We had our synod assembly this weekend. It was fun to represent Zion with two wonderful members. It was fun to network on behalf of Zion's ministries and mission. It good to see friends from seminary and to reconnect with representatives from St. John's. If you're an extrovert and a church nerd...this is Mecca.
We elect a new bishop every six years, so this assembly was unique to my short career in the Minneapolis Area Synod. We still had our annual business which includes a keynote speaker, Bible study, and updates from our nationwide and global work through the ELCA. Most congregations in our synod support Lutheran Disaster Relief, which has a reputation for showing up all over the world and sticking around to serve long after the media disappears. We still have crews bearing Christ in Pakistan, Japan, Haiti and Joplin, Missouri. We celebrated exciting tales of growth and wonder happening in mission starts that engage immigrant communities, congregations sharing space with other worshipping communities and stories of hope from the churches that worked together in North Minneapolis after the tornadoes last year. We prayerfully voted for a new bishop and anticipated her valuable leadership moving forward. It's all inspiring.
I groaned on Friday when I saw news trucks parked outside the church. I knew they weren't there to cover our radical action regarding malaria relief in Africa or our growing partnership with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. They were there to cover our vote concerning one resolution.
Before I continue, let me be clear.
- I oppose the Marriage Amendment Minnesotans will be voting on this fall. I think all citizens deserve equal rights. I love and support my GLBT brothers and sisters seeking legal protection for their relationships and families.
- I now serve a congregation that is "Reconciling in Christ", which means the congregation voted about ten years ago to be open and welcoming to GLBT people, celebrating them as they are. This means a majority of people in my congregation believe that being gay is not a choice or a behavior, but a natural identity. Being "Reconciling in Christ" is a piece of Zion's larger calling as an "All Are Welcome" congregation because we are a diverse community made of young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, mentally ill, shy, chatty, blind, walking, wheelchair bound, etc.
- I get grossed out when I see pastors posting a lot of politically partisan statements and articles on their Facebook pages. I'm married to a wonderful, intelligent man who does not vote for the same politicians I do...so I would never tell people how to vote from the pulpit or suggest a particular stance in a prayer because "All Are Welcome" also means that we welcome a diversity of politics in an assembly of respect, acceptance and love.
- When we vote at the synod assembly, we vote representing only ourselves. Not our congregations or our families, though these things come to mind as we raise our cards.
And so I groaned when I saw the media trucks because I knew, once again, the ELCA would be classified by something divisive in the public sphere instead of all the wonderful ways we are united and ecumenical. This entry is my meager attempt to show that there was something unifying about this vote, regardless of how the media and critics described it.
You see, we weren't voting about whether or not we "like" gay marriage. We weren't voting about whether we're overjoyed or bitter about the 2009 ELCA church wide vote. We were voting to uphold a decision we'd already made in 2004 about the rights of all people and the call to speak up for minorities lacking equal rights. We were voting to proclaim an opposition to changing our constitution in such a way that excludes a particular group of people forever.
It's less sexy and less newsworthy to explain it this way, but it's true. That means that some people who personally oppose the idea of same-sex marriage voted YES with me. That means some people who think homosexuality is a sin voted YES with me. That means that a lot of Christians who believe a lot of really different things stepped outside the politically divisive stuff for a moment to do something big.
A moment after these green cards were raised, there were some red NOs in the air. I won't pretend that we were all in agreement. And thank God. Because if we all thought alike and acted alike and voted alike, we would not be the diverse church God calls us to be. We would not be able to challenge each other and debate scripture as well as we do.
So I hope that more YES than NO means there will be respectful dialogue and hope in the wake of this vote. I hope that more YES than NO means there are people who feel excluded from most kinds of church have finally found a place to be welcome as they are. I hope we will continue to be a church where there is healthy discord and a place for everyone at the table.