The Big Day

Friday. Starting first thing in the morning, the scheduled session on ministry recommendations. There are four of them which it was decided by this assembly are to be considered separately. Before we could even get started on the first one, though, we had to deal with a substitute resolution from the floor which, if passed, would have gutted the positive recommendations altogether, as it called for the assembly to approve language that declared homosexuality a sin. This was blessedly voted down by the assembly by a pretty significant margin, and we moved on to the original resolutions.

The first was stated in this way: "Resolved, that in the implementation of these resolutions, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all." This passed relatively easily, with most people arguing that those who would oppose full inclusion would most certainly be burdened by the church's decision, and that we must be willing to reach out to each other in love.

The second read: "Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." This one was much tougher, but after much debate, passed. This resolution does not mean that the church endorses same-gender marriage, but rather that it allows those ELCA churches who wish to do so to bless such unions.

The third (and most controversial), is the one about allowing the rostering of people in same-gender relationships: "Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of the church." As of the worship and lunch break, debate on this resolution was still not completed, as we returned to that debate after 2 pm, at the next business session.

Eventually, after extended, impassioned debate on both sides, we won full inclusion with the passage of resolutions 3 and 4 (the last being a long implementation process). The debate and the votes, masterfully led by Bishop Hanson, were bracketed by heartfelt prayer and song. When we won, it was rather eerily silent in the assembly hall, as we mutually acknowledged the gravity of what had just happened.

This whole thing has been unexpectedly hard for me, and, I think, for many others on my side of the debate. While I remain firm in the convictions I brought with me to the assembly, listening to the debate has brought something very painful into my awareness.

Early on in the week, Barbara and I had a discussion about the cost of losing this debate -- for both sides. I maintained at the time that the cost was greater for our side than for theirs. That our loss would be a personal, human loss for all of the individuals affected and for those who love them, but that the other side would just be losing an abstract, theological argument. Get over it, already.

I held that opinion loosely until this morning's debate. As much as I've tried to listen openly to the opposition to this point, I've never experienced their very real pain until today, and it was overwhelming to me. These people do not just hold abstract theological positions. For them, following the Bible as they understand it is the core of their faith. It is personal. It is very real -- and emotionally charged. To take a major step away from the foundation of their faith -- to say that what they've always believed the Bible to be saying is wrong -- shakes their world almost beyond recognition. They are, by and large, good, loving, fatihful Lutherans who really do "love the sinner" even as they "hate the sin."

I heard their pain from the microphones today. The pastor who cried as he spoke of his struggle with this issue, as he welcomed LGBT people into his church with an open heart, but simply still can't escape his conviction that homosexuality is sin. He was crying, he said, because he was afraid that he would have to leave the church he loved because it has so thoroughly departed from what he considers accurate Biblical teaching. He was in very real, personal pain -- trying desperately to do the right thing as he felt called to do, but feeling instead that his church is turning its back on him.

Then there was the lay woman who shared that her sister had called her, hysterical, after the sexuality statement vote, declaring that she would just not be able to set foot in a Lutheran church again. The speaker also shared that her father had declared that he would not be able to kneel next to her at the communion rail again. She was crying, too, as she related the loss of her entire family because of these decisions.

While I clearly do not agree with these folks' positions on policy or on the interpretation of Scripture, I still felt their very real pain in my heart and in my gut. It hurt me. I wanted nothing more than to go to them, share Christ's peace with them, and encourage them to engage in healing with me, but I know that time is the only true healer, and that my overtures at this point would be inappropriately premature.

My prayer, then, is that some day we will be able to come together on the common ground of Jesus' grace, and agree to disagree on this, even as we stay in communion with one another. Graceful engagement does not end here at this assembly, I realized. We must remain in full engagement with these hurting people throughout a time of healing, no matter how long that takes.

I agree with retired Presiding Bishop Herbert Chilstrom, who said at Goodsoil's service of hope and healing last night that this is a bittersweet vistory. We need each other in the body of Christ, this church, and someone else's pain is our pain. Let us not, in our celebration, then, ever forget that, and let this prayer for reconciliation always be at the tops of our hearts and our minds.

Laura B

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