Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Questions of Faith and Law

In April of 1521,Martin Luther was brought before a tribunal where the Catholic Church demanded he recant his teachings and writings that challenged the doctrine of the day. His response was brief, yet powerful;

"Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen."

I remember in the Winter of 2005, I sat and read the “final report” of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) task force on sexuality. I remember being so disappointed, but also wanting to believe that there was some good to be found there.

I really did want to belive that even though there were no real steps forward, just even having the discussion was a very positive step. At least it could be said that there were no real steps backwards.

That isn't the case in 2008. The passage of Proposition 8 here in California marks the first time the tyranny of a razor thin majority was allowed to strip away civil rights from a targeted minority. And like with the ELCA statement in 2005, once again the issue of LGBT equality reveals the ELCA to be a divided church desperate to avoid taking a stand at all costs.

With that 2005 statment the ELCA, in an attempt to avoid division, opted to remain a divided church. Congregations like St. Mark’s here in San Francisco or Holy Trinity Lutheran in Chicago were told they could continue to proclaim the good news to ALL people, but with slightly LESS fear of being punished for doing so. Yet elsewhere in the very same ELCA, it would be perfectly acceptable to tell a gay or lesbian teenager, from the pulpit, that they are sick and could be cured if they just prayed hard enough.

Now with Prop 8 we find the ELCA has in fear, boxed itself into the same corner once again. Where the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod can, as an individual, join other clergy on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to denounce prop 8. Yet the church that elected him as a Bishop remains, for all intent and purposes silent on the issue of discrimination and turning religous bigotry into civil law.

In the offical ballot recomendations from the Lutheran Office of Public Policy, the ELCA urged us to vote YES on expanding rights for farm animals, (Prop 2) but couldn't muster the courage to say Lutherans should vote NO on taking away rights from human beings. (Prop 8)

So much for "Here I Stand".

The sheer cowardice of the ELCA is mind boggling. My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was so scared to anger people who hate me that it couldnt bring itself to say that taking away my civil rights was wrong. The ELCA has made it clear it is unable, and/or unwilling to say loudly and clearly, that I am as much a human being as anyone else. Equal in the eyes of God, and therefore equal under the laws of Man. The leadership of the ELCA will (very quietly) assure me they believe that. I just need "to be patient" because the church can't say things like that publicly yet.

For once I find myself in agreement with the Neo-Conservative religous right. They have said for years that if you are not clearly against evil, your silence may as well be outright support of it.

I love my congregation of St.Mark's Lutheran here in San Francisco. It is a vibrant diverse thriving community of faith that shouts God's unconditional love for all loudly and proudly each and every Sunday. Yet St. Mark's is an ELCA congregation. I must confess, that I am struggling with that. I find myself wondering if my continued membership isn't just part of what helps preserve the current double standard in the ELCA . Where as a church, we will say one thing in San Francisco, but do quite the opposite elsewhere.

I find myself wondering if a Lutheran denomination that doesn't believe I am 2nd class citizen, but is too scared to say so, and tell those who do believe it, they are wrong, might as well be a Mormon or Catholic Church that donates millions of dollars to try to make me a 2nd class citizen.

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