I found out today the church of my childhood has decided to allow “partnered gay and lesbian pastors” into ministry at their church. It is pretty much a given that this decision will result in people disagreeing and breaking off to form their new church. I won’t delve into the details of why or how this happened since frankly, I don’t know and I’m not an expert on it (and I’m actually confused about what it even means in application…so they’ll accept “partnered” but not single? what if those couples break up?). I will say that the fact that such a decisive decision was made doesn’t surprise me. Decisive decisions on matters of faith and morals must be made. So while it doesn’t surprise me, the repercussions of such a decision do make me sad.
I was surprised at my own reaction. Why sad? Shouldn’t I be gloating? Saying “See? I left right on time!” I didn’t feel that. At. All.
Instead its like I’m reliving the pain of the schism or the reformation. The pain of families disagreeing and breaking apart like a divorce. Or the pain I knew I would cause just by me telling my own family “I’m becoming Catholic,” all over again….
See, the statements like the one given by Rev. Noko regarding the actions of Lutherans after another “controversial” decision by the LWS in 1957 are again being referred to for this decision:
“Our forebears in faith decided to do the most sensible thing to do under those circumstances, and that is to stay together. They did not forsake one another…They understood that the Church is the Body of Christ, a creature of the gospel and, therefore, not ours to dismember.”
I read that and think, brilliant. I love it. That statement is SO TRUE. But couldn’t that be used for any controversial decision made in a church? Most notably, that big divide that happened oh, say, around the 16th century? I say that not to make light of that situation, but to point out how left to our own human discernment, we will naturally splinter off into a billion little pieces because we each have our own intuitions and intelligences that will lead us to our own conclusions. I think that’s free will and original sin in all its glory.
I think of that little phrase, “WWJD”…oh yes that was EVERYwhere in 7th grade, on everything, as a little mantra to guide our existence. “What WOULD Jesus do?” Who knows? How do we know who truly teaches what Jesus did? Through the Bible? Then why are there so many interpretations? Most importantly, did Jesus come down from heaven, divinely, just to leave His church in thousands of fragmented pieces in order for us to figure out on our own what are the things He was REALLY sure on, the important things that are the non-negotiable? If he was truly part of the Trinity, GOD, wouldn’t he have had a better plan than that?
Its hard to get an exact number of the types of Christian denominations out there but I’ve read anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 Christian denominations can be counted (this does not include Mormon/Jehovah’s Witnesses and their respective splinter groups either). [Note: I think that number is so large because every Baptist church has to be counted separately since there is no unifying creed (i.e. set of beliefs) of each Baptist church and they believe different things.]
Whenever I think about this my head starts to explode a little. [Seriously, I couldn’t even make it through this explanation of how the group that the church of my childhood came to be.] Why did all these denominations form? How did they form? What issues did each group think were so important enough that they needed to break off over and create a whole new church? Who has the authority to do this? Is this leading us closer to or further away from “the truth”?
I’ve heard from a childhood friend that its likely that the church I went to as a kid will break off from the ELCA now as a result of last week’s vote. So, the cycle continues. More splintering will occur. The vote over allowing partnered gay and lesbians into ministry was that deciding factor that made people say, “No, that’s not what Jesus intended.” How do they come to this decision? Why was the vote of 2/3 majority of other active reverends was not enough to convince them otherwise? If the vote had gone in their favor, would that have been enough to convince them that they were following “the truth”?
I never thought about these issues when I was at the Lutheran Church. I remember learning about Martin Luther like he was a hero, who saved us from the oppressive Catholic Church and who taught us the real truth. I think Lutherans in general feel that way since they are the result of one of the first major breaks, so its easy to fall into the trap and think that their changes were necessary, but not all the ones that came after. I wonder if the decision that was made at my childhood church last week would have been made when my family attended, what we would have done. Would we have stayed?
And then I wonder about the next generation. If they will grow up thinking, “Remember when [insert name of guy who made final vote about partnered gay/lesbian ministers] saved us from that old, oppressive Lutheran thought?” Who’s history will they believe?
At times like this I am especially thankful for the true Church founded by Jesus Christ himself. We are truly blessed.