Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Q Toon: Lutheran Ladies and the Gay Bishop

As Mrs. Exposition explains in this week's cartoon, the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) last week elected as its Bishop The Rev. R. Guy Erwin, an openly gay man in a committed relationship. It was only two years ago that the ELCA gave its approval to ordaining openly gay or lesbian clergy without requiring celibacy of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with Lutheran polity, the ELCA was formed in 1988 through the merger of three more or less liberal Lutheran denominations. It is divided up into several geographically based "synods" (which leads to some confusion because the second and third largest Lutheran denominations in the country are called the Missouri Lutheran Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. They are completely separate from the ELCA, and have formally condemned the ELCA over the issue of ordaining LGBT clergy).

Each ELCA synod elects its bishop at an annual assembly for a six-year term. The presiding bishop of the ELCA is elected at a biennial national assembly, also for a six-year term. Synod assemblies are made up of all of its clergy, plus lay people elected from individual congregations. And by "elected," I mean whomever the pastor can persuade to volunteer. Nationally, you can probably count the candidates for assembly voting representative who have lost a congregational election on one hand.

For most of the '90's and '00's, ELCA Lutherans cared greatly about these annual assemblies because LGBTs and our allies kept proposing resolutions favoring marriage equality and ordaining LGBT clergy; such resolutions were firmly opposed by Lutherans from congregations in Red America. Year after year, assemblies would wrangle over these issues only to set up commissions to report back later. Over time, synods came down on one side or the other until 2009, when the national church could put off a decision no longer.

That decision? If you think it's wrong to marry or ordain gay people, you don't have to. If you have no problem with marrying or ordaining gay people, go ahead. There, can't we all get along? And if not, can you pay off the mortgage on your church building before you leave?

Assemblies have continued to address controversial issues since 2009, but nobody's leaving the ELCA over being on the losing side of resolutions about immigration, Mideast peace, or genetic engineering.

I'm still waiting to see a report of my own synod's assembly last week. So far, their web page only offers a rundown of nearly 100 assembly-hashtagged tweets, which reveal little other than that resolutions 3 through 6 passed with little discussion and that only a handful of voting representatives spent any significant amount of time contributing to the Twitter feed.

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