Sunday, September 30, 2012

a letter to my hometown church.

If you are looking for a normal goofy blog post, this is not it (fear not: the goofy posts will be back on Wednesday) . It's a serious post, which I'll only do for important occasions. This, my friends, qualifies as an important occasion: the marriage amendment is rearing its ugly head on the Minnesota ballot this November. I don't think the good people of Minnesota will let it pass, but it's important to get yourselves out there and vote NO. 

Anyway, a little background on the letter you're about to read:

For some time now, my hometown church has been discussing leaving its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and joining the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The NALC formed a few years ago when the ELCA announced its acceptance of gay clergy: members of the ELCA who disagreed with this decision left the organization, and the NALC was born. The church council sent out a survey to all the members, asking us to check a box to stay with the ELCA or to leave the ELCA and join the NALC. Here is the letter I sent with my completed survey. 

Dear Trinity Lutheran Congregational Council:

I have received your survey as to whether or not we, as a church, should continue to be affiliated with the ELCA. As you will see from my survey answer, I believe that Trinity Lutheran should remain a part of the ELCA. However, this issue is much more complicated than a simple check mark in a box.

I am disappointed that there is even a question as to whether or not we should leave the ELCA for the NALC. The letter sent out to the congregation suggests that the ELCA has become “more of a political body than a spiritual body” while the NALC is “seen by some people to be more faithful to the Gospel than the ELCA.” The letter goes on to say that those in favor of the NALC feel that the ELCA “is not being faithful to the authority of scripture and is following social teachings rather than the Biblical witness.”

Stating that the ELCA has become more political and is following social teachings while the NALC is more faithful to the Bible is a thinly-veiled reference to the ELCA’s acceptance of gay clergy and gay individuals. The NALC, on the other hand, officially disapproves of same-sex relationships and certainly wouldn’t allow an openly gay pastor to join their ranks. In fact, it seems to me that the NALC formed predominantly because of disapproval of ELCA’s decision to allow gay individuals to serve as ministers. If you ask me, that’s a poor foundation on which to build a church.

A favorite (and flawed) argument for the NALC’s intolerance of gay individuals is that the Bible says that a man shall not lie with another man. The Bible also says that slavery is acceptable and that women may be stoned to death for adultery. Are we to believe that those statements should be accepted as truth, as well? One must also keep in mind that the Bible was not, in fact, written by God. It was written by a number of individuals with conflicting opinions who claim to have been spoken to by God. Just because someone once wrote that it’s a sin to be gay does not make it a fact. In this case, it’s some ancient judgmental writer’s opinion. “Because the Bible says so” is a terribly weak argument.

The NALC claims to follow the Bible more closely than the ELCA. Perhaps this is true, but to follow each and every rule in the Bible would be nearly impossible. Many of the rules do not affect our faithfulness: if you eat seafood or shave your beard, it does not mean that you love God any less. However, it is important to follow the rule that permeates the Bible from beginning to end: love thy neighbor. When you think about the Ten Commandments, they can be divided into two clear sections: honor God and love your neighbor. Commandments five through ten all ask that you treat others with respect: honor your parents, do not steal, kill, covet, or commit adultery. Jesus himself says that the most important commandment is to love and honor God, while the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 36 – 40).

Ask yourselves, as Christians: why would you want to join a group based on its willingness to exclude a group of people? To be a good Christian is NOT to make individuals feel unwelcome in church: everyone is welcome in God's house. As Christians, it is up to us to welcome with open arms anyone who wants to hear the word of God. The NALC suggests that we should reject certain people because of who they fall in love with. How very un-Christian, indeed. Our responsibility as Christians is to help spread the word of God, not limit it to a chosen few. A church is supposed to be a warm and welcoming place, not a place where certain people are more welcome than others.

I will not belong to a church that is associated with a group such as the NALC, which maintains exclusionary policies. Yes, it would be sad: I was baptized and confirmed at Trinity Lutheran, and I have been a member all my life. I have spent every Christmas at Trinity, and countless Sundays in between. But I would rather give up my membership than be a part of the NALC: an organization so willing to pass judgment on those who are gay. Matthew 7:1 says: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” No one in the church, be they NALC or ELCA, has the right to decide who is a good person and who isn’t, nor do we have the authority to say who is and isn’t welcome in church and in the eyes of God.

Finally, I must ask this: if the church does, in fact, switch to the NALC, what good would it really do? I can only speak for myself when I say that I would withdraw my membership if the church switched, but I would not be at all surprised if others did the same. Trinity Lutheran struggles with attendance every Sunday – why would the church put forth a movement that would potentially alienate members and possibly cause them to leave? I feel that there are many more important things that the church could be focusing on: issues that would bring the church together instead of drive members apart.

I do realize that this survey was intended to be confidential, but I am quite comfortable with the congregational council – as well as the entire congregation - knowing where I stand. I stand with a loving, accepting church that will take anyone – gay, straight, or otherwise – into its fold. I stand with the ELCA.


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