Sunday, August 18, 2013

It Is Fun To Be In the E-L-C-A!

       This week the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) elected a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who is currently serving as the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod . She also happens to be the first woman bishop ever elected in the ELCA (Or any of the ELCA predecessor’s bodies). It is an historic moment, and one that I greet with great joy. To some it might seem that we are making progress or growing into the future. I believe we are simply going back to the way it should have been since the beginning of the Church’s founding.
          Jesus had women disciples. Jesus taught woman, was supported by woman, and Jesus listened to women. Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet and be taught just like a man, Jesus ministry was bankrolled by women, Jesus had women who followed him (remember they are the only ones with enough guts to go to the tomb, and then became the first to pronounce the resurrection), Jesus spent an afternoon listening to the women at a well (She too became a proclaimer of the Gospel). 
          Paul tells us that in Christ there is “no male and female”. I believe that in Paul’s churches women spoke and were leaders in proclaiming the Gospel. The early church was a dynamic place where anyone with the gifts proclaimed the sacred mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. My wife and I named our daughter, Phoebe, who is mentioned in the book of Romans by Paul.  “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” We gave her this name partly so she will remember that within the body of Christ she is equal to everyone else, and her proclamation of the Gospel is equally important.
          Somewhere along the way the church got knocked off course. It no longer mattered what your gifts were only the plumbing. Women were barred from leadership in the Church, and we all suffered for this sin. We all were less fed because we only heard about Jesus from a certain point of view, and Jesus became about conquering and killing others different from us.
          In seminary half of my classmates were women, and I can remember multiple occasions in class thinking how blessed I was to have women in our class. I was thankful to God for their presence and their voice. It made me a better pastor, a richer theologian, and a deeper thinker. The ELCA (and its predecessor’s bodies) has been ordaining women for 43 years. In that way this day seems like it took too long. We should have had a presiding woman bishop long ago. It seems that progress is always too slow. But what it took the church over two thousand years to do was not going to be undone in a short time. I pray for the day when we have no more first in our church. We have no more first woman bishop, or first openly gay…or first person of color…instead we have a dynamic church that uses the gifts of its entire people for the building up of the kingdom of God. What a day that will be.
 There will be some other Christians who will think that this is merely the “liberal ELCA straying from the doctrinal purity of the true Church.” I can only say that I am a proud pastor of the ELCA. I am proud that we are trying to be a Church that judges our leaders by the only criteria that should matter, are they faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. Do they love the people they serve? Do they have compassion for all of God’s children? Do they love their neighbor as themselves? Do they know and preach the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ? Everything else is about human divisions that we invent to make ourselves feel superior to others. So let our Church celebrate one more time when we grow closer to the Holy Spirit and it’s moving among us.


  1. I have listened to some very excellent sermons by women pastors. If I were making the rules for the Church, I would allow women pastors. I don't see the big deal.

    But here is the problem: Once you start letting me or other human beings make the rules for the Church, instead of following the rules laid out in Scripture, with every change in societal norms, the rules in the Church will also change.

    1. So in the 70"s women were allowed to be pastors.

    2. Today, gays in life-long, monogamous relationships are allowed to be pastors.

    3. In another generation, monogamy may be seen as "old fashioned" in society, and open relationships will be the norm. So will the Church now allow its pastors and laity to have open relationships? Imagine driving by the local bar with your kids and seeing your pastor hanging out with his new sexual partner for the evening.

    4. And if at some time in the future, partner swapping is the new fad, the new norm, will it then be acceptable for couples in your Church to form swingers clubs? Will you be announcing the weekly "love fest" from the pulpit each week? (Child care will be provided in the basement, by the way!)

    5. And what if society lowers the age of sexual consent down to thirteen or twelve, will your Church then allow your 55 year old pastor to partner with a twelve year old who gives her/his consent?

    6. And on and on it goes.

    If the only moral rule left to follow is the Golden Rule, this is what will happen in the Church. Seems ridiculous? Far-fetched? Ask your grandmother if she ever dreamed of the day that a Christian Church would allow a gay person to be a pastor or bishop.

    This is what happens when you start making up your own rules for the Church. Those of us who choose to follow what we believe to be God's rules aren't doing it to be mean or hateful, we do it because we believe that is what God wants, and we do it for the benefit of our children. Children need stability. For us, a Church which frequently changes its standards of morality is not a stable environment for our children.

    Let us all show love and compassion to those who do not agree with us on this issue, but please understand why we orthodox refuse to follow society's trends on the issue of morality.

    1. It is a slippery slope when you start allowing man to change God's rules for the Church.