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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Festival: politics of the neighborhood

Today's post comes from ring member hot cup, who blogs at hot cup's happenings. Hers is not the only denomination to struggle with changes in polity. She considers what really matters most. 

politics of the neighborhood...

recently, an ELCA congregation nearby had their 2nd vote to  leave the ELCA. of course it is their choice to do so. it has also been their choice to use intimidation among members, shunning those who don't agree, spreading rumors and false information, and on several ocassions cornering me and members of the churches where i serve.

of course this type of behavior isn't anything new right? sin is sin is sin. if they want to leave, because they are wound up at the possibility of having a homosexual person as their pastor, fine, so be it. (even though they have had one mind you.) but... to spin things so wildly out of control... to be so filled with fire and brimstone, that they ignore the real needs in our community. well quite frankly it has me pissed off, really pissed off. so angry, i had trouble praying for that congregation this past week in worship... and fully understood why jesus asks us to pray for our enemies.

i want to say to those members, because not all their members agree on leaving you see... but to those who are so wound, so intent on spreading false information and narrow understandings... i want to say this: "really? this scenario that is so unlikely for you is what you're focusing all your energy into? why don't you quit turning a blind eye to the woman whose husband continually beats the crap out of her... why don't you do something to help the single parents who barely have enough food to feed their families at the end of the month (if you know you call 2 pkgs.  of ramen noodles enough for a family of 5)... why don't you consider reaching out to help the people who can't pay their utility bills, because their companies laid them off? instead of worrying about who is loving who, or instead of worrying about who loves you enough to vote like you, why don't you consider just loving your neighbor in some way, because i'm pretty sure jesus had something to say about that."

it's happened all over in states everywhere and denominations. the hurts, the brokenness, the reality of how nasty people can be... argh! so... where i serve at least, i am hoping we continue to ask if we are being faithful where god has placed us. i hope we continue to welcome everyone... even members who may transfer to here, who are in deep hurt... who need reconciliation... who need to be loved on, and loved hard for some time. i hope we continue to do the best we are able, and if possible to stretch ourselves some into reaching out. i don't want us to settle into self-righteousness either... but i'm hoping this fall, we can stir one another up to meet the needs in the neighborhood... to help that single mom, to help women find resources they need, to perhaps establish an assistance fund... to continue to form relationships with those we worship with... *sigh* suddenly the vineyard seems overwhelming.


  1. One of the three ELCA churches I serve imploded over the "homosexual clergy issue." They lost half of their active membership, and two years later they are still trying to mend broken hearts...but are definitely focused in ministry! What I have found, as I've had to work through this mess, is that those who left (and tried to get the church to leave) had a lot of other issues going on. Old issues, personal issues, power issues, people had a lot of pent up anger and frustration to express...and they did in inappropriate ways. The reality of the "homosexual issue" gave an outlet for it all, and people could feel righteous about expressing their nastiness, because it was a matter of Biblical interpretation. Holy war! (Without doing personal examination and realizing the darker nature of what was going on.) Since it was in the name of God, it made all their nasty tactics OK (oh boy, do I have stories, as I'm sure you do).

    It was hard on the rest of our communities to see what was going on, to see their friends hurting, to see such behavior going on. My message was always, we're all a part of God's family, and it is painful when a part of the family is struggling. Please pray for us and encourage us in our faith. We need you!

  2. Thanks for this Hot Cup: it is important that we speak out about the pain of wrestling with these issues but don't lose sight of the real mission of the church.
    Actually it's really helped me to make some sense of the vineyard story for Sunday: even with all the wrestling and fighting and lawlessness that happens, God never gives up on the vineyard - he at no point decides to give up on Vine production altogether - God never stops - whatever we do. I hope this message will help some folk I have to preach with this Sunday who are wrestling with inclusion and welcome & how we can be a faithful church.

  3. What a hard situation, hot cup! This is a painful issue for me, because the decision, when the conservative members of my denomination force it, will divide my congregation right down the middle and leave both remnants without the resources to survive.

    At the same time, I don't think we should characterize all who oppose a change in ordination standards as mean-spirited individuals who do nothing but cause trouble. That is not true in my congregation. Many are people who have struggled with this issue and come down on the other side of it. (Even I, while wholeheartedly favoring the ordination of gays and lesbians, also grieve the loss of "fidelity and chastity" as stated values.) While there are troublemakers out there, and I have a few, even they are not without redeeming qualities, and I work hard not to demonize and "otherize" them.

  4. I wish the ELCA could look at TEC and learn....breaking up is hard to do but there are better and worse ways to do it if it comes to that. Mostly we've seen the worse but there are some exceptions.

    And as for the loss of fidelity and chastity as virtues -- why should that be a foregone conclusion? All couples (same sex/opposite sex) can be held to the same standards. All clergy (straight/gay) can be held to the same standards. Isn't that really what this is about -- all of us being held to the same standards regardless of gender or orientation?

  5. The congregation just south of my church has left the ELCA. I don't know this congregation very well but what I have seen and heard that their disgust and distrust of the ELCA goes back long before the sexuality stuff. It may never have been a good fit for them, for any number of reasons. I worry that this congregation spent so much of its time and energy focused on what they are against that they will have trouble shifting gears even after they have officially cut ties with the ELCA. My prayer for this congregation and others like them is that they would be able to move on.

  6. Rev Dr Mom, let me clarify. I do not believe that ordaining gay and lesbian individuals makes the loss of that standard a foregone conclusion.

    The way the PCUSA has gone about changing its ord standards has, however, removed the provision in our constitution that requires a commitment to remain faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness. That was deemed necessary over the short term because of the weird ways in which the church and state share authority over marriage, but I regret the loss of an explicit statement of commitment to fidelity in covenanted relationships. All couples can be held to the same standard; unfortunately, right now our governance does not specify a standard.

    And I agree with the other anonymous and with hot cup: This cannot be our entire focus.

  7. okay colleagues let me clarify... i am not lumping into one category or "demonizing" those who choose to leave. nor am i labeling them all as troublemakers with mean spirits. it is their choice, and i can respect that even if i disagree with it.

    isn't there a way however for the body to still function as the body, even if there are disagreements? regardless of where church members find themselves at in regard to these decisions... aren't we all called to be the hands, feet, face and heart of Christ in our community... working together to meet the needs of our neighbor?

  8. I heard the "sin is sin" part of this blog post as being about the spread of false information. There are ways to disagree honorably.
    And I'm not a Presbyterian, but it seems like the trouble was not the demand for fidelity but for fidelity in marriage, an estate not available most places unless you're heterosexual, and not permitted in some churches even where it is allowed by the state. These are all complicated and multi-layered issues. I chose hot cup's post today because she compellingly asked the question about how we are really supposed to spend our time as the church. What honors Jesus' intentions for us? As those of us on the lectionary reach the last lap of Year A and Matthew's gospel, Jesus' goal becomes clear: love of God and neighbor, care for the poor and imprisoned and ill and those on the margins, preparedness and dedication and the best use of the gifts God has given us.
    This just became a sermon, so I'll stop now. :-)

  9. My own ELCA congregation had a forced vote in Spring 2010- forced by people who disagreed with the national church's decision of who could be ordained (not a decision on the right or wrongness of homosexuality). The vote went significantly to stand with the national church and 18 people left- when our congregational size was about 60. It was very painful and several people pointed out that they would not have left if the vote had gone the other way.

    Nevertheless, over a year later, people are commenting on how great they feel about coming to church and how they appreciate that the undercurrents are gone. We're really doggie-paddling from week to week financially, but we're able to help people who need help and we're able to see that we're doing it. And that makes a difference.

    It is so hurtful to perceive and understand that people are clouding the clear water of the gospel and, thus, people are going thirsty. I pray for your community, hot cup, and for you and for peace in *your* time!

  10. ai yi yiiiiiiiii....

    What pains me here is that the testimony Christians COULD have of being patient with one another and ministering in kindness and gentleness instead of meanness has gone by the wayside.

    Whatever happened to, "and they'll know we are Christians by our love..."


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