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SHALL I STAY OR SHALL I GO, NOW?

24August2011

I am a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  As one of my colleagues and co-authors pointed out, I am one of the few ELCA pastors who contribute to this endeavour and will most likely end up being the ONLY such affiliated pastor contributing.  I tend to think that, like most of my co-authors,  I am theologically conservative.  But by my own admission, I am more socially liberal than some of them.  We have learned that we can agree to disagree and maintain our relationships.  Two of my dearest friends and colleagues in ministry contribute to this blog and our relationships, though occasionally feeling a little strain, have remained relatively unscathed.

But here’s the thing:  I find myself in a very curious, if not peculiar, position.  Many of my ELCA colleagues have left or will soon leave the ELCA for either LCMC or NALC.  From many of my remaining local colleagues in the ELCA, I have heard respect and admiration for the willingness of the former to follow the conviction of their faith and do so with integrity.  I agree and in fact have walked with, prayed for, and supported through their discernment process some of those who have departed.  These same colleagues who, like me, choose to remain behind bemoan the fact that they did not have the courage to leave the ELCA.   They consider themselves weak and lacking conviction.  Some days, I wonder if that is not also what they think of me.

As a person of deep faith, I have chosen to remain within the ELCA in spite of my failure to be convinced by the witness of scripture of the wisdom and orthodoxy of decisions made by the church body regarding the issue of ordaining people involved in committed same-gender relationships.  I have chosen to remain in spite of my deep concern over the twisting and bastardization of the concept of “bound conscience” that was used to justify the decision.  I have chosen to remain in spite of my discomfort with the nebulous ecclesiology of the ELCA.

Last week I attended the biennial church-wide assembly of the ELCA as a voting member.  Many decisions were made, some of which concern me.  I heard many critiques and criticisms of the ever-increasing “liberal agenda” of the ELCA.  People whom I love and respect have insulted the institution of the church in which I am a member and a pastor.  At one point I found myself feeling as though I must make excuses for remaining in the ELCA and attending that assembly as a voting member.

You might be wondering at this point why I stay, then?  I have said that it is because there is nowhere else for me as a 54-year-old female pastor to move.  I have made a lot of excuses.  In wrestling with the Holy Spirit this past week, I have had to confront the lie of every one of those excuses.  I stay because I WANT TO AND I CHOOSE TO, in spite of some of my deep disagreements and reservations.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I WANT TO AND I CHOOSE TO STAY.

When I left the Roman Catholic expression of the church, I did not do so because of what seemed to me lack of orthopraxy.  I left because what I heard about justification and salvation, the need for humans to participate with God in the process, did not ring true with the God I encountered in scripture.  I left because I could no longer receive communion silently assenting to the understanding that they were ‘re-sacrificing’ Jesus with the Eucharist.  In other words, I left over issues of soteriology.  When asked to join the Baptist church in which I had been an active member for several years, I declined for the same reason.  Decision theology and earning my way into heaven was not consistent with the God I had encountered in scriptures. Not to mention lack of a sense of soteriology in the sacramental understaning.  We were talking salvation issues, again.

Which is why I am choosing to remain in the ELCA.  For all of the things that concern me, I haven’t encountered a salvation issue as yet.  Yes, I can leave and join another Lutheran alphabet soup and it will be less objectionable on many issues – FOR NOW.  But the truth is that EVERY institution of Christ’s church is flawed in one way or another and the longer they exist and the larger they become, the more apparent that will become.   (Or as my husband puts it “The church (institutions) is nothing but a racket.”)  The longer they exist and the larger they become, the more institutions begin to exist for the sake of the institution.  And the greater the likelihood that I will find practices and/or teachings that are objectionable.   Just a little something I learned through my Roman-Baptist-Lutheran odyssey.  So I choose to remain in this flawed and floundering institution.

IN NO WAY DO I HAVE ANYTHING BUT LOVE and RESPECT FOR FRIENDS & COLLEGUES, MY BROTHERS & SISTERS WHO HAVE WITH DEEP DISCERNMENT AND INTEGRITY CHOSEN TO OR WILL CHOOSE TO LEAVE THE ELCA.  In fact, I actually thought about withdrawing from contributing to this blog out of respect for them and so that I would not feel the need to defend the institution of the church in which I serve.  Then I did this crazy thing.  I presided at a baptism and, as is my custom, I carried the infant down the aisle and introduced him to all of the “new” brothers and sisters that God had just given him in baptism.  I was reminded that is as true for me as it is for Vinny. (I really HATE holy two-by-fours upside the head.)

In my baptism, God made every other baptized member of Christ’s body my sibling.  Like with my biological siblings there are squabbles and disagreements. Unlike my biological siblings, there are also schisms and divisions and great acts of wounding one another – both spiritually and emotionally.   I sort of realized that it really doesn’t matter what alphabet soup with which I choose to associate, I will never be able to disassociate myself from my spiritual siblings.  After 3 shifts in the ecclesial alphabet, I am choosing to remain where I have landed now – in spite of our differences and divisions.  I think that for me – it is not a matter of cowardice or lack of conviction.  Staying when one is in my position – as I lose colleagues and watch friendships disintegrate between my colleagues – is not an easy path by any stretch of the imagination.  Nor do I think it is unfaithful.

I am choosing to bear with my brothers and sisters in faith – those within the ELCA with whom I have some deep differences and those within other expressions of the church, because I believe in the end that we can separate ourselves all we want by institutional affiliation and/or political leanings and/or orthodoxy, heterodoxy, or orthopraxy and STILL not change the reality of who we are in Christ – siblings, one body, the body of Christ.

Sometimes I wish my brothers (biological) weren’t my brothers and lots of times I wish that they wouldn’t act the way they do.  But they will never not be my brothers.  So it is with my brothers and sisters in Christ – and so I stay in a flawed and floundering institution with which I have much disagreement and about which I have great concern, because leaving will not make them any less my brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is not easy, it may not be the faithful path for everyone, but for me – I stay, and I think I am finished apologizing for it.

In Christ –

KMS @ CCD

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. John Mawhirter permalink
    24August2011 09:07

    KMS:
    I appreciate your struggle and your willingness to share that struggle. Show me a time when the church wasn’t “flawed and floundering”? I have always gone by that one manuscript that says, “Wherever two or three are gathered I (God) is the midst of them…and so is conflict”. But as we struggle with relationships and different intrepretations…mission and ministry happen! The Gospel is proclaimed! Lives are changed!
    And if I am part of the “racket” that is the church, may God bless that “racket” with strength, courage and grace

  2. Jim Wicker permalink
    24August2011 09:37

    Well said, good and faithful servant.

  3. Rev. Preston Foster permalink
    24August2011 09:45

    KMS,
    Hi in Jesus! Thank you for inviting us into your life.
    The Lord said clearly, “The truth will make you free.”
    A wit added, “But it will make you angry, first.”
    “But they will never not be my brothers.” Amen.
    You have spoken the whole word, Law and Gospel, and rightly divided it.
    Now go and sin boldly, and don’t apologize!
    Peace be with you!

  4. Jim Watson permalink
    24August2011 16:51

    Wise words, Katie, and I am glad to hear you are NOT leaving the ELCA. If it helps, you can consider me a local colleague who also wants and chooses to stay, and refuses to play the game of apologizing and being the bad guy. Peace! Jim

  5. 24August2011 19:12

    katie, we left the elca for entirely different reasons than some of your colleagues and we understand staying and being the unpopular remnant. we have friends who are in the position of staying because they don’t have anywhere else to go. we’re all “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” in the words of philippians and your decision to leave or not leave has to be your own.

    *hugs*

  6. Kim permalink
    25August2011 07:47

    KMS,

    Good article. A couple of things stood out. ” I stay because I WANT TO AND I CHOOSE TO, in spite of some of my deep disagreements and reservations. Yes, you read that correctly. I WANT TO AND I CHOOSE TO STAY.” That begs the question–what does God want for you?

    You also wrote, “I presided at a baptism and, as is my custom, I carried the infant down the aisle and introduced him to all of the “new” brothers and sisters that God had just given him in baptism. I was reminded that is as true for me as it is for Vinny. (I really HATE holy two-by-fours upside the head.)” which is something which I’ve also felt. However, as a mom, I ask you–are the children of the ELCA safer in it or safer out of it? The writing is on the wall.

  7. Ronald A Orovitz permalink
    25August2011 10:40

    Thanks for your sharing. The reading assigned for today in “For All the Saints” is Acts 27:27-44. The phrase that jumped off the page in the shipwreck experience of St. Paul were his words, “Unless these men(people) stay in the ship, you(they) cannot be saved.”

    In the Roman Catholic tradition that meant for them “The Roman Catholic Church,” and outside of that church one cannot be saved. I’m afriad that the ELCA also has that attitude now in terms of how those with “Bound Conscience” are treated. I don’t know what you thought of the disappearance of the Luthern CORE Resource/Display Room signs at last week’s churchwide assembly, that were removed twice.

    When I read the above reading I reflected on what “ship” we are talking about if we treat the reading as a metaphor. I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church or the ELCA is the ship. The ship is the “Body of Christ” which transcends the earthly expressions of the church which sometimes look like a “racket.”

    I admire your feeling of not wanting to leave and be the faithful remnant. I tried to do that, but being retired and without a regular call, I was shut out of regular pulpit supply and interim ministry assignments because the last congregation I served as interim voted to leave the ELCA and join the NALC six months after I left. I was tainted by their decision although I had worked to keep them in the ELCA.

    Blessings to you as you discern where God is calling you to serve.

  8. Kim permalink
    27August2011 06:44

    I’ve attached an article that sickens me. And it worries me greatly that the same techniques used to make things PC in the ELCA, against God’s authority, are being used to try to make these evils things OK too. Please read the article, then I ask again–is the ELCA really the best place for children? Families? Anyone? http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=336869

    We didn’t do enough about the GLBT issue in the ELCA. The result is that the marriage of one man and one woman is losing its place in society as the basic building block of family and our country–at least in an increasing number of places. Now it’s OK for same sex pastors to be in a sexual relationship in the ELCA. How long before we have to say that it’s OK for a pastor to have both a wife and a husband because he or she “needs” both? How long before the ELCa once again overruleS God by saying that monogamy isn’t really God’s intent for us in our time? So, why not four wives or even four husbands for that matter? All the while we slither further down the slippery slope.

    Our country is being destroyed by political correctness and turning a blind eye to what is wrong. Stay if God asks you to stay, but get out if God wants that.

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