Monday, August 27, 2007

The ELCA, gays, and Camp Out

Well, it has been a busy and challenging month in the wilds of Waterville, Ohio, boys and girls. I've been dealing with a rather untreated case of life, and so my writing on this blog has suffered. (I haven't done so hot on the Ragamuffin side of the house, either - but I've done better over there...)

So here we are, catching up on a couple big-ticket items that happened in the almost 2 full months of gay life that's gone by since my last post.

Camp Out - This documentary is about the first-every gay Christian bible camp for teens! It's a great story - full of angst and hope and joy. It was broadcast on the Logo gay network a while ago, but for those of you who (like me) are Logo-channel impaired, here is the link to see the documentary online!

It's fascinating to see this now, because one of the primary movers behind this camp is Rev. Jay A. Wiesner, a gay ELCA pastor, and his congregation, Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN, is the home base for "Camp Out." (See more about Pastor Jay at Bethany's staff web-page, including a link to his participation in the LCNA's Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP).)

I haven't watched the entire special yet - but what I have seen gives me hope. And I haven't had much of that with the ELCA on this topic for a while.

The ELCA decision - as it's being called - is an attempt to do something while at the same time appearing to do nothing. There has been great celebration over this topic, and yet, I'm not sure it isn't premature...

Here's a quick precis' from the Lutherans Concerned/North America website:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) decided to encourage its bishops to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in the discipline of rostered ministers in committed same-gender relationships. While the assembly deferred outright elimination of its policy that prohibits LGBT ministers from living in loving, lifelong family relations with their life partner, asked the church to prepare for such decision at its next assembly in 2009.

On the surface, I can see how this makes sense. How does one keep the old church law and yet do the right thing to start to overcome thousands of years of prejudice? The Church has said, "Yes, the behavior which you desire is still a sin. But now the bishops don't have to punish folks in 'unnatural relationships.' The rule still stands, because we believe it's based on Scripture - but we can offer the chance for mercy."

But then you have people in the church like Bishop Ron Warren, the antagonist in the case against Rev. Bradley Schmeling. Bishop Warren knew full well that the question of partnered gay clergy in the ELCA would come up at the Churchwide Assembly in August. Nonetheless, he knew that the church rule against Schmeling was iron-clad: "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry of this church."

Warren had every justification to delay, to give the voice of the church time to act - but he and the staff of his Synod chose to press forward, evidently to make an example of Pastor Schmeling. And he did it despite Schmeling's clear record of service, and the love and acceptance of his congregation.

So Bradley Schmeling got his verdict in February. The LCNA webpage about the verdict says it best: the 14-page verdict essentially says

...what is wrong is neither Bradley nor his committed, same-gender, lifelong relationship but the policy that brought him before them in the first place. They called it "at least bad policy," at worst a violation of the constitution and by-laws of this church. And they were just shy of unanimous in that conclusion. Nearly unanimous… Think about that…
In short, "we think the rule sucks, but de' rules are de' rules."

Yes, it was appealed. But in the end, Bishop Warren pushed, the appeal failed, and Bradley Schmeling was slated to be removed from the roster of ELCA clergy on July 2nd - five weeks before Churchwide. The press release from Schmeling's church said it best:
The Committee on Appeals said that Bradley's removal was effective immediately with this decision, since the Discipline Hearing Committee (DHC) had no authority to delay the implementation of its February decision further than the end of the appeals process. The DHC had delayed the removal from the clergy roster until August 15. And, the Committee on Appeals said that the DHC had exceeded its authority by suggesting that the policy might violate the ELCA constitution, and further by suggesting ways to change the policy.
The problem with this ruling is that people like Bishop Warren are still in the church. And while they don't have to punish "practicing homosexuals," they still can.

The bottom line: church leadership still have the gun in their hands, and it is still very much loaded. They have received a "memorial" recommendation saying that they do not have to pull the trigger. The question is, how many will be motivated by hate and ancient prejudice...and how many will be motivated by the love and acceptance that this Jesus person had for the woman at the well?

It will be interesting to see whether the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will follow Jesus, or their long-standing tradition. My hope is with Jesus (in more ways than one); my fear is that the church often known as "the frozen chosen" will stick to their much-beloved tradition.