ELCA and served on some national efforts and what I am hearing is frightening in terms of congregations laying off staff, closing, having to merge, or just imploding. Not a few, not just one or two in a Synod, but hundreds, and yes, probably thousands.
I don’t know Mr. Smith, and his comment is all I know about his views. His concern for the ELCA appears legitimate. and he doesn’t appear to be a CORE rabble rouser. But, I take issue with his blame game and priorities.
I was a CWA voting member. At the assembly, I met over 10 voting members who were for the changes, but voted no because they knew it would destroy the church.
I applaud them. We need to move beyond what we want to what is best for the whole church.
The implication is that the majority of voting members who supported the various resolutions were selfish (how demeaning is it to dismiss the LGBT fairness claims as merely “what we want”). Should church unity be the paramount concern rather than righting a wrong and seeking justice? Is the most important thing to stick together even at the expense of perpetuating bias, prejudice, and inequality? Don’t blame the CORE and WordAlone types for leaving, blame the rest of us for forcing their hand. CORE had threatened to leave, we should have listened to them and knuckled under to their threats.
Emily Eastwood, the Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned North America (an LGBT advocacy group), offers a cogent rebuttal to this view in a Nov 19 press release.
It seems with yesterday’s [CORE] announcement that some ELCA Lutherans cannot even tolerate being in the same church family with congregations who accept us. Anger and fear have overtaken the great commandments from Jesus himself: to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
For 35 years LC/NA has never isolated itself from those who disagree with us. Nor have we threatened to lead an exodus from the denomination by those congregations who found the wait too long or the social statement well short of the advocacy needed for LGBT people in church and society. We have never called for congregations to withhold giving to the ELCA; in fact, we encourage additional stewardship, especially in times like these.
Mr. Smith is correct: there is lots of worry in the ELCA these days over defecting members, defecting congregations, and especially withheld funds that have impacted the mission and ministry work of the ELCA. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: CORE knows how to inflict pain, but do they know how to heal?
So, how do we move forward? Where do we go from here? Minneapolis is history.
ELCA presiding Bishop Mark Hanson issued a statement and a video last week:
The presiding bishop quoted Romans 5: 1-2a in his open letter: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”
Hanson wrote: “We stand together in God’s grace, but we are not standing still. We proclaim Jesus Christ and are fully engaged in this mission by actively caring for the world that God loves.” He added that in serving God’s mission, members bring their diversity, tradition and disagreements.
“We go forward in this mission trusting that ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5b),'” he wrote.
Blogger Doug Kings criticized the statement as mere public relations, lacking in substance but heavy in fluff:
Obviously the release of the letter and video is an attempt to balance the “negative energy” surrounding last week’s mass layoffs at the ELCA churchwide office, stories of withheld mission support and departing congregations, and the CORE announcement that it would be forming a new Lutheran denomination. All of that, however, is barely acknowledged in the letter itself.
As so often happens with institutions in trouble, the assumption is made that the real problem is public perception. All we have to do is manage the news cycle. We’ll drown out the bad news by shouting good news even louder.
Bishop Hanson’s letter then listed some positives to suggest business as usual. “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” But it’s not business as usual. The characters of Bogart and Bergman aren’t in Paris anymore, they’re in Casablanca.
Bogie’s first response was to cry in his beer, but by movie’s end he had embraced the new reality, and his character rose to new heights of social consciousness. We must do the same. Instead of ignoring the momentous changes of Minneapolis, we should embrace them. Instead of apologizing for our new policies, we should shout from the rooftops. Let’s stop being embarrassed about what was accomplished, and let’s be proud of what was done. There is a whole generation of youngsters out there that has been turned off by the hypocrisy of the church. Tell them what we have done.
Consider this. A week ago, at the semi-annual meeting of the ELCA Church Council:
the Church Council by voice vote overwhelmingly approved the waiver of the prohibition forbidding application for reinstatement until 5 years had passed since the removal or resignation. The five-year waiting period is a general policy applying to anyone who had been removed for any disciplinary cause or who resigned voluntarily. The waiver granted by today’s action only applies to those removed and those who resigned solely for the reason of their being in a same-gender, committed relationship. Applications to begin the reinstatement process can now be submitted immediately. The process is individual and can vary in the length of time for completion.
This action by the Church Council is the first official enactment of the church council pursuant to actions at the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis that ordered the elimination of the policy that precluded service in the church by ministers in committed, same-gender relationships. Also today, the church council soundly defeated a proposed amendment to policy that would have required an additional step of approval for candidates in same-gender relationships by 2/3 of the synod council’s executive committee in order to be reinstated.
And how do we hear this news? Does the ELCA boldly proclaim its actions? No, it comes in a press release and blog entry from Lutherans Concerned North America. Why should the ELCA be embarrassed when it does a good thing?
Perhaps it’s too soon, and we’re still grieving the loss of members. Bogie and Bergman can’t be together, but Bogie sees that it’s for the good, and he promises Bergman that she’ll come to that realization also, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”