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.