New Lutheran group likely to rise from gay discord on Friday

PATRICK CONDON  |  Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Richard Mahan and Anita Hill are both Lutheran pastors who were inside a Minneapolis convention hall last summer when delegates for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow non-celibate gay and lesbian pastors.

Afterward, each cried for different reasons.

Mahan, lead pastor at St. Timothy in Charleston, W.Va., said he cried because he realized he would likely leave the denomination in which he had invested 42 years of ministry. For Hill, the openly gay lead pastor at St. Paul-Reformation in St. Paul, they were tears of “joy and relief.”

A year later, the ELCA is moving gay pastors into its fold — it’s now the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. to allow noncelibate gays into its ranks — even as the most visible dissidents strike out on their own.

Mahan and other critics of the decision plan to gather this week in Columbus, Ohio, for another Lutheran convention. Leaders of 18 former ELCA churches were expected to vote Friday, Aug. 27 to create a brand new Lutheran denomination that they claim will follow the Scriptures more faithfully: the North American Lutheran Church.

“The issue is departure from the word of God,” Mahan said. His church has already voted twice to end its longtime identity as a ELCA church, also ending an annual $36,000 in tithing to the denomination.

Meanwhile, Hill will finally join the official roster of ELCA pastors. She was ordained in 2001, but she had been kept off the roster because she lived openly with her lesbian partner, with whom she’d shared a commitment ceremony in 1996. That meant she was not eligible for the full housing allowance and retirement benefits and could not be a voting delegate to churchwide assemblies.

Next month, Hill and two other lesbian pastors will gather to receive the ELCA’s newly designed Rite of Reception and officially join the roster of the St. Paul Synod. The St. Paul bishop will “lay on hands,” Hill said, in a ceremony that is becoming more frequent around the country. Seven gay and transgender pastors were received last month in San Francisco. Similar ceremonies are planned soon in Minneapolis and Chicago.

“At my church there is a sense of great celebration, of people being very happy that our work to make the ELCA a more inclusive place has come to fruition,” Hill said.

Her denomination will be slightly smaller: As of early August, 199 congregations had cleared the hurdles to leave the ELCA for good, while another 136 awaited the second vote needed to make it official. In all there are 10,239 ELCA churches with about 4.5 million members, making it still by far the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S.

And the breakaway members gathering in Ohio will face their own challenges if they vote to start another denomination at a time when attendance at mainline Protestant churches is falling and denominational distinctions appear irrelevant to a growing number of churchgoers.

But pastors in a few churches that plan to join the North American Lutheran Church say there are still good reasons to be part of a larger church body.

“For a lot of congregations and a lot of churchgoers, there is value in a larger Lutheran fellowship,” said the Rev. Mark Braaten, pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Tyler, Texas, another charter member of the new denomination.

About 75 percent of the churches that already left the ELCA have affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ — another, smaller denomination. But the Rev. Mark Chavez, Lutheran CORE’s director, said some Lutherans found that denomination too loosely structured and wanted a choice that retained aspects of the ELCA identity.

Some ELCA refugees have a more bottom-line reason to join a new denomination. Under many church constitutions, congregations that leave the ELCA and try to strike out as a wholly independent church could actually see their ELCA synod council assert legal ownership of their property and church buildings. “People don’t see it as too likely, but it’s not a discussion too many want to have,” Braaten said.

So why go through the hassles — especially when even critics of the ELCA’s more liberalized policy admit that no congregations are likely to be compelled to install a gay pastor?

“I don’t think it’s the issue of whether someone is going to have a gay pastor forced upon their church, as much a question of what a straight pastor is going to be teaching,” said the Rev. David Baer, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitewood, S.D., another charter member of the new denomination. “What’s God’s intention for marriage, for sexuality? The concern is the ELCA is trading in its teaching and losing its grounding in scripture and no longer having a moral center.”

Organizers of the new denomination will reveal on Friday its 18 charter churches — a number they hope will grow to 200 or more within a year.

Earlier this month, the ELCA reported a nearly 3 percent drop in total receipts for its congregations from 2008 to 2009, and a decline in membership of 90,850 people. Three times since April 2009, the ELCA’s council cut the denomination’s budget by a total of $17.5 million and eliminated the equivalent of nearly 76 full-time jobs.

ELCA spokesman John Brooks said departures over the new clergy policy played a part in the picture but that the bad economy has also been a major factor in the denomination’s financial struggles.

Hill, who in her early days at the church helped found a ministry for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, said she was disheartened by the departing churches.

“There are some who feel they must leave the ELCA over that,” she said. “I feel sad about that, it’s unfortunate. But to feel you have to leave over the inclusion of your brothers and sisters — that diminishes who we are as the body of Christ.”

—  John Wright

A platform of ideas — bad ideas

Even conservative LGBTs shouldn’t drink the Texas GOP Kool-Aid

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

The Texas Republican Party just had their state convention here in Dallas, and it is worth noting that they passed a new platform as well. For LGBT citizens it is a very important document.

The GOP of Texas passed a platform that is more parody that politics. The vehement rhetoric contained in this document should send a clear message to the folks claiming to be LGBT Republicans that they are not listened to and not wanted in the GOP.

I am speaking of the Log Cabin crowd and the even stranger GOProud group. I ask point blank: How can you support a party who writes this into their platform?

“Homosexuality — Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’

“We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

“Texas Sodomy Statutes — We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.”

For all the talk of changing the GOP from the inside that the Log Cabin Republicans use as their excuse for supporting that party, I fail to see how they have had any effect. This latest platform seems even worse than before. A giant step backwards — but I guess that is no surprise for the GOP.

As far as ENDA, well the Texas GOP made it pretty clear they don’t want any of them new-fangled equal rights laws: “ENDA — We oppose this act through which the federal government would coerce religious business owners and employees to violate their own beliefs and principles by affirming what they consider to be sinful and sexually immoral behavior.”

How about hate crimes? Well, the Texas Republicans have something to say about that as well and they wrap it in a paragraph cynically entitled “Equality of All Citizens”: “We urge immediate repeal of the Hate Crimes Law. Until the Hate Crimes Law is totally repealed, we urge the Legislature to immediately remove the education curriculum mandate and the sexual orientation category in said Law.”

Now lest you think this platform is damaging only to LGBT Texans, take heart. Anyone who works for a living is fair game as well. These two single-sentence planks made me shiver: “Workers’ Compensation — We urge the Legislature to resist making Workers’ Compensation mandatory for all Texas employers.”

And: “Minimum Wage — We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.”

Needless to say there are extensive planks about immigration and border security, and they include this little nugget, “The repeal of the birthright citizenship”: “Birthright Citizenship — We call on the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of these United States to clarify Section 1 of the 14th amendment to limit citizenship by birth to those born to a citizen of the United States: with no exceptions.”

This platform has something for everyone, or should I say against everyone. The politically astute will note that most of these changes seem to be a bow to the “tea baggers” and are simply appeasements that were never intended to be written into law. I suppose those professing to be LGBT Republicans would take this approach to reading this hate-filled document, but I think it is far more serious than that.

Writing off the party platform as inconsequential might work if you live with the cognitive dissonance that some people do. But the platform is the basis of decisions that will be made by legislators who are elected and it will be held up as a litmus test for any GOP candidate during an election.

So what is this all about? Well it’s about waking up and looking at the reality of the GOP in Texas.

The party has swung so far right it looks more like a fringe group than the mainstream. It’s time LGBT voters stopped deceiving themselves and realize the Republican Party has anything but your best interests at heart.

You can be fiscally conservative and still not drink this Kool Aid.

In fairness, I am a Democrat, and though the Democratic leadership has been disappointing in its movement forward on all LGBT issues, at least there has been some movement. Yes it’s not as fast as I would like, and yes, I criticize both my party and my president. But at least they do not believe I am somehow tearing at the moral fabric of the country by my mere existence.

So to my LGBT Republican brothers and sisters, I have to paraphrase a question from everyone’s favorite moose hunter, Sarah Palin: “How’s that whole change from the inside thing going for you?”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice