The denomination in which I serve, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), voted by a 55 to 45 percent vote, to allow congregations to call clergy in publicly accountable, same-sex, committed relationships. I watched the deliberations on a live feed online. In the room the deliberations were prayerful, respectful, even loving. Yet there was no mistaking the pain and disruption that this decision caused and will cause, on both sides.
My nephew, the Rev. Erik Samuelson of Spokane, WA, was a delegate at the convention. When he arose to speak in favor of adopting the human sexuality statement, an action taken up by the body before the clergy vote, he admitted his nervousness to the assembled crowd. He asked them to pray for him. Now, the protocol at the convention is that you stand at a microphone with a green number if you speak for an action, a red number if you speak against. The man standing next to Erik at the "red" microphone, whose name is John, put his arm on Erik's shoulder and kept it there the entire time Erik gave his speech, a speech with which John disagreed. (Visit Erik's blog pubpastor.blogspot.com to read his account)
This action both typifies the spirit of the conversation in the convention hall, and speaks to the nature of the church, which is, at its best and worst, a community of redeemed sinners praying for one another, working for Christ. Erik sent me a link to a song from the Church of the Beloved, in Edmonds, WA, entitled "Peace" from an album the church has compiled called "Hope for a Tree Cut Down." In the song, the singer/songwriter Paula Best declares, " We need each other more than we need to agree." (click here to listen to the song)
That line articulates the intent of this action to allow gay clergy to be both in a relationship with a congregation as a pastor and in a relationship of commitment with a partner. The decision allows those congregations that so choose, to call a gay pastor in a committed relationship, and does not penalize those who so choose not to do. The decision is fraught with risks, but it is based on this principle: We need each other more than we need to agree. We need gifted clergy like my friend Bradley Schmeling of Atlanta to lead congregations. We need those gifted pastors and laity who believe homosexuality goes against biblical teaching to lead congregations and remain active in our church.
Erik ran into John after the deciding vote early Friday evening. John said he was leaving the convention and leaving the ELCA (the convention ends Sunday). That was a time for Erik to put his hand on John's shoulder, and keep him in prayer. Even as we go our separate ways with our separate convictions, we can stay in relationship through prayer, and through our shared relationship to Christ and in Christ. In agreement or out of it, we are fellow member of the body of Christ, even if that body that is broken and wounded. It was so before this decision with the exclusions of gay pastors who are in committed relationships, it continues with the decision to include them.
Maybe it was no mistake that the decision was made on a Friday, reminding us we live between good Friday and Easter, waiting for God to resurrect the broken and wounded body of Christ, and make it whole.