Monday, February 8, 2010

Regarding Whether We Have "Done our Homework"

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the ELCA these last few months regarding the decisions about gay and lesbian clergy that we made last summer. Was this a top-down decision orchestrated by a few elites? Or was there actually too much lay involvement? Are certain Lutheran Theologies which focus on radical grace suspect (on one site, Gerhard Forde was mentioned, although he would certainly have been against these changes). Or perhaps, this was a slippery slope made inevitable by the fact that we did not really "do our homework" before ordaining women back in the early 1970s.

So. Some people are pretty sure that the decisions made to ordain women really were decisions based on theological and biblical studies. Others suspect that cultural and political feminism played a part. Well. It's true, political and cultural forces like feminism probably did influence the decision to have the discussion in the first place. Cultural forces, like it or not, do affect our faith. It also happens the other way around. Faith influences culture as well. We don't exist in a vacuum.

I happen to think that we did do our homework before ordaining women. I talked to professors at my seminary who read the scriptures and actually changed their minds about women clergy.

But here's the thing we don't like to admit: people often don't change their minds because of political forces, and they don't change their minds because we "did our homework" and now have the right theological justification for our position. They change their minds for Another Reason, and we can't stop it from happening.

I heard Garrison Keillor on the radio from Lake Wobegon recently. He was telling a story about a small mythical town somewhere in the Middle of Minnesota where they would not have woman pastor; they had never had a woman pastor, and they knew it was Wrong.

Until, somehow, it happened. And, he said (something like this) "they knew it was against the Word of God, but... the hell with it. She baptized their babies, and she visited them in the hospital, and she taught their children, and she preached the gospel. They liked her."

(apologies to G. Keillor for not having the means to get thie quotation exactly right. I heard it on the radio.)

But, that's the way it happens, most of the time: not by some insidious cultural force and not by "doing our homework" (or not), but by the experiencing of knowing a pastor who is a woman, or a gay or lesbian Christian, someone we love and respect. It's having a gay son or daughter, a close friend, a colleague. A retired pastor friend of mine surprised me recently by welcoming these changes; knowing his piety, I would not have suspected his views. Lately I learned that one of his children is a partnered lesbian. The woman from my congregation who went to the Churchwide Assembly voted for the changes simply because, as she said, she knew gay and lesbian people. I also suspect the people from our congregation have no idea which way she voted. (Neither did I. While debriefing the experience with her, I just came out and asked her.)

I'm not sure yet how to end this essay. All I know so far is that faithfulness requires honesty: honesty about our theology and what the scripture says; and honesty about who we are and our own stories, our own experiences.

Since I'm not sure yet how to end this essay, I think I'll leave it unfinished for now. I'll leave it unfinished, but with a commitment to remain in conversation, to keep hearing the scriptures, to keep hearing stories.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Well, I think you are right, that our experiences change us, perhaps with the help of the Holy Spirit. Yet we can say the same thing for people who are against something; some of them have had a bad experience with something that they generalize to the whole situation. [False cause and effect and over-generalization seem to fuel political discourse these days.] Of course many people against something are just against change in general.

My father-in-law was the most open minded, non-judgmental person I've ever met. After his death, my husband found a letter he had written that was adamantly against gays in the military. My husband wondered what had fueled this feeling, especially to the point of writing to ___ (congressman???) about this. Did he have a bad experience during his years away during WWII? Of course, the subject of sexual orientation wasn't much discussed in the 40's, and really, not all that openly until AIDS, so probably this didn't come about because of an intellectual argument. Well, we still wonder.

My own experience with gay people has been very limited. Looking back, I believe that some friends I had during the college years were gay, but it was never discussed back then. I've become "guardedly" open-minded, mostly because of my good friend whose late brother was gay.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Amen dear Sister!

angela said...

This is one of your posts that I wish I could favorite so that /i could come back and read it when someone else is discouraged by some loudmouths' attitude. If it were in person I would take a person's hand and explain: he/she never has known a gay person, so he or she is not thinking about the whole picture, only some rationalized fear for anyone who is "different".

Mompriest said...

I love that Garrison told that "story"....I think it speaks to the reality that this (be it women or gays and lesbians or people of color), or rather these, are matters of the heart not the mind. The mind helps think through and articulate what the Spirit says to us in our hearts...

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've done a LOT of reading on this issue on the web. One thing has come out to me, not related to the issue of gay ordination: who got to vote, how were they picked, and who got to decide on the agenda.

First, long before the vote, I came across stuff on Lutheran blogs where pastors were saying that there was a gay agenda that was being pushed through. There was that sexuality study that churches were (supposed) to study. I gather few did, therefore many of the lay people didn't didn't see this coming. Our church did the study, but most people wouldn't attend. We never saw the follow up to the study.

Second, lots of people obviously don't read The Lutheran.

Third, After the vote, there was a discussion/divide about who got to vote: did lay people get too much power compared to bishops and theologians? That was the charge by those against the pro-vote. Yet on the same topic, there were those who claimed that if the lay people everywhere had gotten to vote, it would have been defeated. A letter to the editor in MN, signed in part by former Gov Al Quie, said that there shouldn't be elected representatives, but all should vote. We don't do this in our civil government, however. And just the bishops and theology guys voting certainly wouldn't be representative voting.

Fourth: How were the delegates picked? Were they hand picked to be PRO, or did they volunteer because they were PRO? My pastor was a voting delegate and she said that she became a delegate long before the agenda for the convention was decided.

Fifth: How was the agenda decided? Who made the motions as presented? I have no idea.

Sixth: Much of the secular reporting, which is what many of our members read, was factually inaccurate and sensationalized. Bits and pieces of the actual vote and situation were picked out of context and reported. Plus see #2.

Seventh: If an uninformed person only gets his/her information from a pastor who is CON the vote, that will carry a certain weight that wouldn't be there in other circumstances. The uninformed person isn't likely to look at the Bible verses in context, nor look at the other parts of the Bible that we disregard these days. And there's lots of those, right?

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i think diane that remaining in conversation and committing to hearing the scriptures and the stories is as faithful a response as any... i think that is what the elca is trying to do itself, still a bit unsure of their conclusions too.

Lindy said...

Dear PS,

I've been thinking a lot about your phrase "...guardedly open minded..."

I can make some guesses about what kinds of things you are guarding: Your faith, your church, it's traditions... I'm guessing it's things like that. You can tell me if I'm mistaken.

What I can't figure out is why you feel it needs to be guarded. What's the threat? Why do you need to be protective?

Just curious.

(guardedly discouraged)

Fran said...

Diane - thank you for this post. I have recently been in numerous conversations with a friend about how ideology alone can not move us... and if it(ideology alone) does move us, what does that move mean?

Thank you Diane, thank you for your words in this post and always. Such presence, such light.

Crimson Rambler said...

Diane, thank you, I loved this essay; this has really resonated with my own experience and the stories I've witnessed.
first -- my mother's discomfort when our family doctor was replaced by a locum who was a man of colour...until she saw him at work on the scene of a traffic accident "just like a real doctor" (!) and her discomfort vanished.
second -- my first wedding where the bride's Portuguese grandfather had never SEEN women clergy (and the bride hadn't thought to mention it to him)(that's how fast expectations can change)...and his very visible shock when I came into the sanctuary morphed into, "Well, she did everything a priest would do, I guess she's a priest"...
third -- anecdote of a very elderly cardinal who summed up a discussion of the possibility of ordaining women (back when such discussions were allowed!) by saying "The theological and scriptural arguments for the ordination of women to the priesthood are all radically inadequate [dramatic pause] BY COMPARISON WITH THE ARGUMENT FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCHES WHO ORDAIN THEM"...
fifth -- eminent Canadian Anglican theologian who said, publicly, that "you can no more ordain a woman than you can baptize a teddy bear" (yow!) and then did publicly and candidly retract and apologize for that remark.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Dear Lindy, Good questions. Made me think hard, why did I use the word guarded and did I say what I really meant? I meant it in the sense of its synonym Circumspect: to be marked by caution and attention to all the possible consequences of action.

So my guardedness reflects that I haven't had experiences where I might be put to the test. I think I would be open-minded, but I can't say for sure that my actions would reflect my "theory." I've been on call committees twice, so I know something about interviewing pastors. If a prospective pastor made a big issue of being gay and that he/she would be bringing a partner to the community, would I be able to vote to affirm that person, all other things being equal (which they never are.)? I might think, "well, I'm OK with this, but what about our community at large?"

I think that I'm reflecting on a novel I recently read about pre-Civil War Pennsylvania. The main characters were an immigrant woman, her brother, and his wife, who lived in the same house. They were all theoretically against slavery, but one of them believed in following the law anyway, another said, "not my problem". Their beliefs weren't tested until a runaway slave mistakenly showed up at their door. They took her is, but she was too ill to leave, so they had to hide her. They couldn't even tell their best friends because hiding a run away slave was illegal. When they were exposed, they had to make some hard decisions that were out of character, and the person least expected to be bold, sacrificed the most.

This book brought into focus for me the things I say I believe in that I haven't had to stand up for in a real way. My use of the word Guarded reflects that I think I know how I would act, but I don't really know until tested.