Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Day for Prayer: August 19

The divisions in the ELCA are not going away.

In spite of repeated cries that the current disagreements regarding blessing of same-gender relationships and GLBT persons in same-gender relationships serving in rostered ministry should not be church dividing, the ELCA is in fact divided. The number of congregations that are struggling with reactions among the members to the 2009 churchwide assembly decisions is, in some synods, very large, even if most of those congregations are not taking votes to leave. Pastors, regardless of their own stand on these matters, find that some members are voting with their feet, or with their pocketbooks, or both. And the financial shortfall in both synods and churchwide offices is taking a real toll. Those in the churchwide level are looking at yet another "restructuring," with probably layoffs (yet another round) ahead. Many synods are reducing staff, cutting hours, holding meetings on the meaning and purpose of monetary support of the ELCA, and trying to retrench and regroup. No one knows where bottom is in this financial freefall, which is caused by a combination of the ongoing economic problems overall and the redirecting of giving away from the ELCA synod and churchwide levels.

The ELCA is divided. Those who are rejoicing in and thankful for the measures passed at the 2009 churchwide assembly are in a different place from those who are mourning the same measures. Those who are mourning are also divided, as some believe there is no future in the ELCA and the time has come to "shake the dust off one's feet" and leave for other church bodies, while others believe just as strongly that this is a time to stay in place and bear witness in confessional resistance. At times the relationship between the "stayers" and "leavers" becomes quite antagonistic, as the reasons for leaving imply (or outright state) that staying is tantamount to compromising with heresy. Those who are staying are often struggling with what confessional resistance means in practical terms: does one continue to fight on to overturn the decisions of 2009, or does one build new alliances and focus on positive mission, ignoring the political machinations of the ELCA constitutional structure? There are no easy answers in this time.

So why aren't the leaders in this church body, the presiding bishop, the church council, and/or the conference of bishops calling for a day of prayer for the ELCA?

I have no way to answer that question. However, after pondering it for the past few weeks, I have decided to be bold and call for this on my own. And in looking at the calendar, I have found a good date for such a call for prayer: August 19, the one year anniversary of the day on which the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA passed, by an exact 2/3's vote, the Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.

Whether you opposed the social statement or supported it, whether you cheered its passage or wept, this is a fitting day on which to pray for our ELCA, our presently divided church that is caught in disagreement and disarray in the aftermath of this decision. Despite calls for and proclamations of unity, we find ourselves not one in mission, teaching, witness, or service. Even if you are convinced that the negative fallout from the 2009 decisions is a minority reaction that will pass in time; even if you believe that the rejoicing over the reinstatement of pastors removed for being in same gender relationships is wrong in that it is rejoicing over sin being denied: the divided state of the ELCA cries out for prayer. Praying for God to heal and restore this portion of his church so that it might be a strong witness to the whole Gospel of Christ Jesus is one thing that we can all do, together, even if our prayers are for contrary ways of bringing that healing about.

August 19, 2010: A Day for Prayer for the ELCA. Mark it on your calendars. Encourage it in your congregational family. Suggest it to others, to those on both sides of the divide in our denomination. Pray for healing, for an end of divisions, for repentance, for guidance, for strength, for insight, trusting that God indeeds hears the prayers of all his children. The ELCA is in need of prayer. If there is any unity at all, let us claim our unity in praying for this church body, on August 19.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Reflections on the 4th of July

Fourth of July weekend, and celebration of independency (as John Adams sings it in the musical "1776"). I'm not totally independent this weekend: working today at my part-time retail job (how America really celebrates its major holidays!) and then preaching tomorrow (have a good vacation, Chip!), but this morning I have been baking blueberry muffins and finishing up the sermon and enjoying some quiet along with NPR. I pulled up some of my favorite bits from the aforementioned musical, continuing to be amused these many years after first seeing it with a singing, dancing John Adams. I am moved by Adams singing "Is Anybody There?" and giving his vision for what America and Americans will be; and by the beautiful duet between him and his wife Abigail. The scene that presents the song "Mama, Look Sharp" moves me to tears every time. (And I wish it was mandatory viewing for every President and head of state every day of their tenure.) And I also tear up at the final scene, when all the delegates come forward to sign the newly voted in Declaration of Independence. It doesn't matter that such a scene never really happened; this is the way it should have been, as the die is cast and they make possible the country that I enjoy today.

The most troubling scene, but also one I think is masterful, is the song "Molasses to Rum to Slaves." Jefferson states that he has decided to free his slaves, but of course he never does (with the exception of Sally Hemmings and a handful of others in her family); it is George Washington, unseen in "1776" but a constant presence of the reality of the war in the film, who does do that, in his will upon his death. But none of those fine men from the North can respond to the brutal truth that all of them are complicit in the slave trade, and in the "peculiar institution" that would lead to the most bloody war this country would ever fight. The work of the Continental Congress almost came undone in the War Between the States, but that conflict among other things accomplished the transformation from the "independent states" at the close of the declaration to the one United States, e pluribus unum that we became in that furnace. The new nation had miles to go before it could sleep, in 1776, and hopefully even now.

If this says anything to anyone in relation to our troubles in the church today, I leave it to you to put the pieces together. Today I am enjoying the freedom to reflect on what we have been as a nation: idealistic, pragmatic, flawed, optomistic, at times deeply wrong, and at times profoundly right. This is my country, and I accept all of this as my heritage, and hope that in my years as a citizen here I may help my corner of this land strive to do the right, as God gives us the vision to see the right. Lincoln said something like that, and I leave with the knowledge that between him and Washington we had perhaps the best leaders we could hope for in this fallen world.

Happy 4th of July to all. Go celebrate your independency!