In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made the decision to allow for the ordination of individuals who were living in same sex relationships. The ELCA did not refer to these partnerships as marriage, rather they used a descriptive language: “publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships.” This decision has been controversial and almost all congregations have some level of division and conflict over this issue. My call to serve on synod staff in the Western Iowa Synod, ELCA coincided with this decision and over the last four years I have worked with pastors and congregations as they have struggled with the conflict.
Many congregations when through the process of disaffiliation and left the ELCA for another denomination that doesn’t support same sex partnerships. This process requires that two-thirds of the congregation vote (two separate times) to disaffiliate. Some congregations held these votes and the vote fell short of the two-thirds required.
Over the years I have been struck by the number of pastors who talk about their congregations and the conflict and say something like, “I am doing everything I can to keep them together through this. If they split, neither side will be able to survive on its own.” These pastors have a deep abiding concern for the community to which they have been called to lead. These pastors give keeping the community together the highest priority.
Now, several years after the decision, the number of congregations holding votes has greatly diminished. There is a feeling that the issue has past or come to rest. Even though there isn’t active conflict in these congregations - especially those congregations that took votes and didn’t have the majority required to leave - the congregation bears the wounds of the past conflict.
I join many in the struggle to find a way to restore community. While there are likely several ways to restore community, I am drawn to the story coming out of Sierra Leone. Fambul Tok (learn more about this amazing story) locates the power for healing within the community and in the community’s desire to be “whole.” Part of the process includes community ceremony around a bonfire where truth is spoken and healing begins. From Fambul Tok I learn that any process for restoring community (the church) needs to shaped by the community itself. It would be a mistake to come to a congregation with a prescribed program rather than allowing for the design to emerge from the congregation itself.
I also believe that each congregation, like the pastors who lead these communities, a desire to be whole. This is a powerful source of motivation, hope, and change. This is what allows the speaking of truth even when it is difficult to speak or hear.
I look forward to continuing this work (ministry) in restoring community, building peace, and reclaiming wholeness. I invite your participation in thinking and planning a process for restoring community and covet your comments.