Tag Archives: Feminism

The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

Female English Bishops? UPDATE: FAIL

In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I came to power, and one of her first acts was to establish herself as head of the English church, rather than the pope.  Successfully fighting off Catholic claimants, “Good Queen Bess” ruled for more than half a century, and the Church of England was born.

Two centuries later, Samuel Seabury was a priest of the Church of England, born and bred in the English colony of Connecticut.  When the revolutionary war broke out, he remained loyal to the crown and spent some time as a captive of the rebels.  But, when the colonists proved victorious, he saw which way the wind was blowing and switched allegiance to the now independent nation.  When fellow priests elected him to be their bishop, an ecclesiastical problem arose.  There were no other bishops around to consecrate him; thus, he sailed off to England, but the English bishops also refused to consecrate him because Parliament required that all bishops of the Church of England pledge allegiance to the crown.  Scottish Anglicans already chafed under English rule, and they sent word that they would consecrate Seabury, and that was how the first bishop of the Episcopal Church was consecrated in 1789, the same year the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

That was also the start of what came to be known as the Anglican Communion.  The American Church became the first body of Anglicans, with historical ties to the Church of England, that was not subject to her authority and control.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, was recognized as the titular and ceremonial leader.

Today, the Anglican Communion consists of thirty-eight international “Provinces” with recent growth concentrated in the third world.  Therein lies the problem with international unity.  The third-world Anglicans are decidedly conservative in their views of female ordination and LGBT issues generally, and recent years have seen a conservative splinter of Anglicans internationally and domestically.

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Province of the United States, is perhaps the most progressive of all thirty-eight provinces along with Canada and Scotland, and the mother church, the Church of England, is a mostly progressive province but with significant conservative dioceses.  In 1988, the Episcopal Church consecrated the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion.  Diminutive Rev. Barbara Harris reportedly was encouraged to wear a bullet-proof vest during the ceremony.  That she was female with liberal views was probably a greater affront to the conservatives than that she was black.

Every ten years, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites approximately 800 Anglican bishops from around the world to a conference named for Lambeth, the district where the Archbishop’s palace is located.  At Lambeth 1998, the Archbishop invited eight female bishops from the U.S. and one from Canada.  Lambeth ‘98 also witnessed a third-world uprising that bashed the United States and adopted a virulently homophobic resolution.

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has barely kept the lid on a bubbling cauldron.  Several third world provinces refused to attend Lambeth 2008 and set up their own rival conference.  The dissident conference also established the Anglican Church in North America as a rival to the Episcopal Church.  A few Episcopal Bishops and their dioceses have bolted the Episcopal Church for the conservative alternative, which has not been recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion.

Future Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin WelbyArchbishop Williams suggested that his successor would need the “skin of a rhinoceros.”  Whether the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby has that anatomical necessity remains to be seen, but the next Archbishop of Canterbury has urged his own Church of England to follow other progressive provinces in allowing female bishops.

Speaking during a marathon debate ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s vote at Church House in Westminster, Welby, the bishop of Durham, said the measure on the table was “as good as we are going to get”.

But, drawing on his own experience in the evangelical wing of the church, he said he would do all he could to ensure the minority of traditionalists were provided for. The final approval vote – the most important the church has faced in the 20 years since it decided to ordain women as priests – is on a knife-edge.

“It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure,” he said. “But, also, the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates we can manage diversity of view without division. Diversity in amity; not diversity in enmity.”

Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  Polity influences policy.  How organizations make policy decisions affects what decisions are made.  This principle was proved again yesterday when the Church of England rejected female bishops.

Within the General Synod of the Church of England, three separate constituencies voted on the question.  The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly for (44-3), the clergy voted overwhelmingly for (148-45 77%-23%), but the measure also required a concurrence of 2/3 of the laity, and the house of laity vote failed by a mere six votes (132-74 64% –36%).  Church leaders were stunned:

Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP who is responsible for speaking for the synod in parliament, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for him to explain the church’s current predicament to MPs. He has previously warned it would be difficult for him to defend the guaranteed place for bishops in the Lords.

While some have suggested the move could even call into question its status as the established church, Baldry said he thought the bigger risk was simple “disinterest”. “I think the great danger for the church following this vote is that it will be increasingly seen as just like any other sect,” he said.

A source close to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “While this is a matter for the church, it’s very disappointing. As we seek to help women fulfil their potential throughout society this ruling would suggest the church is at the very least behind the times.” When the measure was put to the church’s 44 dioceses earlier this year, 42 approved.

A ComRes poll in July found that 74% of respondents thought female clerics should be able to attain the highest reaches of the church. The bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, said the failed vote could make the church look even more outdated. “This is a very sad day indeed, not just for those of us who support the ministry of women, but for the future of the church, which might very well be gravely damaged by this,” he said.

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.

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.

The Power of Woman

Mr. BumbleAs a former attorney, I  appreciate the line of Charles Dickens spoken by Mr. Bumble, the law is a ass.  In the context of the novel, Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble recognized that his own wife was more powerful than he in their marriage relationship, and the patriarchal presumptions of the olde English common law were false.

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the successful struggle for woman’s suffrage, and during the second half the women’s liberation movement achieved notable social and legal successes.  To be sure, the victory is not yet won, and pay inequality in the workplace is an obvious example of residual sexism in our culture.

So too the church.  Except for a bright, shining moment in the earliest days of the Jesus movement, the men have been in control until recently.  Contemporaneous with the women’s movement in secular society, the role of women in the church has changed, and the wide advance of female clergy is eloquent testimony; yet, in my own ELCA, only a handful of women have yet been elected to the episcopate, which remains mostly but not exclusively male.  This weekend, I will travel to South Bend, Indiana to attend an Episcopal Diocesan Convention, and the honored guest of the Northern Indiana Diocese will be the Most Reverend Katherine Jefforts Schori, the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, who is the first and only female to head a major Christian denomination in the US.

Though female leadership in the church is not yet completely de jure, along with Mr. Bumble I recognize the de facto power of women.  Theological critics of the 2009 pro-gay actions of the ELCA are right in one thing—it was the women’s movement in the church a generation ago that set the stage for the recent successes of the gay rights movement: a “slippery slope” some would claim, but I prefer the metaphor of opening the door.

History repeats itself and not always in a negative way.  The civil war in Northern Ireland finally ended when Protestant and Catholic women said enough.  More recently, the women of Liberia rose up and ousted the corrupt Charles Taylor regime and elected a female as the first head of state in an African nation.

leymah-gboweeOne of the Liberian women leaders was Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a Lutheran and the keynote speaker at the Women of the ELCA Triennial Convention in Spokane this summer.  Earlier, she had been a scholarship recipient through the International Leadership Development Program of the ELCA in 2006-2007 to support her study in peace building at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.  An announcement from Oslo, Norway this week named Gbowee as a co-winner, with two other women, of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The following is from an ELCA press release:

The starting point of the women’s movement was war fatigue, said Gbowee, a mother of six children. She grew tried of watching children die from hunger and “waking up every morning and not knowing whether a tomorrow was possible. You can’t plan for the future.” Along with thousands of other women from across Liberia, Gbowee wanted to dream of a better community.

She decided it was time to stop the war and called together women of all faiths — Christian, Muslim, indigenous and others — from across Liberia to “step out,” recognizing that Liberian women can play a critical role in peace building.

Using the experiences of the women before them, Gbowee used prayer, picketing and silence to further their mission. Despite insults and other behaviors that came their way, Gbowee said, “We kept quiet because we had a sense of purpose and sense of direction.” The women also put together statements of peace for African governments, engaged the media and initiated personal, one-to-one conversations with power brokers “to see how we could get the peace that Liberia was searching for,” she said.

“Leymah Gbowee’s life and leadership are a witness to the power of women to resist forces of violence and domination by creating a movement for reconciliation and peace,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. “In Liberia, I experienced her passionate commitment to rebuilding a nation torn by civil war not by seeking vengeance, but through her faith to encourage dialogue and inclusiveness at all levels of society.”

Bumble concluded his soliloquy: the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.

Submissive wife?

At the Republican debate last night, Michelle Bachman was asked whether she was a submissive wife.  Perhaps the question itself was sexist, but prior Bachmann statements suggested that she accepted certain Biblical writings about women rather literally, and the question was asked against that background:

It is a philosophy that Michele Bachmann echoed to congregants of the Living Word Christian Center in 2006, when she stated that she pursued her degree in tax law only because her husband had told her to. “The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands,” she said.  [referring to Titus 2:5]

Last night, Bachman responded to the question by suggesting she “respected” her husband.   Equating “to submit” with “to respect” is more than a tiny stretch, but I’m sure her minions were satisfied with her Biblical exegesis.  Read more …

Friday shoutouts

Platz ordination Did you know that it’s been forty years since the first woman was ordained in a North American Lutheran denomination (a predecessor to the ELCA)?  Here’s a link and a quote from the ELCA news release:

In 1970 the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) ordained [Rev. Elizabeth A. Platz] at U Maryland’s Memorial Chapel, where she serves today.  Platz, the first woman ordained a Lutheran pastor in North America, has served her entire ministry as UM Lutheran campus pastor.  On Nov. 22 this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will mark the 40th anniversary of her ordination.

Pastor Sarah Scherschligt, who blogs as Barefoot Pastor, offers an excellent retrospective as well as questioning whether female clergy are all the way the way to full acceptance yet.

I have blogged extensively about the Rites of Reception for LGBTQ clergy who were formerly ordained extraordinarily.  In particular, I focused on the San Francisco Rite a few months ago and the St Paul Rite a few weeks ago.  Other, less publicized, Rites are also proceeding forthwith.  

Pastor Jen NagelLast Sunday, September 26th, Pastor Jen Nagel was welcomed to the roster of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA in a Rite of Reception at Salem English Lutheran Church of Minneapolis where Pastor Jen has served since 2003.  Actually, the service was held at a nearby theater due to construction issues at Salem, which will soon move into new space in a shared ministry with Lyndale United Church of Christ (of course, the United Church of Christ is a full communion partner with the ELCA). Pastor Jen was ordained at Salem English Lutheran in January of 2008.  Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop Craig Johnson presided at the Rite of Reception.

Pastor Lura GroenOn November 7th, Pastor Lura Groen of Grace Lutheran Church of Houston, Texas will be added to the roster of the Gulf Coast Synod in a Rite of Reception at Grace.  Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Mike Rinehart will preside at the Rite, which is being called “No Longer Strangers”.  On the homepage of Grace’s website, Pastor Lura offers her gratitude to the courageous pioneers of Grace for extending a call to her:

Dear People of Grace-

Two years ago, you made the bold and Spirit-filled decision to call the best pastor for you, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And being the person you called, I’m awfully glad you did! But also, as your pastor, I am so proud of your witness.

It is a good thing to see the Spirit at work in the church, and to celebrate what God has done at Grace. And even more beautiful to know this is only one of the great things God is doing here!

I hope you see the Holy Spirit working in your own, individual lives too! In addition to the presence that calms and comforts you, I hope you experience God calling you into new, risky, beautiful things. And- I hope you’re sharing them with each other, and with me, when it happens!

I am always proud to serve such a justice-loving congregation, and such wonderful people.

Pastor Lura

St Paul Rite of Reconciliation

Pastors Frost, Hill, and Zillhart Ruth Frost, Anita Hill, and Phyllis Zillhart are three women well known in ELCA circles for their boundary breaking courage.  All three are lesbian clergy who bucked the system despite the certainty of official ELCA sanctions and personal opprobriation.   Here are snippets from a sermon delivered by Pastor Hill following one public act of civil disobedience against the former ELCA policies toward gay clergy:

There was disapproval raining down on our heads …  I heard the tension in the murmurs and groans of many voting members. … We risked our reputations, risked losing the respect of the church we’ve been nurtured in along with our families for generations.

Ruth and Phyllis are a lesbian couple who made national news in 1990 by accepting a joint call to the ministry as co-pastors of St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco.  In response, the ELCA kicked the congregation out of the denomination, and refused to recognize the ordinations of the two women.  This was the beginning of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM); by the time of the ELCA Church Wide Assembly of 2009 (CWA09) when the voting members reversed the restrictive LGBTQ ministry policies, ELM had ordained thirty or so extraordinary persons extraordinarily.  Here is a video about the historic events of twenty years ago.



Similarly, Pastor Hill made national headlines when she accepted a call to St Paul Reformation Church in 2001.  This time, the denomination placed sanctions on the congregation, but it was not expelled from the ELCA.  Here is a link to the Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with Pastor Hill dated May 5, 2001.  Pastor Hill’s story was the subject of a ninety minute award winning documentary in 2003 entitled “This Obedience.”  I couldn’t find a good video about the documentary to post here, but I did find one in which Pastor Hill speaks as an advocate for marriage equality.

Past is prologue, as they say, and the ELCA ministry policies have changed–thanks in no small part to those who have risked “disapproval raining down on our heads”.  On Saturday next, these three pioneering women will be formally received onto the roster of ELCA clergy in a public Rite of Reconciliation.  Details about this celebratory event may be found on the website of Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA), ELM’s blog,  and the website of St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church where Pastor Hill continues to serve.  Pastors Frost and Zillhart have returned to Minnesota (they had attended seminary at Luther in St Paul), and both serve as hospice/elder care chaplains.

The service promises to be festive with many clergy and bishops past and present.  St Paul area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness will preside, and the sermon will be delivered by another well known Lutheran LGBTQ activist, Barbara Lundblad, professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary.  This will be the second highly publicized Rite of Reconciliation in the ELCA.  A few months ago, seven LGBTQ clergy were welcomed onto the ELCA roster of ordained clergy in California.  Pastor Jeff Johnson, featured in the video along with Pastors Frost and Zillhart, was one of the seven.

Fear of the feminine?

Is misogyny related to homophobia?  We have long noticed that the leading spokesmen against the ELCA gay-friendly policies often sound sexist tones in their rhetoric.  That trend continues with the Lutheran CORE response to the Rite of Reconciliation service in California last week.

The blog of Lutheran CORE offered the following commentary yesterday:

A worship service formally receiving seven gay and lesbian persons as ELCA pastors included elements that many Lutherans would find offensive or even heretical.

The service also included elements of pagan and goddess worship (emphasis added) reflecting the practice of some of the congregations of the new ELCA pastors.

What the blogger referred to as “pagan and goddess worship” were prayers that recognized feminine and other images of the divine.  I guess that can be pretty scary to the patriarchy. 

Here are  the offending prayers; is this pagan and goddess worship?

Our Mother who is within us we celebrate your many names. Your wisdom come, your will be done, unfolding from the depths within us. Each day you give us all that we need. You remind us of our limits and we let go. You support us in our power and we act in courage. For you are the dwelling place within us, the empowerment around us, and the celebration among us, now and forever. Amen.

God, lover of us all, most holy one, help us to respond to you to create what you want for us here on earth. Give us today enough for our needs; forgive our weak and deliberate offenses, just as we must forgive others when they hurt us. Help us to resist evil and to do what is good; For we are yours, endowed with your power to make our world whole. Amen.

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven. The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by the people of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth! With the bread we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.

Walter Brueggemann While the image of God as father may be the most prevalent Biblical metaphor for the ineffable and transcendent YHWH whose name shall not be spoken, it is not exclusive.  The esteemed scholar of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann, suggests “No noun for Yahweh can be taken at face value; each must be attended to in its rich, contextual density”, and Brueggemann offers the following lists (The Theology of the Old Testament, pp 233-263):

Old Testament metaphors of governance

  • Yahweh as judge
  • Yahweh as king
  • Yahweh as warrior
  • Yahweh as father

Old Testament metaphors of sustenance:

  • Yahweh as artist
  • Yahweh as healer
  • Yahweh as gardener-vinedresser
  • Yahweh as mother
  • Yahweh as shepherd

The Hebrew reluctance to name the one who cannot be named is rooted in the understanding that to name and define is to domesticate and control.  How revealing is it that CORE would claim a metaphor of control as the sole and exclusive way of speaking about the divine? Is it “pagan and goddess worship” to call on other metaphors, especially those of sustenance?

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 event.gay pride mass foursome

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