Friday, January 29, 2010

Words We Like to Hear

Among many important statements on the economy, health care, energy, foreign policy, and other topics, President Obama said these words during his January 27 State of the Union address:

"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
We encourage all Americans—Lutherans, too!—to support the president as he works to fulfill this promise.

Great Multimedia Resources for Adult Forum or Individual Study

Bishop David Brauer-Rieke of the Oregon Synod (ELCA) has developed two wonderful, online, multimedia presentations on Scripture, the Church, and LGBT people. These presentations are great for either group or individual study.
Where Hope and History Collide. Includes sections on Romans 1, "Care for Families," "Peter, Cornelius, and change," and "Living with Freedom." 86 minutes.

Hope, Homosexuality, and Hospitality. Covers issues of biblical interpretation, exploring Gen. 2 and 19, Lev. 18 and 20, Acts 15, 1 Cor. and Tim., and Rom. 1-4. 95 minutes.
We thank Bishop Brauer-Rieke for his leadership, teaching, and witness.

Also, see LC/NA's great new list of downloadable resources on Scripture, liturgy, church policy, science, and more.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

San Antonio Chapter Celebrates New Possibilities, Openness, Mission

If you are in the San Antonion area on Friday, February 5, please join the San Antonio chapter of Lutherans Concerned/North America as they share worship and fellowship.

The service will offer an opportunity for members of ELCA congregations and other partners in ministery to sing and pray together as we continue to celebrate with the ELCA and its new possibilities, openness, energy for new mission, and Christ's good news.

Please stay for fellowship and refreshments at the conclusion of the service.

The offering received at the service will be designated for synod mission support.

Friday, February 5
7:00 pm
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
1630 Goliad Road
San Antonio , TX 78223

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paying the Welcome Forward

A message delivered by David Weiss

Wartburg College Chapel, January 27, 2010

Text: Acts 10:1-8, 44-48 (Cornelius' vision instructing him to send for Peter; and the concluding scene where the Gentiles as well as the Jews receive the Holy Spirit)
   
The question for us is, how do we get from verse 8 to verse 48? And it’s an important question, because this is about us. This text is about our welcome into the church nearly 2000 years ago.

You see, probably all of us in this room are Gentiles. That is, we weren’t born into Jewish families. That makes us members of Cornelius’ household. And that means that from its beginning not one of us had a place in the church, which began as a Jewish renewal movement … for Jews only.

Well, not exactly “for Jews only,” but pretty close.

You see, Cornelius' household—and all the rest of us Gentiles—were mentioned in a whole bunch of biblical texts that told the first Jewish Christians quite clearly that we didn’t belong. We weren’t part of God’s chosen family. Indeed, we were, in at least a few texts, outright cursed by God simply for who we were.

There were conditions under which we Gentiles could be accepted in the church, but they required that we renounce and alter our entire lifestyles. We had to change our eating habits, re-design our kitchens, buy a new set of clothes, and (if we were men) mutilate our bodies by getting circumcised. The conditions for Gentiles were so extraordinarily high that they hardly resonated with a Gospel message that purported to be “good news.”

So at verse 8, all of us here this morning, along with Cornelius in Caesarea, are virtually guaranteed a place on the outside … forever. But four things happen along the way to verse 48 that instead forever alter the make-up and the self-understanding of the church.

First, the Holy Spirit is busy throughout this entire passage, offering this vision to Cornelius and then the vision of forbidden foods to Peter—along with the proclamation that what God has declared clean should no longer be regarded as unclean, and then the Spirit is poured out on all those gathered in verses 44-46.

Second, Cornelius, this outsider who is supposed to have no voice, no claim on God or God’s people, dares to speak. He dares to imagine that perhaps there is a place for him and his household in this community.

Third, Peter, as a leader in the early church, dares to respond with openness to God’s vision. He dares to step beyond the boundaries of all the written texts that he grew up with. He dares to see that when God promised through Isaiah to be doing a new thing, that the emphasis was on the word NEW. That when God promised, later in Isaiah, to have plans to gather into the family of God others who had not yet been gathered, that God’s reach was going a whole lot further than anyone expected.

And finally, Peter, along with the other Jewish Christians who came with him—mentioned as “the circumcised believers” in verse 45—dare to acknowledge the presence of the Spirit where they never expected to see it. And based on that, they dare to welcome the Gentiles into the church, just as the Spirit was poured out them—exactly as they were.

And while the story is more complicated than that, and it plays out with plenty of bickering for a good numbers of years, this scene does mark one of the critical turning points that brought Cornelius—and the rest of us Gentiles—into the church.

It really did forever alter the make-up of the church. But not so much the self-understanding.

You see, once the church became entirely Gentile, it—that is, the “we” of centuries ago, got entangled in attitudes of exclusivity all over again. Paul’s amazing vision of a community that makes no divisions between Jew or Greek, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female fades away.

For centuries the church used gender, skin color, language, ethnicity, social class to decide who could be counted in the family of God. We told all manner of people that they could become Christians only if they could successfully speak, dress, look, and act like us.

We forgot about the vision offered to Peter. We forgot how much he must have been unnerved to find God doing a new thing. And we forgot to imagine God might still have a new thing to do among us.

Thankfully, God has continued to lower a blanket of forbidden food to us again and again. From the voices of other outsiders—slaves, women, indigenous peoples, and more—to a handful of voices of insiders willing, like Peter, to imagine God’s newness, the blanket keeps coming down. The reminder that the church boundaries were not fixed by God but burst wide open by God.

This text is our beginning place, but it was not meant to be our ending place.

This coming Sunday, the last Sunday in January, is Ecumenical Welcoming Sunday, in Lutheran circles known as Reconciling in Christ Sunday. It is a day to recognize communities of faith that continue the tradition of Acts 10 by extending an unconditional welcome to those gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons who—like Cornelius and his household—hope to have a home in the Christian story.

Those of us who are straight are sometimes tempted to begrudge all the fuss made about a “special” welcome to “those people.” But this text reminds us that once, 2000 years ago, despite a handful of texts that specifically condemned us simply because we were Gentiles, we were the ones offered that special welcome.

Remembering the grace of a welcome that came to us as quite a surprise, and without conditions, perhaps we can experience a certain vicarious joy in extending that welcome on to others today.

May it be so. Amen.

David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God's welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality & spirituality. You can reach him by email and at his website

Religious Leaders to Announce American Prayer Hour

Multi-City Prayer Hour Offers Alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast Whose Sponsors Have Apparent Ties to Uganda’s Draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill

As we’ve previously reported here and here, Uganda is considering a draconian “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” If passed, the new law would unleash a vicious campaign of persecution against LGBT citizens.

On Tuesday, February 2, at 10:30 a.m. EST, key religious leaders will hold a press conference to announce the formation of The American Prayer Hour, a multi-city event on February 4, 2010, with key events held in Washington, DC, Dallas, Chicago, Berkeley, and other cities. The American Prayer Hour events will affirm inclusive values and call on all nations, including Uganda, to decriminalize homosexuality. The event will spotlight the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sponsored by The Family (aka The Fellowship), a group with disturbing ties to those spearheading Uganda’s oppressive Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

David Bahati, a member of The Family, sponsored the legislation. Ugandan president Museveni, who initially backed the bill, is also a member of The Family.

The American Prayer Hour will show that such cruelty and extremism does not represent most people of faith.

Leaders participating in the Feb. 2 press conference will include Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church; Frank Schaeffer, author, “Crazy For God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All Back”; Harry Knox, the Human Rights Campaign, Director of Religion and Faith; Moses, a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in the United States; Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, Metropolitan Community Church, Board of Elders; Bishop Carlton Pearson, Senior Interim Minister at Chicago, Illinois’s Christ Universal Temple.

Leaders from Lutherans Concerned/North America and from many other organizations will participate in a parallel, supporting event at the Creating Change Conference 2010. This event will be led by the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School and will be held in Dallas on February 4.

For those who would like to get involved in the American Prayer Hour project, here are four ways:

1. If you live in a city where a major American Prayer Hour event is already occurring, please consider attending. Additional events are listed here.

2. If you are interested in creating an American Prayer Hour event in your hometown, please contact Wayne Besen.

3. Spread the word about the American Prayer Hour and the truth behind the National Prayer Breakfast.

4. Pray where you are—wherever you are—for a world safe for all families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

For further background info, see:
An article in the New York Times.
A series of blog posts at Box Turtle Bulletin.
Transcripts of broadcasts on National Public Radio here and here.







Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Conservative Case for Marriage, be it Same-Gender or Not

LC/NA directs your attention to the front-cover story of a recent issue of Newsweek : "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage: Why same-sex marriage is an American value." The article is written by Theodore B. Olson, the lawyer who represented George Bush during the Bush v. Gore election case. Mr. Olson is currently at work on Prop 8 in California, trying to "persuade a federal court to invalidate" the law that took away the right for same-gender couples to marry. While the case itself has to do with state law, the issue of same-gender marriage is clearly on the minds of many faithful Christians all over the country and throughout the ELCA.

Olson writes:
Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 31 is Reconciling In Christ Sunday

Every year, the welcoming community designates the last Sunday in January as Welcoming Sunday, which for us Lutherans means Reconciling in Christ Sunday is on January 31, 2010.
 
RIC Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate the witness to God's love for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Those celebrations will be echoed throughout the welcoming movements in many communities of faith.

Pastor David Eck, Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Fairview, North Carolina, has compiled some fantastic resources, including suggested readings, liturgy, prayers, hymns, and even MP3 music files to help in preparation. If your congregation has already planned something for the last Sunday of January, these materials will still be relevant and useful to celebrate at another time.

There is a bulletin insert that shares meaningful individual stories as well as information on the RIC and Reconciling Lutheran programs.

Additionally, this Sunday is an opportunity to:
  • Get a large number of people to identify themselves as Reconciling Lutherans. This is an individual declaration of a welcoming spirit. It transcends RIC congregations in the sense that the welcoming spirit is something the person carries wherever that person goes. Forms could be filled out and put in the offering plate, or laptops could be set up in a fellowship time. Forms are part of the bulletin insert.

  • Take up a special offering. The website asks you to consider an offering to support LC/NA''s continued work. Heaven knows we need the donations. However, the offering could be sent directly to the ELCA to assist it in a time when others, in their anger, are mounting an assault on the church by withholding benevolence in an attempt to hurt the church and those it serves. It is important that we seek to reduce the harm we see others deliberately setting out to do, particularly when the harm is directed at the innocent. Either option supports vital ministries within the ELCA.

  • Truly live out the welcome of the church by intentionally reaching out through advertising, word of mouth, your outdoor signage, any way you can to those who may have been injured or driven away by the barriers that are now set aside. You can use the current curiosity about ELCA congregations to advantage: get the word out that yours is a home people can safely return to, they are indeed welcome.
Full information and links to resources are found here.

 

Monday, January 11, 2010

ELCA Expresses Grave Concerns about Ugandan Legislation

The ELCA has expressed its grave concerns about the pending legislation in Uganda that would impose extraordinarily draconian punishments in an effort clearly intended to eliminate, imprison or remove all LGBT persons from Uganda simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. (See earlier LC/NA blog post for more background.)

These concerns were addressed in a letter from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In the letter, Hanson said that "enactment of this kind of legislation would be an abhorrent injustice and outside the norms and standards of internationally recognized human rights." He further cited that the proposed legislation ran counter to the stance of the ELCA established in its social statements on the death penalty, peace, and human sexuality.

Bishop Hanson thanked the Secretary of State for the strong stance the United States government has taken on this issue. He further said that the ELCA will continue to monitor the situation as it develops when the Ugandan Parliament returns to session in February, and will speak out against the enactment of the bill.

Lutherans Concerned is pleased that the ELCA has joined the numerous governments, agencies, religious organizations and thousands of individuals worldwide who condemn this legislation. Lutherans Concerned calls on all to hold those who had a substantial or influential hand in the creation of this reprehensible legislation responsible for the dire consequences that will result should it become law in Uganda.

See the full text of the announcement by the ELCA late on January 8.

See the full text of Bishop Hanson's letter.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

LC/NA’s Emily Eastwood Featured on PBS

"In the Life," a program on PBS, is running an episode focused on leaders in the movement for full inclusion of LGBT people in various aspects of life and society. Emily Eastwood of Lutherans Concerned, Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, three young professionals who started Broadway Impact in response to California's Proposition 8, and Representative Barney Frank are the focuses of this episode, with additional commentary by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

Also in the segment about efforts in the ELCA are former ELCA Presiding Bishop Herbert Chilstrom, Candidate for Ordination Javen Swanson, and Ann Craig, GLAAD Director of Religion, Faith & Values.

The episode will air during the month of January on some 240 stations in 34 states. You can check the listings for when it will air in your local area.

You can view the segment featuring Emily Eastwood below, or the program in its entirety here.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Home for Christmas: Florida Congregation Offers Special Holiday Concert

St. Paul's Lutheran in Clearwater, Florida, a Reconciling in Christ congregation of the ELCA, offered a special holiday concert on December 28 called "Home for Christmas: A Celebration of God's Welcome." The event featured members of Una Voce, a local gay men's chorus singing traditional Christmas music and the music of Leslie Kille, a local singer-songwriter.

A story of the event was published in the St. Petersburg Times.

From the program for the concert:
We are joining together [today] not only to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, but also to rejoice in the all-embracing love of God, who welcomes all of his children into a family celebration.
There is diversity throughout God’s creation; it is a part of his design. In all of his teachings, Jesus Christ made it clear that no one was an “outcast” in the kingdom of God. Christian churches have been slow to recognize that fact; they have often held on to oppressive understandings of sin and righteousness. Martin Luther, who lived in the sixteenth century, struggled for years with a sense of sinfulness and unworthiness, until he came to a fuller understand of grace: the unconditional love God offers to all of us.
Earlier this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the denomination to which this congregation belongs, started the process of removing barriers that had been blocking the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the life of the church.

This congregation celebrates those actions, and invites all of you to join in that celebration today. . . . It is our prayer that everyone here tonight feels the loving and welcoming embrace of Jesus Christ. Let the celebration begin!
There is much to celebrate, indeed. Thank you, St Paul's Lutheran, for hosting this event.


Update - Celebration of the Life of Marie Kent, LC/NA Founder

Marie Kent was one of the six original founders of Lutherans Concerned/North America and was a driving force in Iowa for LGBT equality. Marie died on December 11, 2009. (See our earlier blog post.)

A Celebration of Marie Kent's life will be held on Saturday, January 9th at 2 p.m. at Urbandale United Church of Christ, 3530 70th St., Urbandale, Iowa. The service will be officiated by Roy Nilsen, a retired Lutheran pastor and Marie's long-time friend. There will be an opportunity to share memories and stories of how Marie touched people's lives. Cookies and coffee will be served in the Fellowship Hall following the service.

Memorial donations may be made to Lutherans Concerned, North America. If you wish, you may bring a donation to the memorial service or mail a contribution in Marie's honor to:

Lutherans Concerned / North America, Inc.
PO Box 4707
Saint Paul, MN 55104-0707

Marie's vision and service will be greatly missed.

Project Light 2010

The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decision to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the full life of the ELCA has brought healing and hope to people throughout the ELCA and beyond. Many individuals and congregations have experienced a renewed sense of ministry, outreach, and reconciliation—and they have stories to tell. Project Light 2010 is collecting such stories so that they may be more widely heard, providing a witness to some of the ways God is at work in the world.

We encourage all to go to the Project Light 2010 blog site and read the stories already submitted there. Be sure to also click on the "comments" for each posting.

As one writer comments:
God is love. That's what I learned in my Lutheran upbringing (and from my outstanding parents) and it is what I believe today. I was so moved by the recent vote to become a more inclusive church that I joined my local Lutheran church, after years of not attending church regularly. I had been ready, thinking about it, but this was the event that pushed me over the edge. I am thankful that the church is acting in a way that demonstrates the message it is trying to promote to the world: love your neighbor as your self. . . .
We highly encourage you to submit your own positive stories of hope, healing, and transformation in your life and/or congregation.

Project Light 2010 is offered in honor and celebration of the life and ministry of Rev. Philip N. Knutson.