American Lutheranism was imported by northern European immigrants, and the ELCA has long been dominated by blonde, blue-eyed folks whose favorite cuss word was “uff da”. The ELCA has been intentional about expanding that base with inner city and minority outreach programs, but the effort suffered a setback with the departure of the Oromo group of churches, consisting of immigrant and first generation Africans, who share the strong homophobia of that continent (see the Ugandan legislative effort to execute gays).
Yet, there are evidences of the ELCA becoming more diverse.
The ELCA departures consist primarily of those of northern European stock with a longing for an earlier day (not all—most of us of northern European ancestry don’t pine for the past). A person commented on an earlier post here that she asked a question at a congregational gathering featuring a dissident speaker (LCMC representative) that received a telling answer.
“What is an orthodox Lutheran?” she asked.
The speaker responded, “your grandmother’s church”.
The lady who posed the question is 72 with one grandmother born in Norway in 1864 and the other born in Germany in 1882. My point is merely that since the departures tend to represent a singular ethnic/cultural background, those who remain will naturally tend to be more diverse.
There is news out of the twin cities of Hmong ELCA ordinations. A Star Tribune news article reported on the ordination of Minneapolis’ first Hmong pastor (St Paul already had a Lutheran Hmong pastor):
A Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis is celebrating Christmas with its new minister, the city’s first Hmong Lutheran pastor.
Nengyia Her was ordained Sunday as a minister in the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He was also installed as pastor of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis.
The ELCA will certainly become more gay and less straight. That may be what has the Lutheran CORE types squirming.
I was a Goodsoil volunteer at the ELCA church wide assembly last summer promoting marriage equality and gay clergy, and I wore a distinctive prayer shawl. During lunch one day, a pastor from a rural Pennsylvania congregation sat next to me, and his body language betrayed his unease at sitting next to a person he assumed was gay (I’m not; I happen to be a gay ally, but he didn’t know that). He was polite but clearly uncomfortable.
I have a counter story also. At one of the daily assembly worship services, we blessed each other with the sign of the cross on one another’s forehead. I happened to be sitting alone, and I shared the blessing with a lady behind me. Another lady, sitting in my row several empty chairs away, feared that I had not been blessed and also assumed I was gay based on my prayer shawl. After the service, she pointedly came up to me and offered another blessing even though I assured her I had already been blessed.
This brings up another irony in the whole Lutheran Core, ELCA schism issue. On the one hand, CORE leaning congregations express frustration at their perception of the heavy- handed control by the ELCA; the reality is that local congregations are entirely free to consider gay ministry candidates–or not–at their congregational discretion. The ironic falsity is that such local congregations are not really whining about the ELCA controlling them, but that they are upset that they can’t control what other congregations may do with their ministries. Local control is not the solution; for the CORE congregations it is the problem. In a metaphorical way, they are uncomfortable with sitting next to certain someones at the lunch table—or the communion rail.
There is anecdotal evidence of families returning to the ELCA who had left because of the treatment of a gay family member. There is concrete evidence that the ELCA will become more gay in news from St. Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco.
When St. Francis Lutheran Church called a lesbian couple in 1990 to minister to its members and the Castro community the congregation was put on trial and thrown out of the national body the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1995. The congregation, in a combination of prophetic protest and tongue in cheek, has thereafter celebrated the Feast of the Expulsion on the last Sunday of the year.
But now, the congregation’s leaders have changed the name of the Feast of the Expulsion to the Feast of Hope, reflecting momentous changes in the ELCA this last summer when it finally caught up to the San Francisco congregation. Looking for eventual reconciliation, the congregation is hopeful that the finalized details of that change will not be a hindrance in any way to sexual minority rights -hence the renaming of the feast day.
This is news that will make some folks squirm a bit, I’m sure. The speaker at the feast, held this past Sunday the 27th, was Pastor Anita Hill of St Paul Reformation church in Minnesota.