Monday, September 21, 2009

a few thoughts

This isn't a sermon so some may say this is the first time i am actually blogging.

Should I stay or should I go? This is the question that I have heard many fellow pastors, Lutheran laity, and entire congregations ask over the last month. Initially my response to the question was you need to discern what God is calling you to do, but as for me I am not being called to leave the ELCA. This claim has been based less on any great thological ponderings and more on a personal experience about five years ago. When my endorsement was postponed by the New England Candidacy committee (Yes I am living proof that Orthodoxy can come out of New England) many friends and family questioned their motives, they asked the same question I was asking "Is my theological orientation the real reason behind this decision?" Naturally such questions led me even then to question a call to ordained ministry in the ELCA. I grew up Roman Catholic and my wife was raised LCMS so despite the fact that I had come to love the ELCA both Heather and I were able to think about, talk about, and pray on the possibility of calling another church body home. It was in this time of prayer, wilderness time I have been known to call it, that I heard God's call more clearly than I have before or since. We were worshipping at my In-Laws' LCMS church and during communion I was on the kneeler praying and God said to me "I have called you to the ELCA, it won't be easy but I will not leave you"I have felt God's call before but this wasn't a feeling but a voice in my ear. So I have felt obliged to tell people that until God tells me just as clearly that I can and should leave I am obligated to stay in the ELCA. I was mostly comfortable with this answer.
That was until a couple weeks ago. You see I am a pastor who feels strongly that part of my call is to connect the local congregation to the wider church. I strive to do that by supporting and particapating in synod events. It was in this spirit that I brought 16 people, youth and their families, to the Jesus, Justice, Jazz Tour co-sponsored by Wartburg College and the NE IA Synod. This was a concert by the same musicians who headlined the Youth Gathering in New orleans and the proceeds were slated to go towards Hunger Relief, a cause all Christians can get behind, right? As the concert went on there seemed to be almost as many references to sexual orientation and homophobia as there were hunger and poverty. I started wondering if I can belong to a church body that can't come together to do the work of the Gospel without making it about sex. I know I can't equate the antics of 3 idependent musicians with the ELCA, but one can't read the latest statements of Lutherans Concerned and Goodsoil without wondering if this experience will be representative of the trajectory the ELCA is going in. Will the ELCA be a denomination that an orthodox pastor and congregations can survive in only by playing the role of the ecclesial ostrich, sticking its head in the sand while the world goes by around them. I would argue that this tragic act of self-isolation is akin to congregationalism at its worst and is an alternative that any Lutheran who claims orthodoxy and the evangelical catholic perspective should abhor. So ultimately if the ELCA becomes a church body that leads it's most traditional/orthodox/confessional voices down that route it can't be a church body in which I call home. Unfortunately despite all this language about bound conscience and bearing each other's burdens the signs tell me that this is where we are headed. So how do I answer the question with which i started this post? Do I stay or do I go? I can't answer it with the certainty that I once did, which pains me greatly. My best answer at this point is that God is calling me to wait and see. To wait and see if the ELCA truly becomes a place hostile to what I have to offer, to wait and see if the policies that are put in place post CWA truly create a church body in which I can truly offer a safe place for orthodox and confessional Lutherans, and to wait and see if any real alternatives come to bear, right now the alternatives are all to congregational for me. Waiting and seeing always consists of prayer, dialogue, study, and more prayer. I hope that someday I hear God's voice in my ear as clearly as I did that Sunday morning and Roselle IL.

5 comments:

Christa said...

Thanks for your thoughts Matthew! (My husband and I used to serve in Ames, IA)
I enjoyed looking at some of your sermons too.
The Holy Spirit is definitely at work making new connections among us.

Steve F. said...

Matt, I appreciate your post, and your struggle.

It's interesting - the church I attend now is a More Light Presbyterian church - which just simply means they encourage, welcome and affirm GLBT folks. But 98% of what they do and how they worship has absolutely nothing to do with GLBT issues. They have allowed themselves to go past "the issue" and be about what God has called them to do.

While as a gay man I am glad the CWA did what they did, I am furious beyond description that this issue has become the defining mark for so much of Christianity. Seriously - this is so far from the truly big issues where Christ has called us to serve.

Unfortunately, the easiest way in the world to unify a people is through the perception of "infiltration" and the concept of a shared enemy. If "we" can focus on just keeping "them" out and keeping "their influence" and "their agenda" out, then "we" don't have to look at the stuff that's really going on.

It's sad, but the three sons of my late pastor and faith-mentor, Tom Housholder, are three of the loudest trumpets calling to leave the ELCA. And yet they were the ones who asked me to speak at their dad's funeral - who wept with me and grieved with me when my candidacy ended. By their actions and their public proclamations, they have made the line between us clear.

If you ever get bored, I'd encourage you to read Stranger At The Gate by Mel White. His last several chapters describe this "one hot topic" issue and from whence it comes.

Blessing to you, Heather, and your calling to serve Christ.

Melanchthon said...

Matthew:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is a struggle for many and prayer is what we need at this time.

Blessings my brother.

Paul McCain said...

May God bless your time of discernment. Many stand with you in this struggle. If I can be of service, let me know.

Cordially, in Christ,
Rev. Paul T. McCain
http://www.cyberbrethren.com

Monster said...

Hi Matt, it's Seth.

You've already shared with me briefly about how God spoke to you, but I can appreciate a little more deeply how you feel now that I know the exact words God used with you. When I was considering leaving my old church (for reasons completely unrelated to the issue you are now facing), I felt a voice say to me "I'd like you to reconsider". In other words, the voice was asking me to stay. That more than anything else made me hesitate. Ultimately, however, I made the decision to leave. I came to the conclusion that voice or no voice, I had to do what was best (from a common sense perspective) for my wife and children. I couldn't justify keeping them in a toxic situation just because I was "hearing voices" - and in fact I never told my wife (or anyone else) that I did.

After we got the Hell out of Dodge, I waited for repercussions - and interestingly enough, there weren't any. Sure, some stuff happened (deaths in the family, financial struggles) but these things happen to people every day. I was never struck dead by a lightning bolt - and I never felt abandoned by God. In fact, many things got better for my family and I after that, and my relationship with Jesus feels stronger than ever. So what to do when a voice tells you something difficult? Only you can decide what you will do, obviously. But God will not test you beyond what you are able, and I am convinced that you will know exactly what to do when the time comes.

Peace and Prayers,

- Seth